J. J. W. Mezun ☆ Season 5 ☆ 2018 February 1


’Twas February: the time ’tween winter & spring when Boskeopolis was left leaky & gray like an o’erstuffed freezer left open to thaw. This thaw was bright, however, & packed with energy: all nature knew that the drips from every bough & roof fed the flowers that would soon bloom.


Dawn looked down @ Autumn with amusement.

You’re not still miffed ’bout Chamsby, ¿are you?.

¿Huh?. Autumn raised her head up from the cement floor just in front o’ her crossed legs & slid her dull eyes toward Dawn. No. I think we have far worse problems to worry ’bout.

We’ll be fine, Dawn said with a flick o’ her wrist.

We have nothing, Autumn said tonelessly. We don’t even have clothes that could get us into an interview, nor do you have the materials needed to make potions to sell.

We’ll be fine, said Dawn.

Autumn’s dour frown remained on her shoes.

¡O!. Dawn slapped her forehead. That reminds me: you’ve been so long without your….

Psycho juice.

That’s not what it’s called, said Dawn with a laugh. Stop calling it that. Plenty o’ people take it. There’s nothing to be ashamed o’.

Plenty o’ people who scrawl their feces onto the walls o’ their padded cells, said Autumn.

Dawn giggled. ¡No! Perfectly normal people.

It doesn’t matter, anyway: based on what you said before ’bout needing to take it consecutively, whatever doubtful progress I might’ve made’s surely evaporated, Autumn said in monotone.

Dawn put a hand on Autumn’s shoulder.

That’s not true. We’ve made plenty o’ progress.

Assertions aren’t proof.

No, truly, said Dawn. It’s just that your standards have risen, is all.

Too true, said Autumn: Years ago the prospect o’ dwelling in my very own storm drain with zilch but a few pocketed ₧ was a mere twinkle in my eye.

We’re here with you, said Dawn.

Dragging the rest down with me, as always.

That’s not true.

Asssertioooons, Autumn mock-sang in whispered monotone.

Dawn giggled. See, you’re feeling better already.

No: the loss o’ self-inhibition’s just the next step to self-destruction, said Autumn. Now I’ll just be wandering in the midst o’ traffic.

I’ll see ’bout mixing you mo’ antidepressant.

‘Dawn said as she held her imaginary vial o’ Kool-Aid colored liquid’, said Autumn.

I can get mo’, zany.

‘Dawn said as she plugged her devices into her imaginary outlet’.

Dawn sighed. Don’t remind me.

Dragging the rest down….

No you’re not. Stop it, said Dawn.

I know my presence is a true rollercoaster.

It truly is, said Dawn with nods.

Well, a’least someone derives benefits from my mental illnesses.

I didn’t mean it like that.

Autumn looked up @ Dawn with offense — the 1st time she looked up in a while, which cricked her neck a bit. I thought you were trying to make me feel better. Don’t take ’way what li’l gains I’ve gotten.

All right, I won’t, said Dawn. Just so long as you start feeling better.

I’ll shout @ my brain to produce mo’ dopamine; but I should warn you: it ne’er listens. The demand’s just not there.

Well, demand it, & then maybe you’ll get it.

I hope that’s not how you think demand works in true economies.

I don’t know, said Dawn. You’re the genius.

Yes, you can see my immense economic success in its shining glory.

You did become rich once, ¿remember?, asked Dawn.

I recall Edgar becoming rich….

She could see Edgar shaking his head.

The conversation tapered off then. Dawn, whom it seemed to Autumn must combust if she weren’t speaking every minute that existed, asked if anyone was hungry, only to quickly tap her forehead & add, Oops. Sorry, Edgar — forgot you don’t eat. Then she turned to Autumn & said, ¿You hungry?.

No, said Autumn.

¿Are you truly not hungry or have you only decreed that your evil, evil stomach doesn’t deserve nourishment?.

Autumn smiled wryly. I see you’ve finally admitted that I’m right….

Dawn frowned sadly. Aw, Autumn, that’s not funny. That’s a serious problem.

& yet, this caused Autumn to titter further.

I’ve been telling you that fore’er, Madame, said Autumn.

Still unamused, Dawn asked, ¿What do you want to eat?.

A packet o’ cyanide pills, please.

Autumn, that’s not funny. You’re not truly thinking o’ trying to commit suicide, ¿are you?.

’Course not, said Autumn indignantly. The will’s not there yet. Give it a few days, impatient.

That’s not funny….

All right, all right.

Autumn scowled, only for a smile to begin to crackle as she realized the absurdity o’ Dawn’s attempts to soften her poisonous self-thoughts only further stirring them. “¡How dare you burden me by making fun o’ yourself!”.

¿Well…?, asked Dawn ’gain.

Whatever’s cheapest, said Autumn.

I’ll get you a golden lobster with caviar, said Dawn.

Good: maybe I’ll choke on the shell shards.

Dawn sighed. Edgar, keep an eye on her.

Edgar nodded.

But as Dawn lifted a foot to a brick, Autumn said, Stop.

Dawn looked back @ Autumn with concerned eyes. ¿What?.

Let me go, said Autumn: you might be hit by a car.

Dawn smirked. ¿You’re worried ’bout my safety?.

I’m worried you’ll hog all o’ the opportunities for being run over.

Dawn shook her head. I don’t know whether to take your ill humor as a bad or benign sign.

I’ll answer for you: bad.


I can’t do that, said Autumn.

