A man walks down the sidewalk & looks up to see a curtain o’ birds as black as night firs gliding o’er the city as if throwing on the pumpkin-&-blood-splashed veil o’ October. Everybody knew October was the month when the perfectly connected cords underlaying Boskeopolis became… less connected; & through its tiny holes bugs & viruses sneaked past, wrecking havoc—which is quite different from the usual havoc-wreaking, but still dangerous.
’Course, some say these are just silly superstitions. ¿But what’s their explanation for Otoño Oranja Santiago Márquez Arcadio Petronio Oranja’s statuesque stasis if not the legendary “Blue Death” caused by these vicious viruses that creep through the city @ night? E’en someone as scientific-minded as he knew these were no superstitions.
No. There were times to be skeptical, & times when skepticism became denial. & humans denial o’ science’s twisted reality saddened him.
But Boskeopolis feels peaceful now—too peaceful. He felt the scattering leaves brush harmlessly gainst his shins. How ironic that in death their color becomes suffused with blood oranges & red—& yet, ¿is it not death when we are reminded o’ all the blood, all o’ the warm, sticky, & soft machinery inside mankind? A stark contrast to the empty cold air creeping into his stomach.
But that would change tonight. He could see the brown-grassed hill next to Heureuse Manor rise before him, filled with tombstones o’ various shapes & sizes, like a miniature city.
’Twas time for that city to awaken for a new day—or rather, a new night after sleeping through a long mortal day.
Though the lazy eye would think this graveyard nothing but barren decay, the sway o’ long grass in the wind spoke o’ its potential energy.
He stepped into the heart o’ the colony, focusing on the largest gravestone he saw. He stopped to examine its rounded corners swirling into themselves like Romanesque pillars & the embedded border round the eulogy, with a carved rose up from the bottom.
The lab coat flapped in the picking-up wind. He could feel a raindrop here & there fall on him. He stuck a hand inside 1 o’ his inside pockets & brought out a vial bubbling with pink serum glowing from the moon’s reflected light. Though there was no thunderstorms, the pumping in his chest was an adequate replacement for him.
He pulled off the cork top with a loud pop & shakily tipped its contents down on the mix o’ dirt & grass in front o’ the grave. When it hit the ground, it @ 1st left a black puddle, only to suddenly burn bright green like a firework.
He stepped back & waited, feeling every beat o’ the rain drum from ’bove like a throb o’ his smothered lungs, hungry.
His 1st sign was a pebble almost the size o’ a crumb tumbling ’way, followed by its bigger cousins. Then the whole ground shook.
& Dr. Equinox licked his lips as he saw the moldy-blue fingers scrape their way out from under the dirt.
A stinging heart is usually assumed to be due to a cute boy saying one wasn’t cute ’nough to date, a cute school saying one wasn’t smart ’nough to join, or a cute cat saying one hadn’t fed it ’nough to pet; but this wasn’t the type Dawn felt in the midst o’ that roof party strung with streamers orange & black. ’Stead, her heart swelled like allergic noses under summer suns, the vibrations o’ the banging boom box running through her heels like beach waves.
Every eyeball was on her.
“Now, you have to be careful with this stuff,” she said ’loud as she stepped back from the table.
The vial in her latex hand chirped with bubbles like a million insects. The smoky scent o’ May fireworks spread, its clouds’ pastel colors blending with the glow o’ the orange & red pumpkin lanterns, spiking their watering eyes like sugar in both pain & delight.
Moments after the smoke faded, many still gaped as if transfixed. A few minutes’ gap & then they clapped.
“It wasn’t much,” she said as she raised the vial to her lips, & then blew the fumes ’way. “Nothing you can’t learn from textbooks & stuff.”
Seeing that the show was o’er, most strayed to feed their fleeting attention spans.
Only 1 walked up to Dawn as she stowed her chemicals ’way. She noticed his slow, fidgety gait.
She smiled. Knew the dudes would dig the boil, toil, & trouble tricks.
Think o’ something clever…
His voice was creaky: “’Scuse me, Madame, uh… I wanted to, ah, tell you how good that show looked.”
She looked closely @ him to think o’ something clever to say ’bout him.
