By the time they returned to the “Jardín de jalepeño” sign, the sliver o’ red sunlight that’d been lingering had finally been utterly smothered by blue darkness. The night also sucked out the heat so that the 3 began to shiver.
Only Autumn had brought a jacket with her, always kept in her pack for situations like these. However, when she pulled it out, she held it out & asked Edgar if he wanted it, only for him to politely decline & for them to descend into what Dawn could only describe as the most polite argument e’er.
“There’s no loss to me if you take it or not, so you can be perfectly upfront if you do want it”, said Autumn.
“¿You sure you don’t want it?” asked Edgar.
“You probably need it mo’”.
“So are you”.
“¿Why don’t you just share it?” said Dawn, laughing.
“We may need mo’ mobility”, said Autumn.
“It looks rather easygoing now”, said Dawn. “¿What’ll happen to us on the roof? ¿A bird attack?”
“We’ll have to climb up that cement border now”, said Autumn.
Dawn sighed. “Whatever”.
They climbed back up to the cement border & stood on the outermost edge, staring down @ the roof ground mo’ than 10 times their height below.
“The problem is that with our much weaker muscles, safe transportation down the apartment complex will be difficult”, said Autumn.
“Augh. If only I’d remembered to grab ’nother leaf back @ the Cater-Pillar”, Dawn said as she gently bonked a fist gainst her forehead.
“That’s OK: I have my own instrument for safe transport o’er high distances”, Autumn said as she burrowed through her pack.
Autumn pulled out a metal prong holding 4 hooks in a + shape, followed by a line o’ rope. Watching Autumn unravel it all was like watching a magician pull out a ne’er-ending chain o’ multicolored tissues.
“I need to scale buildings so oft that this must’ve helped me a dozen times a’least”, Autumn said as she jammed the hook onto the top corner o’ the pot edge farthest from the rest o’ the roof.
“But we’re not… O”, said Dawn.
While still holding it, Autumn said, “OK, I’ll hold this while you 2 climb down 1st”.
They nodded, & then climbed down. A minutes or so later, Dawn’s feet hit the ground, followed soon by Edgar’s.
“All right. We’re done”, Dawn called up.
Autumn reached her hands out to undo the hook, only to stop & think.
Now, ¿how am I going to get down?
She looked down the length to the bottom, rubbing her nose in thought.
“¿Is something wrong?” asked Dawn.
“Just a sec”.
Autumn pulled her phone out o’ her pocket & punched in a few calculations.
After a minute or so more o’ punching in #s & thinking, she hesitantly loosened the hook, halting to a sudden for a second when she suspected a calculation error, only to finish.
“Make sure you’re a’least a meter or so ’way”.
“¿Why? You’re not going to try dropping without the hook, ¿are you?” Dawn’s voice rose in pitch.
“Not yet. The hook needs to go 1st”, said Autumn.
“We’ll probably need it later”.
“¿But then how will you get down?” asked Dawn.
“That’s where the ‘not yet’’s context is ’splained”.
“If you say so…”
A few seconds later, Dawn added, “OK: you can drop it”.
So she did, hearing a heavy clunk gainst the cement below. She looked down & saw that nobody had been hit.
“All right, now I’ll need you 2 to come o’er & try catching me; I’ve calculated that I should be able to survive this fall, with you catching me as a way to handle the exception o’ me flipping face-1st”.
“Let’s hope you didn’t screw up”, said Dawn. “I’d hate to have to put on your gravestone”, — she made her voice deeper & mo’ drawn out — “‘Killed by a rounding error’”.
“¿You trust us not to let you fall all the way?” she continued.
Autumn wanted to reply, “I trust Edgar”, but realized that it’d not be wise to upset 1 o’ the people keeping her brains from being splattered gainst concrete, — not to mention cockish — so ’stead she said, “Considering the bewildering effort you expended to enforce the opposite, I can’t comprehend an abrupt flip in your goals”.
“Whatever you say. We’re ready”. Dawn stepped forward with her arms up. Her eyes raced toward Edgar to see him doing the same, & then back up in a millisecond.
Autumn held her breath. Well, here goes. She slid off so that she hung off the edge. O, good. I didn’t e’en consider the shorter fall length due to this. This should definitely work.
&, not to spoil the outcome just arriving, but it did: she released herself to gravity, only for her short fall to be cut e’en shorter by soft fleshy & bony hands pressing into her sides & stomach.
“O, wow”, Dawn said as she & Edgar let Autumn fall the last millimeter before the ground. “It’s weird to feel the strange differences in weight & strength when you’re smaller. You feel much lighter than my mind expects”.
Autumn nodded. “It almost makes me consider the advantages o’ being small”.
They started walking toward the fire ’scape stairs.
Dawn laughed. “¿So you’ve considered staying this size?”
“Food would be much cheaper”.
“¿How would you carry ’way anything you steal?”
“Advantages usually come with disadvantages”.
They quickened to a dash to cut thin their roof trip. ’Gain, Dawn marvelled @ how much faster she could pump her arms & legs. Before they knew it, they were already @ the end o’ the roof.
Unluckily, when they reached it, they realized that the border round the roof jutted upward. All 3 stopped to catch their breaths.
“OK… I think we could avoid the hassle o’ throwing the hook up & climbing by forming a human ladder — as we did in Heureuse Manor, you remember, Dawn”.