Autumn continued to stare into the murky gray the formed the throat o’ Edgar’s storm drain while Dawn poked her head in through the piercing white afternoon opening to the outside.

Yes you can, & you’re going to, said Dawn. You’re Felix’s bestest-best friend & she ’specially wants you there.

Your nice lies are obvious, said Autumn.

Phhh. Yeah. Felix absolutely hates you. Me & my silly fibs, said Dawn.

Mo’ like you & your silly reductiones ad ridiculum, said Autumn. ’Sides, there’s still that friend o’ hers.

¿Violet? ¿What’s wrong with her?.

I’m sure she doesn’t like me.

¿Why would you think that?, asked Dawn.

I robbed her, ¿remember?, said Autumn. You know how… upright she is. Reminds me o’ Lance, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure she’d be polite & euphemistic when rejecting me. Perhaps say she’d love to let me in if there was ’nough room or something.

Dawn turned to Edgar. Edgar, tell her she’s being silly.

Edgar only turned his head toward Dawn & stared @ her in confusion.

That’s hardly new for me, said Autumn.

You’re not planning on staying down here, ¿are you?, asked Dawn. ¿Remember what happened last time?.

Perhaps it’s a sign…, said Autumn.


Autumn took a deep, loud breath.

Whatever, Autumn said in a half-gasp, half-whisper. Sure.

You’re going to have mo’ fun than you’ve ever had before, said Dawn.

Uh huh.

Silence reverberated through their sewer cave.

So, ¿are you ready to come?.

Uh huh.

You’re not playing a game, ¿are you?.


To prove this, Autumn stood & turned toward Dawn — though she kept her eyes on the ground.

OK. ¿Do you both have everything with you?, asked Dawn.

None o’ us have anything, said Autumn.

You have stuff in your pockets.

Yes, our pockets are still on our clothes.

Dawn giggled. OK. ¿Either o’ you need help up?.

No, Autumn said as she slowly climbed up & out.

She & Dawn waited by the hole for Edgar & helped him in his climb — though Autumn felt like he was on his way to doing so by himself perfectly well.

They followed Dawn down the street, Edgar holding Autumn’s limp hand. To mollify the obnoxiousness o’ her recent behavior, she squeezed Edgar’s hand back — just a modicum o’ action to prove she still had a pulse. Quite the opposite: whether ’twas all the lack o’ action or the obvious dread, Autumn felt pinchings all o’er — the possibility o’ Dawn noticing & blabbing futilely ’bout them ’mong the utmost.

As always for events she had to be dragged in rattling, time rushed them through on their trip, so that Dawn was already leading them toward an apartment complex hideously familiar from past events she wished were forgotten, but half unfamiliar in this gray afternoon. Autumn was a’least thankful ’nough that she could just follow Dawn through all the doorways, hallways, & stairways, for she was too hazy-brained to pay them brain cells.

Hardly a second passed after they stopped before the door & Dawn knocked before the door opened, ’hind which was Violet, her face covered as always in black bangs — so much so that Autumn still had never seen her eyes, though she admitted she had ne’er tried. Felix’s blank face poked halfway out from ’hind Violet, seemingly halfway ’tween wanting to show herself & wanting to hide.

¡Madame Summers! ¡Such a long duration we have suffered since we have last derived the pleasure of your company!, exclaimed Violet.

She gripped Dawn’s hands & shook them firmly while Dawn laughed weakly, not trying to squeeze Violet to death as Autumn would expect.

Yeah, sorry. Guess we were so distracted by our recent hobby, said Dawn.

¡It is unbelievable!, cried Violet. She then stepped back & said, Please, come in.

Dawn did so, followed by Edgar & Autumn shuffling inside, both o’ whom were subjected to their own firm handshakes & greetings, to which Edgar returned with a nervous titter & Autumn returned with a quiet mumble. While Autumn’s eyes still remained aimed downward, they darted here & there to survey her environs — a habit she knew was pointless here.

Still, she couldn’t help noticing how full their home was o’ stuff that was not strewn all o’er as if the victim o’ an indoor hurricane. Said stuff was also rather fancy looking: a few pots & plants & actual paintings, as opposed to piles o’ random gadgets. Autumn wrote a mental note to compliment them on that if e’er challenged to speak independently.

Sit wherever you want, said Violet as she closed the door ’hind them.

Autumn covered her smile with her hands & thought, My intuition tells me that that broad category o’ permission would not include her garbage bin.

Edgar looked back @ her as if she were the 1 in charge. She set him straight:

You’re the beloved friend-catcher, whispered Autumn. You lead.

They both let Dawn lead them to the couch.

I am most surprised that you are not more miffed by this serious outrage by such a reputable organization, Violet said as she sat opposite them, only to bolt back up to her feet & add, O, do you want any —

Dawn shook her hand & said, No, that’s no problem.

¿You sure?.

Uh huh.

While they talked, Autumn noticed Felix sneak ’hind Violet & stand to the side o’ Violet’s chair, despite there being plenty o’ room for her to sit.

I do not understand how such a thing could happen, said Violet.

’Twas mostly an accident, I think, said Dawn.

I always believed that it must have been, Violet said with a nod. I knew you were utterly incapable of the behavior for which they accused you.

The question now is, thought Autumn, ¿who’s included & excluded in that “you”?.


Dawn knew Autumn had a pot boiling when she saw her enter without her usual slumped shoulders & sagging cheeks. ’Stead she ran up to Dawn @ a dash.

¿Fine heist there?. Dawn asked as she turned ’way from her potions.