“¿Is that a costume or are you just dying to see me?” Dawn asked as she thumbed the edge o’ his brown coat.
As always, he blinked @ her in confusion. Man, I thought that 1 wasn’t that bad, too.
Then he threw his head back & laughed in guffaws deliberated step, pause, step, pause, step.
Dawn’s mouth twisted. A’least my joke took mo’ thought than Mr. Sarcastic Laugh.
He put a hand on her shoulder stiffly. Maybe not. Seems too nervous.
“You have to forgive me, Madame,” he said; “I’m slow on the uptake.” He pointed @ his head with his other hand.
Dawn laughed. “No problem. That’s the usual reaction.”
He clasped his hands together tightly. His grin already tight-looking like a skull, tightened e’en further into a smile.
“O, but ’twas such a good joke,” he said.
“There’s mo’ where that came from,” Dawn said as she sat down, knees up-drawn.
He slowly sat next to her in the same position, his bony arms wobbling as they tightly gripped his knees, causing his coat’s tails to swish back & forth like a cape in a wind.
“¿O truly?” he asked.
She nodded. “Uh huh. Can read palms, too.”
“¿You mind doing mine?”
“No problem @ all. Hand it here.”
She held her hands palm up right by her knees & watched him set his down on it. She grabbed &, rubbing her thumb all ’long his wrinkles, for which there were many.
I don’t know what he’s nervous ’bout; look @ how well he did this costume.
She cleared her throat. “Your hand’s special. I’m ’fraid I may need to try my special reading technique through a different sense.”
“¿What sense is that?”
So she pressed her lips to &, bumping up & down on it, gradually building into kisses as she leaned into him. All the while, the man giggled.
’Tween kisses, she said, “Let me think… I think I sense… That you may be the most fetching man I’ve seen today…”
He clutched her arm & murmured, “Mmm… ¿Is it my turn?”
Dawn smiled. Hooked.
The husks o’ leaves, as dry & orange as a cannibalized pumpkin, rattled gainst curbs, pipes, storm drains, & stoops. Despite this fervent wind, neither felt cold; as long as they held hands, their insides were eternally incubated. ’Twas a strange superpower they had.
“It’s awfully nice this time o’ year,” Edgar said as he looked up @ a pair o’ trees breaking out in orange & red.
Edgar could see Autumn’s eyes bounce all round the city.
“¿You sightseeing, too, or looking for thieving opportunities?” asked Edgar.
“The latter. Also, watching for psychopaths who might knife us.”
“You don’t think anyone would want to do that on Muertoween, ¿do you?” asked Edgar.
“Violent fetishes don’t take holidays,” said Autumn.
Edgar continued to admire the decorations on everyone’s apartment: the candles with tinted flames, glowing pumpkins with buckled black hats, hanging paper-mâché bats, inflated witches, firs strung with candy corn like Marxmas lights, baskets filled with squash & peppers, sugary skulls plastered with pastels, & sombreroed cardboard skeletons holding cardboard guitars.
Despite being midnight, the streets were still filled with people dressed as bed-sheet ghosts, witches, vampires, pirates, mortgage defaults, & people with Baxter-o’-Lantern heads, as well as sexy versions o’ many o’ these.
This was why Edgar had mixed feelings ’bout Muertoween in his youth: when he was @ the orphanage ’twas a ’scuse for japes ’bout his “disguise”; however, afterward he thought the prospect made a good distraction from unwanted attention. ’Course, it hadn’t been a problem since then, so it didn’t matter now.
Still, Edgar could see Autumn’s mouth fall from its flat slit to a frown as she noticed all o’ the people poking into her silent night time. Then she winced as if staring @ something. As Edgar turned his gaze in the same direction, she said, “¿Is that Dawn?”
Edgar bent his head round till he spotted the witch’s hat & stained lab coat he remembered her leaving in. He couldn’t help noticing the dark lines under her eyes & the limpness o’ her lids.
“She doesn’t look too well,” said Autumn.
Edgar glanced @ Autumn & saw her mouth hang open.
“Come,” she said, & then fast-walked forward.