“I believe we could reach the top in that way; & better, as you’ve mentioned multiple times, Dawn, our divergent changes in muscle strength vs. weight should make this less physically taxing than usual”.
“Yeah, but then we could see up each other’s shirts or skirts”, said Dawn.
Autumn paused with that expression that always reminded Dawn o’ a computer crashing due to a silly human error.
All Autumn could think to respond with was, “¿So you want to do the hook method?”
Dawn laughed. “I thought I just said why I preferred the other method”.
Autumn shook her head. Then she began swinging the hookshot still in her hand.
“All right, we’re going the hook method”.
Dawn laughed. “Just to try spiting me”.
Autumn nodded. “Precisely”.
She tossed the hookshot till ’twas tight gainst the border, & then all 3 climbed.
When they reached the top, Dawn stared down @ the metal stairs before them, the bright color o’ firetrucks.
“¿Can your computer brain calculate how safe it’ll be to descend these stairs?”
“It won’t have to; just by looking, I can estimate that we’ll be fine, with a rather hefty bump gainst our legs @ the worst”.
“That makes sense: it’s much shorter than the garden pot”.
Indeed, they hopped down the stairs so quickly, it took them only a few minutes before seeing the door with the #312 on it. From there they dismounted & jogged round the floor to the other side, where Dawn’s door resided.
Seeing a likely extended reprieve from making wide movements, Autumn finally decided to take Dawn’s advice & clutched Edgar to her while wrapping her jacket round them both.
“Now, we just have to hope your door has a space under it where we can slip inside”, said Autumn.
“¿What?” Autumn turned back to Dawn.
“I don’t think it does”, said Dawn, moving her hands to the sides o’ her chin.
“Hmm… That’s quite a complication”, Autumn said as she looked the towering door up & down. “You… Ugh… You have the key on you, ¿right?”
“Yeah, but it’ll be too small now”, said Dawn.
“¿Did you leave 1 o’ the windows open?” asked Autumn. “It is a warm day”.
“¡O! ¡I bet I did!”
“’Course, the problem would be in reaching 1…” Autumn swung her head round the front o’ the apartment. “I don’t see any windows on this side.
“Ours is on the side”.
“That’s not in our favor”.
Dawn looked up @ the rail @ the rightmost end o’ the apartment. “I guess the best thing we could try is climbing that railing thing &…”
“But the window’s too far to the side for us to reach, ¿isn’t it?” said Autumn.
Dawn nodded as she clasped her own arms, beginning to shiver in the breeze.
Autumn continued to stare @ the railing.
“S’pose there’d be no harm in climbing up just to get a look”.
“We could accidentally fall off & splat on the ground like a bowl o’ spaghetti dropped onto the floor”, said Dawn.
“Well, there’d be no harm in me going up, a’least”.
So she chucked the hookshot up a few times, ’gain till it held & climbed up. However, the rail was still so far into the apartment that, e’en while trying to lean o’er the side, she couldn’t e’en see the window.
Dawn put her hands round her mouth & called out, “¿Think we’d be able to make it to the window with the hookshot?” wondering if her voice would e’en last that distance, which only made her wonder ’bout how their voices would sound to someone who was normal-sized. She giggled as she thought o’ antlike versions o’ themselves speaking in squeaky voices.
Her question was answered when she heard Autumn reply, “I don’t know; I can’t e’en see the window”.
“¿D’you think you could kinda toss it o’er the side & hope it’ll clasp something?”
“Wouldn’t hurt to try”.
So Autumn swung her hookshot round the side, only for it to bonk something hard & plummet each time. Dawn surprised herself that she was the 1 who cringed back as the hook fell & wanted to call out that Autumn shouldn’t go to the trouble ’fore she bonks herself on the head & damages her precious computer brain, that she was the 1 who should risk it, since ’twas her fault, after all, while Edgar o’ all people looked much calmer.
Must be used to it.
“Augh. This is a pain”, Autumn said as she clutched her throbbing temple after the 6th time.
Dawn frowned down @ the ground. Man, I should’ve known my absentmindedness would mess us up. I knew Autumn always planned these ventures to their minutest details; you’d think I could’ve put a li’l mo’ effort in doing so myself this time — ’specially considering all o’ the times I’ve accidentally locked myself out o’ my ol’ restaurant. Too bad I don’t have —
“¿What?” Autumn turned back to her with a stiff stance o’ fear, only for that to melt into droopy annoyance — probably ’pon seeing Dawn hopping up & down with her hand raised.
“¡I think I know a way to unlock the door!” said Dawn.
“¿You still have that needle you used to knock out Horrorcore?”
Autumn raised a brow. “Yes. ¿Why?”
“I can use that to pick the lock”.
Autumn paused, seemingly to parse what she said, & then nodded.
“All right. Stand back so I can throw the hook o’er to the knob, & then you can climb up & do it”.
Dawn & Edgar did so, Dawn clutching her hands together tightly, heart feeling as if ’twas ’bout to leap out her throat.
¡Wondersome! ¡I knew everything would go well for us! ¡Now I can continue my work & Autumn’ll feel better ’bout a job medium-rare!