Some opportunity — for amusement if not actual reward, Autumn said as she moved her hands round a moderately crumpled sheet. Ol’ Chamsby’s gotten soft now.

¿How so?.

Autumn snickered. He’s offering some reward to kickstart a genius hobo so that she can be led onto the path toward proper capitalist self-preservation. Apparently, 1 o’ the crimes the vile socialist cabal have committed is deterring the market from its meritorious distribution, — as Lance has learned from his year-long extravaganza, ’mong the ranks o’ the genius hobos — & thus must be fixed by such defenders o’ the correct free market as himself.

¿I take it you’ll be the genius hobo?, said Dawn.

False. Madame Penny Goldman shall.

Dawn snickered. ¿Will your disguise be the finest top hat & business suit a poor person has ever worn?.

Too rich for my lymph — I’m a hobo, ¿remember?, said Autumn. Quite the opposite: I plan to be dressed as a medieval pauper.

¿Will your hair have cobwebs in it?

Autumn nodded. Certainly; & my sleeves shall have patches lovingly stitched on by myself.

Dawn laughed. Fuck you. My patches are cute.

However, since this challenge applies only to homeless people, I’ll have to return to the storm drain for a while.

Dawn turned to Autumn with less amusement, only for Autumn to intercept her questions by raising her sheet & saying, You can read this if you want proof that this challenge’s authentic.

I don’t mean to criticize, ¿but don’t you feel a li’l bad for blocking other poor people from this opportunity when you don’t need it as much? ¿Isn’t this kinda what you berated me for?.

I won’t win, said Autumn.

Ah, see, the pieces didn’t seem to fit ’cause I didn’t take your self-loathing to its full extend, said Dawn. Clearly your economic status not only proves you to be stupider than those economically better off, but also stupider than those worse off than you are, ’cause reasons.

E’en if I do win initially, — which I do hope, despite my average-level intelligence, which should be contrasted with your strawman version o’ my understanding regarding my relative intelligence — Lance would ne’er offer the prize to me.

I thought you’d be in disguise.

The fun’s ruined if I don’t reveal myself after he’s been bamboozled.

Hmmph. You always told me that such silly things as fun are not nearly as importance as success.

This is intellectual success, which is superior to economic success.

& yet economic success determines one’s intellectual success, said Dawn.

Autumn bowed her head a li’l & said, I thank you for your regard in twisting my vile self-hating arguments in the most propagandist fashion just to make me feel better. Tragically, the authentic Autumn believes neither economic success nor assertions pulled from Madame Summers’s rectum to be evidence o’ one’s value.

They must be pulled from Madame Springer’s rectum, ’stead.

Autumn smiled, but didn’t respond, which surprised Dawn.

Anyway, I just wanted to warn you so that you don’t twist your knickers over my being absent for a while, said Autumn.

Maybe I’ll twist my knickers, anyway, solely to spite you, said Dawn.

Well, a’least keep it to yourself this time.

¿Will Edgar be joining you?, asked Dawn.

The opportunity’s only open to 1 person.


We’re talking ’bout rugged individualist hobos here, Autumn said with mock indignation. The last thing Sir Chamsby wants to do is encourage mo’ commie collectivism.

You’re mo’ intimate on Sir Chamsby’s religious beliefs than I am, said Dawn.

This is deeply ironic, for someone with such self-love to be similar to someone they despise.

Didn’t keep you from offering him handouts, said Dawn.

Yes, & now it’s time for the other loathsome wretch to get hers, Autumn said as she turned ’way.

I thought you said you weren’t going to win, said Dawn.

Intellectual success. ¿Have you already forgotten our discussion?.

Sorry, I couldn’t keep up, said Dawn; must be my below-average intelligence.

Autumn didn’t reply. ’Stead, she paused for a second in seeming thought, & then mumbled a quick goodbye before leaving.


See, this is the kind o’ tenderizing that Dawn’s meddlesome coddling does to me: I’ve already lost my immunity to the cold.

O well: it’ll make me look mo’ pathetic. I have to remember that I’m s’posed to try to look pathetic this time. Luckily that’s the easy job for me.

Autumn crushed her hands together as she sat huddled on the sidewalk in front o’ Wasabi Woods — whence she hoped Lance would come. She wished she’d brought a book. Her spirits had been raised from this frivolous endeavor ’nough to trick her into thinking she could improve herself ’bove the quality o’ human paperweight. However, a book might deter Lance — if not ’cause he probably wouldn’t believe a poor person could acquire a book without stealing, ’cause those who use libraries are villainous enablers o’ literary socialism.

Thus Autumn sufficed with planning what she would do after this scheme ended, since ’twas clear that Violet would tire o’ her bumming & that she’d need to find a form o’ compensation soon.

’Cause her eyes had to be somewhere, they naturally fell on the forestry, all naked but the firs, & all covered in icicle beads, now dripping under the fog-smothered sun. It made her wish she could’ve brought Edgar, who she thought would’ve loved to look @ this.

She saw movement before hearing it: a black speck surrounded by a few other golden specks. She soon saw them grow in familiar details.

Shit. I just thought o’ something: he probably won’t be happy to see me sitting round doing nothing. Isn’t that just like the lazy bum, expecting a handout.

Can’t blame me if I’m just waking up — as he did.

She leaned down on her arm & rubbed the black-dyed bangs from her face, fixing her eyes sunken & unfocused, as if just waking.

She saw him stop & point @ her. There’s 1.