They stopped before Dawn to see her flirting with the others wandering through the city, only for them to distance themselves from her with eyes as stretched & wrinkled as Saran wrap.
Edgar & Autumn themselves couldn’t stop their lower lids from drooping. Dawn was the picture o’ uncanny valley: something was wrong ’bout her appearance, but Edgar couldn’t figure out what, other than the exhaustion in Dawn’s eyes, the distance below the surface her pupils seemed to be.
They locked on Edgar & Autumn, her barely smile rising a mere millimeter.
That’s also what’s wrong: she looks so down in general.
“O, hello, guys,” Dawn said as she jerkily reached an arm out & rubbed Autumn’s arm.
“¿Are you intentionally drunk or did someone spike your drink?” asked Autumn.
Dawn cringed. “No.” Then her eyes opened, as vacant as before. “Neither.” She yawned & rubbed an eye with the other hand. “Just a li’l sleepy.”
Edgar couldn’t help noticing the folds from Dawn pinching Autumn’s arm. Autumn herself must’ve noticed from the way she jerked back, but not strongly ’nough to ’scape Dawn’s grasp.
“¿Can I… speak to you… in quiet?”
Dawn’s almost-pleading eyes gazed up @ Autumn’s own, the latter cloudy.
“Yeah. ’Course,” said Autumn.
Autumn felt as if the core o’ her brain exploded, leaving her stumbling half-attentively through the mental wreck o’ broken planks & pipes.
I was so sure that wasn’t it… She’s still in the costume she was in when she left… it still looks perfectly intact.
That doesn’t mean anything. She could’ve put it back on… Jesus, ¿why else would she want to talk to me & not Edgar?
Dawn led her back inside her apartment, only for Dawn to double back to the door, shut it, & then lock both the knob & top chain.
O fuck… this must be it. She ne’er e’en locks the door, much less this thoroughly.
¿What am I s’posed to say? ¿Does she think I’m the kind o’ person with any knowledge o’ this shit?
Dawn turned, only to stop with a bent stoop & cringe, a hand grasping the other. Autumn took a sharp intake, expecting Dawn to collapse onto the floor in sobs.
’Stead, she straightened with a weak smile.
She mentioned faking it before; but ne’er this much. E’en if calmer than she truly feels, she wouldn’t outright smile.
Dawn took Autumn’s wrist & led her to the couch, pulling her down to seat without resistance. Sitting there next to her, Dawn took Autumn’s hand & stared @ it while Autumn stared @ her with confusion.
“You don’t mind if I look @ your hand for a minute, ¿do you?” asked Dawn.
“¿Why?” asked Autumn, trying to keep the unease from creeping up from the back o’ her throat. To her shame, she imagined Dawn wanting to do some damage to her hand—possibly permanent.
That could be why she’s smiling: she’s holding in fury, not sadness, & she blames me—the nearest person & the biggest dick to her.
That’s ridiculous. E’en drunk off her ass, I couldn’t imagine her doing that.
“Here, let me get a closer look under the light,” said Dawn, her voice thicker & drier than usual, as if she’d just choked on a glass o’ water.
Dawn held Autumn’s hand ’hind her back, where she couldn’t see it.
Shit, should I stop her. I don’t know what she could be planning.
“Um, Dawn, you need to tell me what you’re doing,” Autumn said as she tried pulling her arm forward, only for Dawn to hold tightly.
Then, in 1 swift movement, she felt Dawn’s hand grab her other wrist, pull it back, & then clamp metal handcuffs round them both. Autumn tried pulling her wrists apart, but they wouldn’t budge.
“¿What the fuck are you doing? ¿Is this s’posed to be a game?” exclaimed Autumn.
Dawn gently pushed Autumn onto her back, leaned onto her with her knee pressing Autumn’s legs down, & pressed her hands o’er Autumn’s mouth, causing her words to come out in muffles while her eyes shot out.
No… Surely she’s not…
She’s drunk. It’s not fully her in there, but… whatever demon mind dwells in alcohol.
Dawn pet Autumn’s bangs back as she leaned closer, causing the inside corners o’ Autumn’s eyes to sting.
Please, Dawn… Not you. Anyone but you.
Dawn’s smile widened & then opened, revealing a sharp fang.