Autumn pulled the hookshot back up & this time tossed it in the other direction, aiming for the knob. Unlike before, it took only 2 tries this time for the hook to wrap round the knob & remain ahold o’ it. From there she simply had to use it to gently swing down to the ground.
’Pon reaching the ground, she carefully dug into her pocket till she felt a hard thin line & slowly pulled it out. Then she held it out to Dawn.
“Remember to be careful with this needle; it may still have venom in it”, said Autumn.
Dawn nodded. “Let’s hope this goes well”, she said as she stepped toward Autumn.
She took the needle from Autumn, stuffing it into the pocket o’ her sunshirt, & began climbing the hook’s rope. When she reached the top, she pulled the needle out ’gain & slid 1 o’ its pointed edges in like a cylinder in a square hole. She bit her bottom lip to stiffen the laughter her mouth wanted to emit as tiny she stuck this giant lock pick in this giant door lock.
The size difference didn’t make her task any harder, though — save maybe taxing her muscles a li’l mo’ — & she soon heard the click that translated as, “Now I’m unlocked”.
“Now we need to figure out how to turn the knob & open it”, Autumn said as she & Edgar stared up @ her.
Autumn tilted her head in curiosity.
Dawn climbed up onto the knob, picked up the hook, & wrapped the rope just below it fully round the knob in multiple revolutions ’fore sticking the hook back gainst the knob, opposite the rope stretching toward the ground for optimum grip.
She called down to them, “All right. ¿Can you pull the rope down as hard as you can while going back in that direction?” as she pointed toward the railing ’hind them.
Autumn nodded & did so, causing the hook to press harder & harder gainst the knob till the knob gave in & began turning.
“All right. ¿Now can you pull in that direction?” Dawn said as she pointed toward the railing perpendicular to the side she’d pointed @ before & parallel to the front o’ the apartment.
“’K”, Autumn said as she moved right up to that railing side.
As she did, Dawn could feel the door slowly move under her & a short gust o’ wind hit her face, as if she were on a carnival ride for toddlers.
“OK, I think you can climb down now”, Autumn said as she released the rope & clambered o’er to the door.
As Dawn climbed back down, she saw Autumn & Edgar grab the edge o’ the door jutting out o’ its frame & shove it out mo’. By the time Dawn reached the bottom, they’d already built a hole a’least 3 times their combined widths — which admittedly wasn’t much.
Before they went in, however, Autumn looked back @ the hook.
“Wait. We need to do 1 thing 1st”, said Autumn.
“Oops”, Dawn said as she lightly smacked her forehead. “I knew I forgot something”.
“Won’t take long”, said Autumn.
She climbed to the top o’ the rope & loosened it from the knob, only to exhale a troubled breath like a computer with too many programs open when she looked back down.
¿Now how am I going to get back down?
She knew the knob was near thrice as high as the pot edge. She could barely make that fall without taking damage; there was no way should could from this height — or a’least, she wasn’t pleased @ the prospect o’ risking the damage it’d take.
Perhaps if I aim myself on my side, I’ll only break an arm. Ugh. ¿& how long would that take to heal?
Then ’gain, perhaps Dawn has a potion that could cure broken arms…
“We could just leave the hook this time”, said Dawn.
Autumn shook her head. “We’ll need it for getting up to your lab desk. Our best choice is either to keep me up here, have you 2 make yourselves normal, & return to help me down, or for me to fall on something cushiony & hope I can withstand it. If I aim correctly, I’m likely to only get a broken arm”.
“That’s silly; you can’t do that”, said Dawn.
“¿Any better ideas?”
Dawn froze. She looked to her sides for Edgar, curious ’bout his reaction, only to see that he was no longer there.
She looked back up @ Autumn & said, “You could still do the former, I guess”.
“I s’pose”, said Autumn, though Dawn could tell by her scowl that she didn’t like this idea.
Ne’ertheless, Autumn unravelled the hook, causing it to clank down onto the floor.
“Try to hurry”, said Autumn; “Knowing my luck, I fear that that bozo, Lance, will just so happen to arrive — & I’d rather not be in a physical form he can actually do da — ¿What?”
She noticed Dawn turn her attention to the crack in the door.
Then she looked back up @ Autumn & called out, “He says to hold tightly to the knob”.
“Uh huh. He says he’s got a pillow”. She turned back to the opening. “¿You need help with that?”
“OK. I’m holding this as tightly as I can”, Autumn called out.
She waited a second, & then felt the door move under her a decimeter or so.
Looking down, she could see Edgar & Dawn dragging 1 o’ Dawn’s pillows toward the front o’ the door. They stopped & released it just under Autumn.
“OK, it should be safe to drop now… hopefully”, said Dawn.
Autumn hung down from the knob & then let go, feeling her knees thump gainst bouncy fabric an instant later.
“Thank you”, mumbled Autumn.
Then they headed inside.
Like the taste o’ one’s favorite childhood treat after a millennium’s drought, their noses perked @ the reappearance o’ the familiar sweet scent o’ fruit juice & sweaty socks inside.
The sights, however, were so different, they may as well be in a different place: couch patterns, legs, coins, & loose hairs that were usually too small to notice were screaming right in front o’ them, whereas the general arrangement o’ items was too far ’way in every direction for them to see.
Dawn laughed. “You know, I don’t e’en know where the lab is from here anymo’. It’s like this simple room suddenly turned into a cave. O, I think it’s this way”.