She sat up mo’ straightly, eyes in greater focus. She stared Lance directly in the eye with a half-smile, half-frown. Lance responded with a second’s worth o’ raising his eyebrow before starting his spiel:

You, Madame. ¿What is your name?.

Rubí Olmos-Prieto, said Autumn.

Lance raised ’nother brow. ¿Is that your true name, or a fake to ward off conspirators? You needn’t fear me. I’m an honorable man.

Autumn had to resist the urge to snicker. She couldn’t decide what was funnier: Lance’s focus on the epidemic o’ conspiracies gainst the homeless or that he still hadn’t learned that asserting something doesn’t prove something.

She replied, ¿What have I to fear from conspirators? I have done nothing wrong. I have ne’er compromised my morals.

Lance stepped back with eyes screwed in confusion. He peered in mo’ closely to her.

Hmm… Maybe I slathered the dressing too strong….

Lance held out a sheet & said, ¿Would you be interested in answering some o’ these questions? I’m looking for brilliant John Galts hiding ’mong the dregs o’ society in this corrupt society in which we now find ourselves. Autumn noticed doubt in Lance’s eyes. E’en he realized how silly this sounds. He added, ¿You recognize that name, ¿right?.

Autumn nodded stoically, causing Lance to practically jump with wide eyes.

¿Why so surprised?, asked Autumn. There are many o’ us out here. It’s like you said, society’s become so corrupt that it’s impossible for us upright men to participate. When those who do skillful work are exploited by those who do nothing but rest & profit thanks to extortion o’ the thuggish government that says we can’t create our own value for ourselves without their consent @ the threat o’ violence, ¿how can we not revolt? ¿How can any rational man with a lucid view o’ truth not see how radioactive such a system is & how inevitable it will collapse?.

’Gain Lance raised a brow, & now rubbed his chin.

O shit. ¿Did he figure it out?.

Hmm… Well, the 1st question is, ¿What is the only role government should play in economics?, asked Lance.

Nothing more or less than to protect each individual’s ability to freely earn one’s own wealth without the threat o’ coercion or extortion from them or anyone else, said Autumn. Such as rude-ass property laws getting in the way o’ my principles looting.

Mmm hmm. Lance nodded, his eyes focused on the paper in his hand. ¿& what value does the ideology o’ altruism have for people?.

None, intellectually, said Autumn; for if, as altruists say, a man’s only goal is to serve other men, than the logical consequence is that man has no goal — it would be nothing but to serve nothing but to serve nothing, in a ne’er-ending spiral into nothingness.

Lance looked @ her with surprise, but continued with the next question:

¿& what value has religion to rational men?.

None: it is but a drug that only numbs the gullible masses from objective reality as a means to distract them from their own weak-willed submission.

Lance nodded as he slid a finger further down his sheet. O, ¡c’mon! ¡That 1 was obvious! ¡I knew that quote before I e’en knew who the bearded bugger was!.

& lastly, ¿what is the purpose o’ art?.

O, shit. Don’t think I know the Party’s stance on this 1. Looks like I’m off to the Gulag. Perhaps it’s a trick question.

Art’s… primary purpose is to imbue people with… rational values by which we understand reality.

Lance nodded. I must say I am quite surprised to see ’nother rational man ’mong the dregs.

I’m quite certain what I said wasn’t e’en coherent, but whatever. Not the 1st time I bullshitted through a test & won.

Though, I do have to say, perhaps people have been a bit hard on ol’ Madame Rand. She was quite clever, actually: she understood that you can just string together ’nough metaphysical nonsense & rich twits will eat that shit up like fudge.

& it’s a good thing this “intelligence” test didn’t involve such superfluousness as math or natural sciences.

Autumn merely smiled & said, I told you, ¿how would you expect a rational man to respond to such corruption?.

Lance appeared to glance ’way with some uncertainty.

Yeah, Lance: ¿why haven’t you scurried ’way to some vacant island with the other brilliant snowflakes? ¡Heathen!.

But then Lance laughed & clapped his hands together. But we musn’t be nihilistic.

¿Mustn’t we? ¿Por qué?

Lance continued, Come. Let’s dine & discuss how we’ll clean up all this corruption — for the best in all o’ us. We mustn’t give up on the world yet.

Autumn frowned as she followed him through Wasabi Woods.

I prefered him when he was a bitter bastard….


Autumn’s spine wavered as she followed Lance up the dusty stone steps o’ his castle. ¿How long should I let this hoax continue? ¿Should I let him give me the money or should I reveal myself before?.

¿Why not now?.

Seems a waste. The perfect opportunity may present itself.

So she continued like a tire tethered, awaiting to see her path as if she held scissors o’er the rope, ready to snip the second she sees fields fall into valleys.

The worst thing I e’er did was develop a conscience. Now I’m starting to feel bad ’bout playing this twit.

Her unease only increased when they stepped in what Autumn assumed was the dining room — or a’least 1 o’ them. While Lance spent no delay sitting in his throne @ 1 end, Autumn couldn’t stop gaping @ all o’ the food covering the meters-long table: roast beefs still steaming, covered in the same mysterious golden sauce; dozens o’ black, white, & red sugary confections; egg halves covered in red powder; bread in crescents, tan texture deepening near the middle. Warm scents from various directions mingled, filling her nose mo’ than she e’er thought her stomach had been filled.

Erm, sit down, Madame, please, said Lance. Turning her attention to him, Autumn could see his eyes aimed ’way awkwardly. Autumn was unsure whether to find this delightful or discomfortable herself.