That was when Autumn noticed Dawn’s face aimed near her forehead.
¿What the hell is she—?
She felt cold spit drop onto her face just before the 2nd explosion in her head.
Edgar shivered as he sat on the short line o’ stone-bricks ’tween theirs & the neighbor’s apartment complexes—what he chose as the best balance ’tween not being close ’nough to hear Autumn & Dawn, but not being too far as to be hard to find.
He felt a wet spot drop on him every so oft, as if the Programmers were laughing @ the ruination o’ what was, before, a breathbreaking night.
He could barely keep his attention on his surroundings, no matter how much he tried, as if in 1 moment all o’ the trees died, their leaves crumbled to ash.
Though he figured it may be close to eavesdropping, Edgar couldn’t stop his neck from craning toward their door every time he heard 1 open. This time he finally saw Autumn walk out & was not heartened by her haggard expression. She stumbled down the stairs slowly, step-by-step, her arms hanging stiffly round her sides while her dark eyes hung vaguely downward, but looking @ nothing in particular.
He waited for her to walk o’er to him, his own eyeholes aimed in her direction, but a li’l to the side. However, he noticed her legs move ’way & looked up to see her trudging down the street in the other direction.
¿Should I follow her… or does she want to be ’lone?
Edgar squeezed his hands together till they were ’bout to burst.
¿What if she’s going to go…?
He stood & called out, “¡Autumn!”
She didn’t act as if she’d heard him.
“¡Autumn! ¿Are you OK?”
Still no reply.
Edgar’s vision swung left & right, as if he were hoping to find answers to what he should do.
He ran up to Autumn, which wasn’t hard due to Autumn’s sluggish gait.
“Autumn…” he puffed. “It’s OK. You don’t need to… You can…”
O, I suck @ this. ¿What am I s’posed to say?
“Autumn, ¿you want to talk? If you want me to go, just tell me.”
Autumn said nothing, her vacant gaze aimed straight ’head.
He continued trailing her, mind scrambling for an answer as to what he should do like a cat & dog in a cloud o’ battle.
Blocks forward, he saw her push inside a Morgenacht’s. She stopped just in front o’ the clerk, whose wary eyes held her. She went to the far end o’ an aisle, picked up a candy bar. Then she hesitated, the bar’s wrapper crinkling. He could see her making strange movements with her hands & moving the candy bar round; but what exactly, he wasn’t sure.
Then she returned to the desk & plopped the candy bar down: a Guffaws bar with a black package showing orange Guffaws bars on the front. The clerk reached for it, only to halt & jerk his hand back & forth.
“Is this some kin—mffhh…“
Autumn covered his mouth with 1 hand while the other slammed his other hand onto the bar in 1 strike. Autumn let go o’ it, reached into her pocket, brought out 1 o’ Dawn’s bottles, & then carefully poured it into his lips while the other hand kept them clasped. With the other half o’ his lips able to open a centimeter, he was able to release some louder muffled noises, but nothing comprehensible.
“Autumn, ¿what are you doing?”
Autumn dug through the clerk’s pockets while the clerk continued to muffle with his lips puckered. Then she strode to the front door & locked it.
I s’pose she’s robbing him. An awfully harsh way to do so. ¿Is this how she’s letting her frustration out?
I guess if she doesn’t anything truly harmful, I shouldn’t try stopping her…
“Autumn, you’re just robbing this place, ¿right? ¿Nothing mo’ serious?” asked Edgar.
Autumn walked back to the front o’ the desk, grabbed the clerk’s hair, & pulled him down to the desk.
Edgar grabbed her by the arm. “¡Autumn! ¿What are you doing?”
¿Is this the… is he the guy who did it?
Holding the clerk’s head down, Autumn brushed the front o’ his hair back, leaving a naked forehead. Then she opened her mouth.
Edgar swore he saw a fang shine in the fluorescent light.
She threw her head back & then rammed her tooth into the clerk’s forehead, causing him to moan in a loud buzz like an o’erheated computer while he slammed his foot gainst the desk. The sight o’ Autumn’s mouth tearing through his forehead like a birthday present, blood smearing o’er her mouth, caused Edgar to turn ’way, fall onto his knees, & clutch his out forehead with his vision shut off.