Autumn & Edgar continued to follow her round the enlarged tea table & o’er the sleeping bag 60 times their size. Feeling much warmer inside than out, Autumn was ’bout to toss her jacket onto the sleeping bag, only to remember it needed to be sized-up as well, & ’stead hung it o’er her shoulder.
They stepped through a passage guarded by looming towers o’ stacked boxes, jars, & plastic cases, & hopped down the stairs much like the fire ’scape stairs before.
@ the bottom was Dawn’s familiar mint-colored & -scented lab, its walls covered with posters holding useful scientific info — such as 1 with the Periodic Table o’ Item Codes & a chart o’ color codes — as well as frivolous info, such as drawings o’ imaginary animals & hundreds o’ different candy wrappers. The only difference was that now looking @ it was like crouching with a magnifying glass strapped to one’s face.
“The trouble is making the hook embed itself somewhere @ the top o’ the table & not knocking any dangerous chemicals o’er”, said Autumn.
“You think we could try climbing 1 o’ these stools”, Dawn said as she pointed @ the slick black steel leg o’ 1 o’ them. “It should be kind o’ like rope itself”.
Autumn stared @ it as they walked toward it. She grasped it & then grasped a few millimeters ’bove, lifting her off the ground.
“Yeah, it should work”.
So they climbed the rest o’ the way up to the cushion chair, Autumn waiting ’hind to help Dawn up & both waiting to help Edgar up.
“The problem is, it still doesn’t quite reach the table — not to mention it being a few times our width ’way, horizontally. I’m wondering if, with the decrease in our strength being less than the decrease in our weight improving our jumping ability, we’d be able to make it”.
“Too bad we didn’t bring the pillow; we could’ve given ourselves a safeguard”, said Dawn.
“Life’s full o’ ‘too bad we didn’t…’s”.
Autumn hopped up & down a few times, eyes taped to the table.
“I don’t think we’d be able to make it”. Autumn looked up & ’long the side o’ the table. “& unfortunately, I can’t see what’s on the table, so I have no idea where I’d chuck this hook”.
Dawn, who had sat ’long with Edgar, tapped her knees absentmindedly while she gazed @ the multicolored millions o’ square threads chained together in every direction that composed the stool seat.
“¡O! We could try climbing onto each other’s shoulders, holding each other’s legs, & form a human bridge o’ sorts”.
“¿You think we’ll be able to reach it? If we try & fail…” Autumn raised her left hand & then lowered it toward her right hand, gradually increasing its speed till it slammed gainst her right palm.
Dawn adjusted her glasses as she stared @ the distance. “It couldn’t be longer than 3 o’ us. Honestly, it looks like we’d only need 2 o’ us @ most”.
Autumn stared @ the table, mouth twitching.
“I s’pose we haven’t any better choice”.
“OK. I’ll be the bottom, I guess, since ’twas my idea”, Dawn said as she bent down.
Autumn held a hand to her chin. “Edgar, should probably go in the middle, since the person on top will have to hold everyone up from holding the table”.
“¿Would you prefer to be on the bottom & me on top, then?” asked Dawn.
Autumn hesitated, mouth twitching ’gain.
“No… I’d rather be on top”.
“If you say so”, Dawn said brightly.
So they formed their human — & skeleton — ladder.
“¿Is everyone ready?” Dawn called up.
When Autumn & Edgar both answered yes, Dawn stood, stumbled o’er to the edge, & then tipped forward till the shifting weight o’ her compatriots pressed her down the rest o’ the way automatically.
Autumn, ’bove, held her arms out ’head o’ her as far as she could. She soon realized that this was unnecessary: as Dawn had promised, they had mo’ than ’nough length to reach it.
Now I just need to hope we’re not so far up that I smack my chin on the table.
She hit her chest on the table & immediately moved her arms back so she could grab the edge. The weight o’ her allies pulled the rest o’ her body down with them so that they were all hanging from Autumn’s arms.
Good thing for that strength vs. weight quirk o’ shrinking or my arms would probably be ripped right off their sockets, Autumn thought as she cringed & gritted her teeth.
“¿Are you climbing up, Dawn?” Autumn called out.
“Uh huh. Hey, ¿d’you normally wear a swimsuit under your clothes during ventures like these on the off chance that you’ll need to go underwater or were you just extra prepared for this 1?”
“D’you normally comment on others’ undergarments?” said Autumn.
“Swimsuits aren’t true undergarments”, Dawn insisted. “The only true undergarments you have are those leaf-patterned boxers you always wear; & Edgar doesn’t wear any, so I can’t talk ’bout his…”
“This subject may be terminated now”.
Soon after Autumn felt a sweaty hand grasp her calf, & then pull on various parts o’ her shirt. It made Autumn worry that Dawn might grab the jacket hanging loosely off her shoulder & fall off.
She didn’t, & was soon stepping off Autumn’s shoulders onto the table.
“OK, now you go, Edgar”.
Dawn sat near the edge & helped Edgar up from Autumn’s shoulders, & then grabbed Autumn’s hands & pulled her up, too.
“It’s all you, now”, Autumn said as she walked ’way from the edge. “¿D’you think you’ll need help getting access to any chemicals?”