Autumn took a deep breath as if preparing to submerge her head in a shark tank & sat ’cross from Lance. She tried to stifle her frown down @ the many dishes into a befuddled flat gaze; but deep depression was what Autumn felt as she watched them all — every dish a word balloon shouting, “¡What you’ll ne’er be worth!”, jabbing into her like an arrow. In an instant she realized the ludicrousness o’ her pathetic hoax — that any cheap trick she tried could be heard ’mong all o’ these screams o’ Lance’s net worth all round him. No, he’d @ best roll his eyes & send her back out into the emptiness with nary an extra thought — something she would’ve relished before till her deeper fall into shamelessness.

As usual, she wanted to feed this self-loathing by refusing to eat, the emptiness o’ her stomach matching the emptiness o’ her whole self. It’d feed the far-hungrier need for consistency in her mind. However, she knew not eating would hinder her hoax, so she took a piece from the dishes nearest her.

Luckily, all o’ my odd behavior just-so-happens to be similar to that which an authentic bum would do — & since Lance has likely forgotten all ’bout how homelessness is like….

Actually, maybe I should go easy on him there. He did somehow survive a year like that — & probably had a better chance o’ surviving longer than I did, considering how close I was to popping myself off. Still, am, truly. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off dimming my mind so I could be utmost certain in the truth o’ some religion & delude myself into thinking there’s some purpose to everything.

Thinking ’bout this made Autumn realize the absurdity o’ her earlier sentiment: she was a bum. The reason her behavior looked like that which a bum would do was ’cause she was 1. Violet letting her bum @ her home — as well as Dawn doing the same earlier — was just a collective delusion they perpetrated. She knew she wasn’t 1 o’ them, that their help was nothing mo’ than pitiful charity to a bum just to protect themselves from the bleak realization that there were people — humans in the same skin as theirs — as wretched as she was.

Lance threw his napkin onto his plate & hopped off his chair, causing Autumn;s eyes to instinctively jerk toward him in alarm.

You’re right, said Lance, we can’t eat when we have so much better substance on which to feed — the substance o’ success created by our own hands.

Autumn smiled pitifully.


¡Aha! ¡Bold ’nough to use my familiar name, I see!, exclaimed Lance with a raised index. ¡I know why you ne’er seeked my help like the other sponges: you know you didn’t need it, that your own will & skill would ’ventually lead you to success!.


Autumn flung back her hood, rubbed the contacts out o’ her eyes, & replaced them with her customary black-rimmed glasses. Lance stared @ Autumn with confusion, & then winced, peering closer in examination.

You’re the looter, Autumn Springer, aren’t you, he said dryly.

Autumn agreed with her head, smirking.

But Lance didn’t appear angry, or e’en annoyed. ’Stead he stared off, nose wrinkled in concentration. As she watched this & remembered the questions asked earlier, Autumn’s heart stopped in dread.

He doesn’t… He doesn’t think I had a change o’ heart & want to join his capitalist religion now, ¿does he?.

Autumn smiled mo’ wryly & said, You seem disturbed by the possibility that a looting commie could pass your test. You forgot the wise ol’ saying: know your enemy. ¿How could I do a good job o’ confounding the vile bourgeoisie if I didn’t know how they think? — or a’least pretend to think.

Lance looked @ Autumn with his patented petulance. I s’pose you still expect the money, which you will doubtlessly use fruitfully.

If you do give it to me, I’ll just give it ’way to charity. I only accept rewards I win myself by my own hard-earned theft. It’s a new economic theory I invented: the Looter Theory o’ Value.

Which I’m sure shall truly give the Labor Theory a run for the banks, said Lance. I hope you don’t mistake me as gullible to take a self-confessed thief by her word.

I would hope you’re not gullible ’nough to take anyone by their word, whether thief or capitalist, said Autumn with a shrug. Look @ how valuable your rich friends’ worth was last year.

Lance stood straighter. I’ll have you know that my henchmen have proven themselves to be o’ utmost loyalty, despite the lies o’ those in government. Autumn could hear the emphasis on the last word & didn’t need a PhD in literary analysis to understand the meaning ’hind it.

Wouldn’t be a good government if they couldn’t lie well — that’s their job after all, said Autumn. You should know that intimately.

A word o’ advice, Madame Springer: insulting people isn’t a practical way to earn remuneration from them.

Autumn nodded. I have noticed that o’er the years. Punishing independent thought is, after all, capitalism’s greatest strength as an individualist system o’ people colluding with each other.

Lance tossed his head back. Your words are clearly chosen mo’ for riling others than based on any objective logic.

Can’t argue with that. I did insult your 2 favorite things: capitalism & government.

As entertaining as this discussion has been, I’m ’fraid I’m far too busy for japes, said Lance.

Autumn nodded, & then quickly turned ’way & walked toward the door, ardent on breaking off 1st — negative actions being those with which Autumn employed the utmost competitiveness.


Autumn stopped @ the doorway, chest seizing in a mix o’ tiredness o’er a meeting that had already lived too long & unease @ expectations o’ further humiliation.

Ne’ertheless, she turned back, eyes as still as e’er.

You may recall that we made a deal: I hadn’t gone after you for your various crimes since we made the deal & am no longer mayor. Therefore, I believe you owe me a certain document, Lance said with his arms crossed.

Autumn tilted her brows in feigned confusion for a second, & then raised them in mock realization.

Left it @ home. Sorry, she mumbled, eyes glancing downward. I can go get it & bring it here. Shouldn’t interfere too much with my busy schedule o’ jabbing knifes into my palms.