“Autumn, ¿what are you doing?” he said mo’ as a cry than a question. “¡Stop! ¡Stop!”
Something’s wrong. No ’mount o’ horror could cause her to do this. She can’t—¡she literally can’t! ¿What kind o’ human can chew through someone’s forehead like that? It’d be impossible…
This is a nightmare. It must be. I’ll wake up & none o’ this will have happened…
Edgar wasn’t sure if he e’er went to sleep, or just a half-conscious daze. What he did know was that when he woke, he was in the middle o’ the same convenience store he was in in the “nightmare,” & that ’twas still dark—now inside as well as out. He climbed back to his feet, peering through the darkness in case… something tried to attack him.
¿Is this part o’ the nightmare? ¿Was some o’ it true?
¿Was all o’ it?
He slowly padded ’cross the room & flicked the switch, causing the fixtures to spread like fire, till the whole store was lit ’gain.
All right… You need to a’least check. Just 1 look.
He slowly turned his head toward the clerk’s desk, only to see that its seat was empty. He swung his head round the whole store, poking his head in every aisle; he saw no one else.
¿What’s happened now?
Edgar clutched his face. He felt as if the glue holding his bones together had all dissipated, as if a minor event could cause him to collapse into ashes any second.
O, ¿why does this have to happen now? ¿Why?
That’s what he wanted to scream: ¿Why? E’en in the direst o’ Autumn’s ventures, he had a clue as to what she was doing. But now he knew nothing ’bout what was going on with either.
He walked up to the front door, only to find it wouldn’t budge ’pon pulling the knob.
O, don’t tell me I’m locked in. Not now.
He couldn’t find a lock anywhere on the handle.
Surely she wouldn’t intentionally lock me in, ¿would she?
Maybe she’s just trying to keep me from trying to stop her…
Edgar gasped. ¿What is she planning to do?
He had an idea; but his mind refused to put it in words.
With the door still not budging, Edgar let go, rummaged through his pocket for his phone, & tried calling Autumn, only to get the message, “THE # YOU ARE CALLING CAN’T ANSWER @ THE MOMENT. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR MESSAGE @ THE BEEP,” followed by a drawn-out beep.
“¡Autumn! ¡This is Edgar! ¡I’m trapped in the Morgenacht’s down on Orchid Avenue. Please, tell me what’s going on!”
After that, he tried Dawn, only to get the same robot on the other side. He left her almost the same message ’fore returning his phone to his robe pockets & sliding down with his back to the door, rubbing his face roughly.
OK, you need to be calm. Remember what Autumn always said: panicking ne’er solves anything, so don’t do it. We’ve gotten out worse traps before… I guess I have no choice but to break through the glass, regardless o’ how rude it’ll be.
He searched round the clerk’s desk for something heavy ’nough to break through the glass when he found a box attached to the wall with a hammer ’hind its glass front. Embossed on its plastic case were the words, “IN CASE DUMBASS CLERKS LOCK SELVES IN.”
Edgar stared @ it for a minute.
¿Now how am I going to break this glass open?
’Pon ’scaping, Edgar 1st searched round the store to see if Autumn or the clerk may still be round, but quickly found no one. Having confirmed this, he headed back down the street toward home as fast as his robe let him.
Hopefully a’least 1 o’ them’s still there & will give me an answer.
He wasn’t sure what to think as he clambered up the stairs & saw that Dawn’s door was ajar. He peered inside to see the light left on; but a cursory search revealed no one. The whole room was quiet, still.
Maybe they’re in Dawn’s lab…
He stumbled down the stairs, only to find ’pon grasping & shoving the door that it wouldn’t budge. He tried throttling it mo’, only for it to stay solid.
He pounded & shouted, “¡Autumn! ¡Dawn! ¡Anyone!” but was met with only silence. He ducked down onto the floor & looked under the door to see only darkness.
Probably not in there, anyway…
This is ridiculous. ¿Where could they be? ¿What’s going on?
¿Is this some Muertoween trick they’re playing?
I can’t imagine Autumn going ’long with Dawn in this, though.