“Maybe just 1 person to lift me up to them”, said Dawn; “but for now, I need to think ’bout what I’ll need”.
Dawn paced up & down the table, & then stopped before a slim vial full o’ bubbling purple liquid held in a net o’ black plastic bars.
“This 1 will do, & I think I can climb up it myself”.
Autumn looked up the container & nodded. “It doesn’t look that high up, either. E’en if you fell off, you’d probably be safe”.
While Dawn began climbing, Autumn wandered round the table, searching ’long the ground. Edgar stood still, swinging his head ’tween Autumn & Dawn, unsure o’ who to stay with.
“¿You think you’ll need help with that?” he called up to Dawn.
“No, I’m doing fine, thank you”, said Dawn. “I’m actually surprised I hadn’t shrunk myself on this table, yet; it’s like a playground while we’re small”.
“Yes, but round all o’ these chemicals, that’d be rather dangerous”, said Autumn, her voice dimmer from distance.
Dawn looked down & flung her face all round.
“Hey, ¿where’d you go, Autumn?”
“I’m just checking the area”.
By this time, Dawn had reached the top & scooped some juice into an empty vial she had taken with her. Finished, she looked down & waited ’fore saying, “Screw it”, & hopping straight down.
“Yeah, you were right: jumping down’s perfectly easy. It’s like we’re on the moon while small”.
“Mmm hmm”, said Autumn.
“OK, this 1 I may need help getting up”, Dawn said as she stared up a wide-bottomed beaker with glowing green liquid.
Dawn heard swishing footsteps from the other side o’ the chemical city & saw Autumn emerge @ the end corner, fast-strolling with her eyes still glued to the table.
Halfway the length, she looked up @ Dawn, & then the beaker next to her, & when she got there, she wordlessly crouched. Dawn climbed up & Autumn lifted her, high ’nough to scoop the chemical into a vial from there.
“OK, that’s all I need”.
Autumn lowered Dawn to the ground & she & Edgar watched Dawn mix the 2 vials together into 1. Then she poured some in the other vial & walked a few steps ’way to a round, flat, plastic device, held the other vial o’er it, & stepped on the button, causing it to glow orange.
“Need to fix Edgar’s so he can use it without drinking”, said Dawn.
“¿Is it hot?” Autumn asked as she stared @ Dawn’s twisting mouth.
“Just a li’l”, said Dawn.
“¿& that isn’t dangerous in any way?” asked Autumn.
“Na — O, it’s done”.
She clicked it off, lifted the vial, blew on it, & then handed it to Edgar.
“We can share this 1”, she said to Autumn as she handed the other vial to her.
Autumn hesitated with her hand held out. “¿How much?”
Autumn nodded & then drank. Then she handed it back to Dawn while wiping her mouth with the other arm.
“We should probably move ’way from everything so we don’t grow into it all & cause it all to topple o’er”, Autumn said as she stepped toward the edge o’ the table, followed by Edgar.
When Dawn finished, she joined them, & said, “That’s a good id — ¡O shit!”
“¿What?” Autumn turned her head back to Dawn with hardly-hidden horror.
Dawn smacked her forehead. “¡I made the potion wrong!”
Autumn soon received her answer when she saw the world round her grow, till the beaker Dawn climbed before now looked like a skyscraper compared to her.
“I made the same potion as before, forgetting that the whole point was that we grew, not shrunk ’gain. ¡Augh! This is why I need to learn to make undo potions so I don’t have to worry ’bout stupid mistakes like this, but I keep forgetting that itself...”
Autumn began frantically scratching the spot ’tween her left eye & nose.
“¿& what d’you need to make us grow ’gain?”
“I need some o’ that green juice ’gain, as well as that orange juice o’er there”. Dawn pointed @ a beaker far ’way. “But I don’t know how we’re going to get up any o’ these now”.
“We’re so weightless now, it’d be impossible for my hookshot to cause anything to topple down under its weight now”, said Autumn.
“O… OK… Yes, that’ll work perfectly”, said Dawn, her tone softening with heavy breaths.
However, when Autumn tried tossing the hook up, she found it wouldn’t reach high ’nough to snag the top; it’d always bang gainst the neck o’ the beaker & fall.
“¿D’you think you could throw it from my shoulders & reach it?” Dawn winced & frowned deeply, the pitch o’ her voice rising high @ the end.
“That was just what I was thinking”, said Autumn.
I just have to hope it doesn’t fall back down & bonk 1 o’ us on the head.
So Autumn climbed onto Dawn’s shoulder & threw it from there. The 1st time it missed & clambered back down, just missing them both from the side; the next time it clasped into the flask’s mouth.
“It’s in”, said Autumn.
Dawn exhaled noisily.
“OK, now, ¿d’you want me to hand you the bottle so you can scoop it in, or d’you want to lift me up so I can do it?” asked Dawn.
Autumn paused to consider.
“It’d probably be safer if you went up & scooped it”.
So Autumn hopped down & let Dawn climb onto her shoulders to reach the rope.
“I’m truly sorry ’bout all o’ this”, said Dawn. “Man, I ne’er thought getting back would be longer & mo’ tedious than getting the eggs in the 1st place”.
“’Scaping with one’s goods is always harder than 1st getting them”.
Peeking downward, Dawn could see Autumn & Edgar waiting near the bottom — probably in case she fell.