Autumn cringed, already regretting blurting out the last part. Sometimes sardonic speech is solely ’scuses for shabbiness.

’Sides, it may be useful; & Autumn had learned long ago that being a thief was simply trading one’s dignity for material rewards. Just like business, actually.

Lance ignored the last comment — a breath o’ cigarette air for Autumn, that tasted sweeter than acknowledgment, but was worse in the long run.

I’m sure you’ll keep that promise…, said Lance.

Autumn stretched her arms out, robe sleeves drooping. You can search me if you want.

No thanks. I’d loath to see what other paraphernalia you have on you, said Lance.

Autumn stifled the urge to frown in disgust. He was probably accusing me o’ being a druggie, not making some hacky sex joke. That’s acceptable.

Without further words, Autumn turned & headed out without further delay.

But on her way down the steps, her eyes widened, she tapped her forehead, & she silently mouthed, O yeah…. Then she dug her hands into her robe &, in there, dug into her boxers & pulled out a document. Further down the steps, she saw 1 o’ Lance’s golden-tuxedoed minions & held it out to him.

Lance wanted this. I forgot I did have it, she said.

As if she were his employer, he lightly bowed his head & said, Yes, Madame, leaving Autumn’s nerves rattled as he scampered up the steps.

Autumn’s attention lingered on the path he took, remembering what Lance said ’bout their loyalty — a stark divergence from his usual complaints that they were nothing but incompetents.

¿Are they though? ¿E’en when they know they’re just paid pawns for doing whatever he tells them to do?.

¿Or do they? Maybe they think he cares ’bout them as mo’ than breathing capital. Maybe he truly does. ¿Who knows?.



Lance was watching through his gothic window looking o’er Wasabi Woods, just as gray as ’twas hours earlier, as if the outside were a black & white film.

He turned back to Agent Banana Mania.


The ponytailed looter wanted me to hand this to you, Sir, said Banana Mania as he held out a rolled-up paper.

Lance took it, brow raised. As he unrolled it before him, he saw a small card pop out. He held it closer to his face & saw the words, Enjoy the nostalgia – your favorite looter.

He looked down @ the bigger sheet & saw ’twas a contract signed by Fitzgerald J. Chamsby promising 100 million ₧ to then-General Clay ’long with some frivilous words ’bout “rule o’ law” & “freedom o’ property” that his father evidently didn’t put much respect into.

Hmm…, Lance murmured as he rolled the document back up.

¿You need me to put it somewhere safely, Sir?, asked Banana Mania.

Yeah. Just stow it in the safe near your post, Lance said as he handed back the doc o’er his shoulder.

Yes, Sir.

Lance resumed gazing off @ the forest outside, pondering what he should do with what felt like a limitless future. Now was the time for thinking. He’d earned it after surviving the world’s attempt to destroy him — proof o’ rational man’s triumph o’er the primitive environment.

Um, Sir….

¿What?. Lance said this loudly & turned back in reaction to Banana Mania’s urgent tone.

Um, when I went to your safe, I, uh… I saw it broken into & its stuff all gone….

Figures, said Lance as he turned back to the window. In the year I’ve been gone, it figures some cowardly thie — Lance’s eyes widened, & then he smacked his forehead. ¡O! ¡I’m an idiot!.

¿What, Sir?. Banana Mania’s tone was e’en mo’ high-pitched & quick than before.

I just let the most ardent looter walk right through my castle unwatched, that’s what.

¿You want me to see if I can find her?.

Don’t bother, said Lance, turning back to his window. We have sweeter cakes to bake. If taking superfluous trinkets is the only think that keeps her from stabbing herself, may as well leave her be.


This time after Violet answered her knocks, Autumn didn’t hesitate to step inside, heading straight for the kitchen area, where Edgar was predictably rolling balls o’ dough onto a metal sheet — though now with Felix standing next to him, watching.

He stopped & looked up. O, hello, Autumn. You came just in time for chocolate balls.

I’ll have to abstain, sadly, said Autumn. Then she leaned into his ear & whispered, I have to stay in our storm drain for a few days while I… reap the gains from my new stock. Tell Dawn so she doesn’t have a hissy fit & think I’ve gone to dash my br — She stopped & glanced toward Felix, only to breathe in relief when she saw no change to Felix’s blank downward stare.

¿Can I come?, asked Edgar.

¿What ’bout your chocolate balls?.

Edgar turned to Felix. ¿You think you can do the rest?.

I’ll probably do a bad job, Felix said without sadness, but through her usual low, matter-o’-fact tone. I’ll try, though.

I’m sure you’ll do great, said Edgar.

As any rational person would, Felix turned ’way in awkwardness @ this conspicuously forced praise.

Or perhaps she’s sad @ the loss o’ an opportunity to help Autumn in a heist — though this “heist” was now just going to stores after various intervals & selling stuff. She still considered Felix’s potential adeptness as a thief, considering her deception skills she showed earlier. Then ’gain, maybe that was solely ’cause she was so ardent in her attempt to reach that goal.

We still need to tell Dawn, whispered Autumn.

But when they told Dawn, she also said, I want to come.

Autumn shrugged. Your loss. We’ll mostly just be waiting round in a sewer guarding treasure till we can sell it all. Anyway, you can help to share in the selling to make it go mo’ quickly & safely.

Also, ¿do you still have any disguises?.

Uh huh. I can bring my trunk if you want, said Dawn.

Thank you.

¿Where’d you get it already?, asked Dawn. I thought you were playing that trick on Lance.

Autumn smiled. I lied by telling the truth: I didn’t take Lance’s offered money.