Edgar sighed. There’s nothing I can do. I don’t e’en know where I’d search—& it’s not as if I could help them better than they can help themselves. I’m sure they must come back later & they’ll ’splain it all & everything will be fine.
So Edgar climbed back up the steps & closed & locked the door, tightening his robe round him gainst the remnants o’ the frigid outside wind.
I hope 1 o’ them has a key. Autumn certainly will; but Dawn might’ve lost it.
She should be loud ’nough to wake me if she can’t get inside herself, anyway.
& with that Edgar slid inside his sleeping bag, turned on his side, & turned off his sight, breathing in half-sighs from Autumn’s absence.
He tried to dispel all worries from his mind so he could sleep, but neither succeeded. His mind was still alert with concerns—not helped by the rest he had just moments ago in the Morgenacht’s.
Edgar turned on his back & winced as an idea came to him:
Hey, if there’s a Morgenacht’s right next to us… they all stock the same kinds o’ stuff, ¿right? So then, ¿couldn’t I have gotten that antidote that didn’t e’en work anyway without going all the way through that swamp?
Edgar shook his head. Doesn’t matter. He turned on his side ’gain. Stop thinking ’bout all o’ this & go to sleep.
But sleep still wouldn’t come. He was just too uncomfortable—not due to the sleeping bag round him, but the much heavier emptiness pressing down on him like a collapsed cavern. Despite leaving the light on—the only way he could think o’ to try making him forget his loneliness—shreds o’ the darkness still remained, like stains that won’t be washed: that buzz that’s only lost when squashed by heartier sounds, that peckishly perfect way everything stayed still, as if Edgar were no longer in a living world, but trapped in a dead painting.
He threw his sleeping bag open & sat up. I might as well try looking for them; I won’t gain anything from lying here not being able to sleep.
It surprised Edgar how warped, how off the morn appeared, in contrast to the serene night just earlier, to Edgar, still in the Muertoween mood. It wasn’t e’en streamed with lines o’ yellow or cloudy, but saturated with flat bright blue. ’Twas also just as cold as night—e’en mo’ so due to the adjustment o’ Edgar’s body to his blankets.
He’d only reached the bottom o’ the apartment steps ’fore he froze.
¿Where should I look?
Guess the best place would be the Morgenacht’s—though I doubt they’ll still be there.
Sure ’nough, ’pon walking there, he could see neither Autumn nor Dawn; & when he asked the clerk—someone new—she only shook her head & mumbled, “No, Sir. Sorry.”
So he walked back to their apartment in the desperate hope that they might’ve returned when he was gone; but ’twas just as empty out front & in their room as before.
He sat back outside on the bottom step, tightening his robe round himself.
¿How could I e’er figure out where they could’ve gone when I can’t e’en understand what’s happened to them? Something must’ve happened to them to cause them to do this.
¿But how was he s’posed to find out?
With both a tinge o’ sadness & amusement, he imagined Autumn’s likely retort: “If in the power o’ the person ’hind this, you’re likely not s’posed to find out.”
Though it made his marrow clot, he forced himself to recall what happened: Autumn locking the clerk down & then… chewing off his…
Edgar couldn’t finish the image. He clutched his eyeholes with his palms, shaking head.
¿Was that revenge for… what he did to Dawn? ¿But why would she do that o’ all things? ¿Poetic justice? I guess I could see Autumn wanting to try something like that.
So then, ¿did they get arrested? But Dawn didn’t go with us; ¿why should she be arrested--& shouldn’t someone have confronted me?
Maybe they’ve gone somewhere far—like Verditropolis—to bury the body…
He shook his head vigorously & then clasped hands to his temples.
O… None o’ this makes sense. I can’t imagine any o’ them doing this.
Maybe they’re not in control o’ their actions…
Edgar rubbed the side o’ his face. ¿Could it be? No, that’s… that’s silly superstition.
¿But what else could be the explanation?
Well, if that were true, ¿where would they be?
Edgar sighed. It’s better than sitting here worrying myself to death.
He went back in for a minute to check a map website & see where Lavender Acres was, & then headed toward there with a sheet o’ hastily-sketched directions flapping gainst the wind in his hand.