But when she reached the top, she soon realized a different problem: the liquid was so low in the beaker that she couldn’t reach it anymo’; so she tried leaning farther into the beaker’s lips so that she was hanging off her waist.
I just hope I don’t fall in.
She heard Autumn’s voice — muffled through the foggy glass o’ the flask — call up to her, “¿You need help up there, Dawn? You look as if you’ve become stuck”.
“Nope. I’m fine”, said Dawn, her speech slightly strained through the pressure o’ the bottle’s lip on her stomach.
However, no matter how far she reached her arm out, it still wouldn’t reach the liquid.
“C’mon… ugh… it’s right there”.
¿Dare I try hanging in o’er my shoes?
I’d probably plop right in then.
She called down, “Autumn, ¿d’you think you could come up here, too? I need you to hold me down so I can reach the liquid”.
Dawn felt the light vibrations o’ the rope thumping gainst the glass & the hook scraping up & down slightly. A few minutes later, she felt extra weight next to her & heard a much louder, clearer version o’ Autumn’s voice say, “¿You ready?”
Dawn pocketed her vial.
“¿Should I hold you down while I’m in the position you’re currently in?” asked Autumn.
“Sure”. Dawn glanced up @ Autumn. “My extra weight won’t cause problems with you hanging on here, ¿will it?”
Autumn paused, staring @ the space where Dawn hung.
“No. I’ll be fine”.
Autumn attached herself to Dawn’s back & said, “Try sliding further out”.
Dawn scooted them farther out while Autumn gradually pulled her arms back from Dawn’s stomach toward her legs. Dawn could see the liquid get closer to her.
“OK. That’s ’nough”, Dawn said as she reached forward & saw that her hand almost touched the surface ’fore her arm became straight.
“Try to hurry”, Dawn heard Autumns say with alarming muffled force.
“¿You sure you’re doing all right up there?” asked Dawn.
“Ne’er mind me. Just hurry”.
Dawn rummaged through her pocket for her bottle ’gain, only to startle when she heard Autumn mutter, “Shit”, & felt herself lower mo’.
“¿Autumn?” Dawn said, tone rising in fear.
“Shit. Sorry. I have you now… ¡Shit!
While Dawn felt Autumn’s grip on her legs tighten, she still felt herself falling, till gravity finally snatched her & Autumn in 1 swoop, splashing them into the liquid.
Dawn quickly swam to the surface, breathing heavily & forcing her burning eyes to stay open so she could see if Autumn was there. Her breaths eased a bit when she saw Autumn swimming just ’head o’ her.
“Fuck”, said Autumn, still breathlessly as she continued to paddle herself ’bove the green liquid. “I knew that wouldn’t work”.
“This is turning out to be our lucky day”, Dawn said with a weak smile.
“If this is a lucky day, lucky days come all o’ the time”, said Autumn.
“¿So what do we do now?”
“Die probably”, said Autumn. “The rope’s too high for Edgar to reach, & e’en if he could, he could ne’er reach us or have the strength to pull us up. & we can’t keep paddling ourselves up here forever — though we can for longer than usual. I’ll let you decide for yourself whether our prolonged death is a gift or a greater grift.
“& all o’ that’s not e’en taking into consideration what touching this stuff might be doing to our bodies. ”
“I think I hear Edgar calling for us”, Dawn said as she looked down through the side o’ the glass, only for its foggy inside to blur everything outside into nonrecognition.
“I wouldn’t know how to respond”, said Autumn. “If we tell him we fell in, he’ll try saving us & possibly endanger himself; but I feel bad ’bout lying to him & saying we’re doing just citric”.
“¿Wouldn’t not answering him be worse?” asked Dawn.
“I don’t know”.
“Maybe we could ’scape here ’fore he gets too panicky”. Dawn winced. “¿You have anything else long ’nough to reach the top in that backpack?”
But her frown deepened when she saw Autumn turn & show her packless back.
“Didn’t bring it”, said Autumn, turning back to face Dawn with a solemn expression. “Thought it’d get in the way o’ holding you. Anyway, I wouldn’t have had anything in it to help us, which was why I didn’t bother bringing it. The extra probability o’ falling in wasn’t worth the negligible bonus it might confer”.
“Tell Edgar to look”.
Autumn yelled downward, “¡Edgar! ¡You think you can check my pack for anything long?”
They waited with only the constant sloshing o’ water filling their ears.
They faintly heard, “I can’t find anything in here long, nor can I reach the rope”.
“Well, there goes that”, said Autumn.
“There has to be something we can do”, Dawn said with drooping dark sacks under her eyes. “We can’t go through all o’ those dangerous antics & then die by drowning in my own chemicals”.
“That’s exactly what usually happens on ventures o’ mine”. Autumn smiled wryly. “Congratulations. You’re a true member o’ our fuck-up crew”.
Dawn turned her head all round in search o’ answers she knew she wouldn’t get, her chest feeling as if ’twere becoming hollower as she glimpsed the monstrously aberrant proportions o’ this flask’s lips.
However, she smiled slightly when it brought to her mind a bespectacled witch turtle causing a chemical bottle to morph bigger with her magical broom dust — ¡the most threatening boss!
Then she realized that Autumn probably thought her to be going coconuts, & stifled her smile.