But you robbed him while he was distracted, said Dawn.

What I gave him was worth this loot.

Dawn nodded without asked what that was. ¿Is she that perceptive? Or maybe she thinks I’m talking ’bout our help earlier. Knowing her silly sentiments, she probably thought handing that cheap bag o’ chips to him in his deepest depths was the highest point.

They waited for Autumn to change into a costume before going out. As they headed for the front door, Autumn said to Violet, You don’t mind if we’re out for a few days, ¿do you? I happened ’pon some gig watching someone’s pugs while she’s on vacation.

That is no tribulation on my part in any form, Madame Springer, Violet said cheerily. Congratulations on your 1st occupation.

Autumn wanted to scoff @ calling this — e’en if ’twere not manufactured — an “occupation”, but ’stead just murmured a thanks & waved goodbye.

Dawn waited till they were right outside the apartment complex before saying, That was a clever ruse. ¿You think that up just now?.

No. I had a whole trek from Wasabi Woods to devise it, said Autumn.

I take it the bus cost too much money — as in some @ all, said Dawn.

Wise looters avoid locking themselves into devices full o’ people. ’Sides, I used the opportunity to stop @ a few stops to sell some o’ my loot already.

¿Too suspicious to sell it all @ once?, asked Dawn. I take it that that’s what the costumes are for, too.


I guess you learned all o’ this from trial & error.

If I did, I’d still be in jail, answered Autumn. Simply seems logical.


That mechanically-square storm-drain mouth ’hind dry-green grass teeth wasn’t a pleasing sight in the still steel-weathered February; & yet, Autumn felt its ugliness less ugly that the lovelier summer. A’least it fit in with the former; in the latter, it stabbed out like a bloody deer carcass in a flower field, its surrounding balm reminding her o’ the elusive happy world always round her, but always outside reach.

They slid in, legs-1st. E’en after less than a month, to Autumn the inside felt colder & emptier. Its lichen, metallic smell was already like a long-lost acquaintance.

Worse: Autumn wasn’t sure whether or not she missed it.

Autumn clicked on the lamp she’d given Edgar a’least a decade ago. If the soggy moss sticking to the rusty cement wasn’t ’nough o’ a contrast, the felt portrait o’ the magnified pixels o’ someone’s nose within a golden frame should’ve been.

Dawn laughed as she stared @ it. I couldn’t imagine Chamsby being interested in abstract art.

I doubt he picked it out himself, said Autumn. Likely a relic from his father.

Dawn put her hands in her jacket pockets, despite them already being covered in mittens, & leaned back & forth on each leg as she continued to stare @ the portrait with pensive eyes.

Sh — , began Autumn, only for Dawn @ that very moment to begin saying, Wi — . They both stopped near the same time.

Sorry, you can go 1st, said Autumn.

I was just wondering if we’d have to break the painting down into pieces, said Dawn.

No. I have all o’ the other loot in my pockets & pack.

Dawn tapped her forehead. Duh. ’Course you wouldn’t leave anything you couldn’t keep on you. That’d be like tossing it all into someone else’s hands.

Autumn nodded.

Though I'm now realizing I forgot to bring blankets for us, said Autumn.

No, I brought some, Edgar said as he stepped forward, an arm rummaging inside his robe.

Mmm. Keen thinking, said Autumn.

That’s good. I forgot how cold it gets down here, said Dawn as she rubbed her hands & legs together while exhaling fog.

Sorry. Should’ve warned you, I s’pose, said Autumn.

Nah, I would’ve come, anyway.

Autumn herself stamped her feet up & down with her gloveless hands stuffed into her jacket while turning left & right; however, part o’ that was her need to constantly be touching her loot to be sure ’twas still there & hadn’t fallen out some ill-timed hole & a way to distract her body while her mind devised.

You 2 know… Hmm….

¿What?, asked Dawn.

I was going to ask you… I wonder how suspicious it’d be if we went into the same shop round the same time….

Shouldn’t be too suspicious if we’re well-disguised, said Dawn. If they can’t recognize us individually, ¿why would they note us being together?.

But Autumn still twisted her mouth & winced 1 eye.

I s’pose it’ll work fine — but just to be sure, we should… 1 o’ us should go in, & in the middle o’ the 1st, the 2nd should come in.

¿& then the 3rd in the middle o’ the 2nd?, asked Dawn.

No: a few minutes after the 2nd’s left. We want to be as patternless as possible to maximize the appearance o’ independence ’mong us.

O, I got it. Clever.

With disguises we can maybe fit in a few mo’ goes tonight — though we should still space them out; preferably with greater delays ’tween us. Keep in mind that there are some aspects o’ us — height, for example — which our disguises won’t hide. Combined ’gain, we may give them greater notice.

I guess we’ll each have to mostly be ’lone during these, said Dawn.

Yes. Though we can’t practically avoid exiting from the same place — & heaven hope no one discovers this hide out & gets curious, as I’m surprised so few do….

¿Has anyone come down here? — other than O’Beefe, ’course.

Autumn paused, looking ’way — an automatic gesture she wish she hadn’t done, since it only made her pause look mo’ suspicious.

Nothing serious I can remember, she said. I wish to keep it that way.


Autumn was the last to venture to the jeweler’s that night — already in deep darkness thanks to the winter. ’Twas 1 o’ winter’s strengths, as Autumn always felt safer under the shadows o’ night than under the all-embracing spotlight o’ the sun.