Yet ’gain, he was struck by how creepier the morn was than night—’specially now as the sun was rising, leaving a sparkling yellow glow o’er the tops o’ tombstones & the edge o’ the sky-high Tower o’ Revival. The ordinary daytime air emphasized how ordinary death was—not just by monsters roaming the twisted night, but to everyone, inevitably, through diseases, failed organs, or accidents…
& neither monsters nor any o’ his friends did he see: nothing but plain graves, slow-swaying grass, scattered beer cans, & plastic baggies. He wandered the whole site a’least 3 times, & saw only that which was e’en scarier than monsters: the silent, empty void without human life. His nerves were so raw from the battering silence that he practically ran as he left.
After turning the corner @ the end o’ the block, Edgar stopped & sat on the curb, panting—not just from the run, but from the far greater mental exertion.
Should’ve known that was a silly place to search…
¿But where should I look now?
Edgar spent almost an hour thumping his skull & moaning; but he could think o’ nothing better than checking with the police—so he did just that, only to be told that they had heard nothing o’ any “Autumn Springer” or “Dawn Summers,” but that they would contact him if they did later.
By this time, the weight o’ so many hours & so much action turned the scales gainst his worries vs. his tiredness & he returned home, lay down, & finally managed to sleep.
If seeing things usually associated with night in day was creepy, waking up in the middle o’ the night was e’en weirder. Now, rather than freeze in the sun, he was steaming under the now-too-thick blankets. Strangely, rather than making him feel energized, sleep seemed to have sapped e’en mo’ energy from him so ’twas difficult for him to force himself out o’ bed.
I wonder if this is how Autumn felt when she was depressed…
Well, super depressed.
Everything round him felt stale & warped—as if he’d taken a time machine to 100 years later, when their apartment’s been abandoned, broken down, dead.
Now he threw his blankets off, feeling as if he’d melt if he waited a minute later. He sat up & rubbed all o’er his face.
¿What now? I have to do something; but I don’t know what.
Maybe they’ll be @ that graveyard @ night…
Edgar sighed. It’s ridiculous;—e’en mo’ ridiculous than the 1st time—but I don’t have any other options.
Edgar now saw his future: endlessly wandering, searching for his companions while he withered ’way.
This image stuck in his head for the whole trip. When he reached the graveyard, ’twas replaced with a new sight: the crowd o’ people surrounding some scientist with messy gray hair & cracks in his glasses.
Edgar swore he recognized that face from somewhere…
Said scientist was bent down next to the most ornate tombstone, reaching his hand out, only to stop, a pupil aimed directly @ Edgar, a smile.
The crowd all turned in unison, blank eyes all hooking on Edgar.
Fear rushed to Edgar’s muscles, making them tighten. With this new flood o’ energy, he zipped down the street, not caring in what direction he went, just trying to get ’way as quickly as possible.
Halfway down the street after the 1st curve, he looked o’er his shoulder. So far he couldn’t see anyone. He searched the block for an alley &, ’pon finding 1, rushed into it & into the darkest corner, ’hind the rusty dark-olive dumpster.
There he waited, trying to muffle his heaving pants & spying out the side. Save for a few sedans rushing by, Edgar saw nothing change.
You’re being silly ’gain. He was probably just a science teacher showing his students some holiday-inspired experiment.
But his bones still wouldn’t budge. He kept telling himself, I can always leave later. No rush.
It’s not like I know what to try next.
To his surprise, the thought emerged: ¿Should I go back & see what they’re doing?
The prospect filled Edgar with nerve-tiring dread—¿but why? If ’twas truly just an experiment, then there was nothing to be ’fraid o’. It wasn’t as if the teacher was going to kill him for watching an experiment; he’d probably be proud that someone would want to watch him. & if it wasn’t just an experiment… well, he’d have a duty to do something, ¿right?
¿But what could I do?
Though Edgar imagined all the ways him trying to stop the strange zombie doctor—¿Why are you letting your imagination go crazy ’gain?—going wrong & him being devoured ’live, this all felt like felt spikes compared to the prospect o’ wandering ’lone for eternity, ne’er seeing Autumn & Dawn ’gain.