Autumn’s expression, however, was as granite as e’er.
“If you’ve noticed the same chip in the cement block round our necks, I should note that it’s still uncertain”, said Autumn.
“I doubt it. ¿What were you thinking?” asked Dawn.
“1 o’ us could possibly stand on the other’s shoulders & leap up to the lip while the other tried grabbing her feet”.
Dawn gasped. “¡That’s great! Why didn’t I think o’ that?”
“It won’t work”, said Autumn. “Due to our immensely decreased weights, it’s possible 1 could reach the lip through a hop; but I already know the other won’t be able to reach her while still in the water, nor would she be able to jump high ’nough from the water without the strength o’ solid ground to propel herself off.
“In summary: 1 o’ us may live. Considering I fucked up this t—”
“¿You’re asking me to try ’scaping & leaving you here to drown?” Dawn said in almost a shout. “¿D’you not remember what I said before ’bout that?”
“It’s not suicide; it’s practical inevitability”, said Autumn. “The objective reality is that 1 o’ us must die, & if the roles were reversed, your disadvantage would become mine just as much.
“Though, if it makes you feel better, neither o’ us may be able to live. Plus, I’ll admit that you may not be able to jump as high as I can, & that I might be the only 1 who could make it out”.
Dawn’s pupils shot ’way, her eyeballs carved out in the crooked shape o’ deep devastation that Autumn found physically painful on her throat to see.
This is where she truly learns ’bout what a sociopath I am, thought Autumn.
“¿You’d… you’d leave me down here to die?”
“I’m giving you the 1st chance to try & be the 1 who lives”, said Autumn. “Look”. Dawn noticed Autumn’s face become stern. “Here’s ’nother rule o’ our li’l troop that both Edgar & I have agreed on: if 1 has a chance to live, 1 lives. Mutual death is ne’er superior to 1 death & 1 survival”.
Dawn looked down @ the water rings left by her paddling.
“Now, climb onto my shoulders & see if you can reach the top”.
“You try”, Dawn said flatly.
“¿You’re not truly reacting this way, are you?” Autumn sounded less stern & mo’ worried — mo’ high pitched than usual.
“As you said, I probably wouldn’t be able to make it, & it’d only your body mo’ for me to try — it might squander your chance”.
“I don’t see the logic there”, said Autumn.
“& in reality, I was the 1 who screwed up @ the start by forgetting to take the growth serum with me & messing up the next growth serum”, said Dawn. “Plus, you have Edgar to go to. ¿You expect me to come out here ’live & face telling him the bad news?”
A heavy pause drifted ’tween them. Both gazed down @ the water & ’way from each other.
“I s’pose my trying & failing would prove neither o’ us able quicker, & if I do make it, I could always just come back down & let you try”.
Dawn nodded slowly, though her expression was so opaque, Autumn doubted she truly listened.
But as Autumn hesitated to climb up Dawn’s shoulders, she noticed Dawn look up @ her with a smile & say, “Well, whatever happens, ’twas nice o’ you to do this for me & to let me tag ’long, e’en though I screwed it up for us”.
“This always happens. We would’ve died regardless”, said Autumn. “If anything, the fact that Edgar’ll likely survive only makes this better than usual”.
“Well, whatever happens. Thanks”, Dawn said ’fore awkwardly wrapping an arm round Autumn & pressing her check to Autumn’s shoulder. She could feel & hear Autumn’s breathing become heavier & jerkier.
If she reacts like this to this, I wonder how she reacts to doing much closer things to Edgar. There must’ve been a time when it wasn’t a usual thing for them.
She backed ’way & laughed. “That was a shitty hug. Sorry, but this water ruins everything”.
Autumn merely shook her head. “I don’t understand why you & Edgar must always worsen these experiences”.
Dawn laughed ’gain, though in a much weaker way than before. “Well, you’d better hurry & try ’fore both o’ us tire ourselves out”.
Autumn nodded, & then swam round ’hind Dawn. Dawn shivered as she felt cold, wet hands touch her shoulder, only to afterward feel the worse sensation o’ weight pressing down on her shoulders, causing her to gradually lean toward the water, e’en with her paddling. She felt the weight briefly disappear, only to stomp back down on her with force.
“Can’t reach it”, said Autumn; “& the fact that you can barely keep yourself ’bove the surface with me on the shoulders indicates that it’ll be impossible no matter how many times we try”.
Autumn hopped back down, splashing green juice everywhere.
“Well, let’s look on the sunny side”, said Dawn: “A’least your swimsuit came in handy”.
“No, it didn’t; I still have my outer clothes o’er it, so my stuff’s still getting drenched. ’Sides, it won’t matter in the end, anyway”.
“So, ¿there’s nothing we can do?” asked Dawn.
“Not ’less you have an idea”.
Dawn paused to stare @ the water ’gain, curiosity rapt by the incongruity o’ the peaceful sound o’ splashing water with their situation.
“D’you think… You think Edgar’s noticed yet?”
“Definitely. He’s probably panicking down there”, said Autumn. “My only fear is that he’ll do something that’ll endanger himself while trying to save us”.
Dawn nodded. She was gasping for air.
She laughed nervously. “See, the fact that I know we’re gonna die only makes it harder to stay ’live”.
“I don’t think I can stay up for much longer”. Dawn gasped.