She was glad she was ’lone, as a surprising scorch snuck into the corner o’ her eyes, causing them to water. ’Twas strange: usually crying was associated with negative sentiments; but in her deepest depressions her eyes were always drier than summer oaks. No, ’twas only now that her veins rushed with meaty blood that she remembered she had tear ducts — only now that she could feel that half-paper, half-fabric texture o’ ₧ bills snug tightly in her pocket, like a tether connecting her to a world she before always thought was always a danger. Sure, she knew ’twas temporary; knew that this was a rare event based almost on charity — as any victory an unskilled person like her could earn would harbor — & that her gains would ’ventually run out like the crack o’ an addict, leaving her slicing her arm in withdrawal ’gain. But then, she realized all o' life was temporary.

O well, she thought as she strolled through Boskeopolis, gazing up @ its buildings, its trees, & its skies as one would an alien world: with bored wonder.

Then she saw their li’l black hole squeezed out o’ focus by the giant glowing convenience store.

Her stomach growled; & in her high, she felt like filling it this time.

Better check to make sure they haven’t already bought something.

As she neared, she could hear Dawn say, …think you guys would like it. It looks amazing.

Autumn slid inside to see Edgar & Dawn snuggled under blankets, both leaning on different sides o’ the wall.

Dawn looked up from her Game Boy & said, ¿Went well?.

Autumn turned & saw a still-steaming hot dog covered in jalapeño slices & melted cheese on a boxy paper bowl folded up like those paper fortune-tellers from primary school. Next to it was a bottle o’ HeroHero cola.

Thank you, mumbled Autumn.

She sat next to Edgar, who lifted an edge o’ the blanket to let Autumn under. She slid under & squeezed in closer. There she ate in silence while Edgar read in silence & Dawn played her Game Boy in silence.

Unsurprisingly, Dawn was the 1st to breach: I wasn’t sure if you liked those. Sorry if you don’t.

I’m a connoisseur, so you should be, Autumn said ’tween bites.

If that wasn’t ’nough, I can go out & get mo’, said Dawn. The store we’re next to is open all night.

¿Did you have the same thing?. Autumn asked before taking a sip o’ her cola.

Yeah, but I thought ’bout getting mo’ — but then I’m kind o’ a glutton.

Autumn paused for a second, staring off pensively.

If you do go out, I want to come, too. Want to see what they… have….

The smile that ballooned on Dawn’s face caused Autumn’s eyes to burn so much that she had to look ’way.

When Autumn finished her hot dog, she stood & said, ’K. Then she looked down @ Edgar & said, ¿You want to come? I know you don’t eat, but….

The sole logical extension she could think o’ was, people aren’t always logical, but felt that to be 1 o’ those thoughts better left unsaid.

He said, Sure.

So they let Dawn lead them up through the cement face full o’ stony boils & then in through the translucently clean sliding teeth o’ the Morgenacht’s. Inside was electric white gainst the cool darkness outside, both jarring & yet refreshing, like a sharp, fruity energy drink.

In her new state o’ comfort, meshed into this world, Autumn gazed @ all o’ the wares as she’d ne’er done before, only now noticing all o’ their different packages with a variety o’ fonts & images, each o’ which held stories for how each package was designed, the business ’hind every logo, & the manufacture o’ each product — each probably made up o’ multiple products produced elsewhere — & the movement o’ these goods from factories to stores. ’Twas a mess o’ pipes intertwining in a million ways, where a million other liquids could refresh or poison others; & Autumn watched the steel cases, intrigued by the possibility o’ fitting into a spot inside these warm caves — & yet simultaneously wary o’ the possibility o’ entrapment.

You’re not going to analyze the calorie-per-price ratio o’ each thing to find the most efficient, ¿are you?, asked Dawn.

¿Hmm? No. Just remembering that I know nothing ’bout food, & so coming here to choose was likely futile.

Think o’ it as an exciting risk, said Dawn.

An opportunity to waste money on terrible-tasting food does sound exciting…, said Autumn.

Dawn picked up a red-orange bag o’ “Jalapeño Nacho” Pythagoritos.

You can get mo’ than 1, by the way, said Dawn. I think I’m going to get 2.

Autumn could see Dawn already had a sack o’ buttercups in her arm.

That’ll only make my delay exponential.

That’s OK: there’s heating in here.

Autumn waited a second, tapping a finger gainst her chin.

Dawn & Edgar stood to the side, Dawn with a smirk, & Edgar failing to stifle a yawn & rubbing his eyeholes.

Fuck it: I’ll have what you’re having, said Autumn as she grabbed a bag. ¿Where are those candies?.

I’ll show you, said Dawn, walking ’way.

Dawn led her to the shelf an aisle down, & then they went to the front desk & bought them.

It wasn’t till they were halfway out in the night ’gain that Dawn whispered to Autumn, I’m surprised you didn’t try stealing anything. ¿Feeling too nice?.

No: multiple thefts are a bad idea. ¿Wouldn’t it be great if I were caught with all o’ this strange junk filling my pockets?.

When they returned to their spots, Edgar immediately lay with his head on Autumn’s lap. Despite her purported hunger, Autumn only heard Dawn eat a few pieces from both her bags ’fore sealing them back with chip clips she happened to have on her. Then Dawn clicked off her Game Boy, turning off its lamp, & the only light near Dawn. Autumn then heard the ruffling o’ cloth — presumably Dawn lying down.

Autumn, e’er unable to sleep when rational people slept, was left to stare off into dimness o’ these long-lost familiar cement caverns. How eerie how comfortable she felt that night.