“Here”. Autumn swam o’er to her & held her arm round her stomach. “Let’s try staying afloat for as long as possible, just in case inspiration hits 1 o’ us”.
“I hope this isn’t rude to mention…” Dawn laughed. “’Specially with you holding me up from drowning; but I’m always astonished by the way you act like human roadkill most o’ the time, but then in these few occasions you’re suddenly Captain Nofear”.
Dawn had expected Autumn to ’splain said discrepancy in academic detail, but Autumn let this pass without further comment.
& the nerveless silence surrounded them ’gain.
Considering how amiably she spoke ’bout me earlier, ¿should I reply with my own… version? thought Autumn.
Wouldn’t be any use. She won’t remember any o’ this, anyway.
After a few minutes, Autumn said, “You may want to hold your breath & close your eyes… I don’t think I can hold us up for much longer”.
& sure ’nough, Autumn & Dawn began to plunge into the liquid as if entering ’nother realm, 1 that debilitated all sight & sound, leaving only a gradually growing tight pain in their chests & throats.
Despite their attempts to hold in their breaths, after a few minutes their arms finally disobeyed, opening their mouths to the flood o’ liquid. Though they felt as if everything in their throats were being squished, this sensation soon went ’way — as well as all others.
Edgar had watched Autumn from the bottom o’ the flask in case 1 o’ them fell & he needed to try to soften their fall, so he noticed immediately when Autumn disappeared from ’hind the bottle.
“¿Autumn? ¿Are you all right?” he called up, though his voice was so weak, he doubted they could hear him. He forced his voice louder & called ’gain, “¿Autumn? ¿Dawn? ¿Anyone?”
They must’ve fallen in…
O… ¿who knows how dangerous those chemicals could be? They may be… gone already.
I still have to think o’ a way to try saving them.
This won’t end well.
Edgar leapt for the rope, but already knew beforefeet that he wouldn’t be able to reach it.
OK. Need to calm down… Maybe if I — I could find something that could help me reach higher to the rope.
He turned his neck in every direction, the seemingly millions o’ objects round him blurring.
As he did this, he heard a voice ’bove call his name & tell him to look for “anything long” in her pack.
¡That must be Autumn! ¡I knew they were in trouble!
He frantically searched for her pack, only to find it right next to the bottle. Then he dug through it like a gofer with drills for hands, pulling everything out. However, the longest device he could find was a few huge P-coins — well, huge compared to him — which wouldn’t help him reach the rope, e’en if ’twere long ’nough to reach it.
He called up, “¡I can’t find anything in here long, nor can I reach the rope!” & then proceeded to panic.
¡Think! ¡You have to think! Stay calm. Autumn always said, panicking… panicking doesn’t do anything useful, so don’t do it.
I only wish I knew how to not do it anymo’.
Edgar’s own tactic was to inhale & exhale in mighty gulps.
OK. Now, Autumn also said you should always pay attention to any… any weird things you notice… OK… Now ¿what’s weird ’bout this situation?
Edgar could feel his own mind stare @ him with wide blankness, as if telling him, The easier question is, “¿What isn’t weird?”
Edgar winced, concentrating on his foggy memory o’ what Autumn & Dawn had said throughout their venture.
¡Wait! ¿Didn’t they keep saying…? ¡Weight! ¡Our weights are different! ¡Smaller! ¡That’s why we could jump higher & stuff!
But I still can’t reach the rope. I already tried.
Didn’t she also say… she also said that we were stronger than our weight or something… That’s why lifting each other was easier.
Maybe I could move the bottle…
I might hurt them mo’ than help them if I do that. Edgar looked back up @ the top o’ the bottle.
“¡Autumn! ¡Dawn! ¿Is there anything else you want me to do?”
This time, minutes passed without reply.
¡O no! ¡They must be unconscious or something now!
¡I have to hurry!
My problem is I hesitate too much. Like Autumn said, I have to act.
He ran o’er to the bottle & began to lightly push it. It didn’t budge, but it didn’t feel as if it put up much resistance, either. He pushed harder & found it began to tip.
Please don’t let this cause e’en mo’ problems… please don’t — O, I should probably aim this a li’l mo’ way from the edge: wouldn’t want them to fall off the table.
Halfway down, gravity took o’er, causing the vial to topple onto its stomach; but rather than spilling its contents, it practically spit it out like a gun, creating a stream a few units ’head o’ it, quickly moving forward.
Edgar quickly scanned back & forth ’mong the stream, finally seeing Autumn & Dawn’s drenched, curled, unconscious bodies being carried onward. He looked ’head o’ them & clutched his skull when he saw the water running o’er the other end o’ the table.
He then rushed toward them, feet splashing so far into the stream that it reached the hem o’ his shirt. However, a few steps in, he lost control o’ his own feet, the weight o’ the liquid overpowering his, & shoving him onward gainst his will.
Worse, he couldn’t stop himself from toppling forward, sinking his face underwater. Though he knew ’twas futile, he tried thrashing his arms & legs round to get out: the nearest approximation to “swimming” he knew how to do.
A few minutes later, he felt the table below him disappear, & then air poke holes through the serum round him, blowing heavily on him.
Less than a second later, he felt every nerve in his bones spike in pain in 1 sudden thrust, followed an instant later by complete, final unconsciousness.