So he forced his shaking knees to lift him & left the alley—which felt like a relief in itself: as the fear o’ being devoured by maybe-zombies outside waned, the fear o’ some alley rat attacking him from inside the shadows grew.
But the fear crept back on him as his mind sensed the graveyard nearing—as if ’twere the graveyard pulling him in by dragging back the sidewalk like a rug, rather than his skinny legs propelling him.
When he returned, he saw that the crowd & the scientist were gone. All he saw in that spot was the long blades billowing in the wind, just like that morn. This was the 1 outcome he hadn’t considered, & left him standing with his arms dangling to his sides, clueless as to what to do now.
I guess I waited too long…
He sighed. Just when he felt the threads begin to tie his heart back into its place, he felt them tear yet ’gain—but this time while rawer.
As a last resort, he strolled to see if any o’ them left clues. It brought him nothing but the same consumer debris he’d seen before.
Then he came to the ornate tombstone the scientist had stood by: a tall rock cracked & worn with darker splotches. Rather than the usual rectangle with a rounded top, this 1’s edge curved & concaved all o’er, creating a unique polygon. Its frame protruded from its body; on said body was etched an inner border that appeared to be a vine strewn with leaves & roses. Within this frame were cursive words eulogizing the 1st king o’ Boskeopolis, from long before the Europeans came—before ’twas e’en called “Boskeopolis.”
Edgar couldn’t help noticing that the grass in front o’ it was flatter—not flatter in that it looked shorter, but in that the long blades were bent o’er, folded. This pattern appeared to to spread out from right in front o’ the gravestone, becoming gradually mo’ scattered & weaker.
These must be all the spots where they were standing.
¿But then, why are the closer areas flatter? The scientist didn’t seem any heavier than any o’ them—nor me, & I walked all o’er here.
I guess if these closer spots were trampled on mo’, that could ’splain it, Edgar thought as he continued looking o’er the gradient, finger in mouth. Maybe he had each o’ them come up & showed them something or had them present something, & all those people stomping up here caused the grass to be pressed down hard.
O, this is silly…
Well, it’s like Autumn always said: e’en if you only have a .1% chance o’ success, that’s still better than 0. I have no idea what else to try.
¿But how could this info help, anyway? If anything, it shows that it’s mo’ likely that ’twas just a class & that I’m wasting my time on silly superstitions out o’ desperation.
He slowly lowered his foot down onto the grass, all the while wondering if he should be tampering with the evidence.
He had his answer when he felt his foot touch the ground & pressed down on it.
The soil was much spongier, much lighter.
It couldn’t be that all o’ those people standing on this made the dirt softer—I feel like if I stand all the way on it, it’ll fall under me.
¿Dare I try it?
’Gain, the excitement o’ seeing Autumn & Dawn trampled his fear: he stepped up to the spot. It didn’t collapse under his weight; but he did feel it dip a li’l.
E’en if he knew it may be nothing mo’ than a blue trout, that blurry bloodstone o’ hope still jolted him to action: he bent down on his knees & hands & stared closely @ the ground. All he saw were a few gray rocks.
No harm in trying, I guess…
He picked 1 up. He examined it & found nothing striking ’bout it. Just in case, he pocketed it, & then grabbed ’nother.
It wouldn’t budge. When he tried to lift it, it stuck to the dirt.
What he did feel budge was the dirt itself.
He stood & wiped the green grass juice off his robe—well, as much o’ it as he could, anyway. Then he backed ’way &, leaning o’er, tried lifting the rock ’gain.
This time the ground lifted with it—a square patch o’ it ’bout half a meter length. He didn’t need Autumn or Dawn’s scientific knowledge to discern from its even-cut shape that this was nothing natural. The set o’ smooth-stone stairs ’neath it only confirmed.
His heart throbbed, the speed o’ his blood stream matching that o’ his thoughts: That means they must’ve gone down here—¿why else would they hang round this grave out o’ all others? & if they’re in here, then they must be doing something odd—no normal science class would build a dungeon under a graveyard.
He realized they could, if they were just trying to fit the spooky spirit; but the eagerness to possibly find his friends o’erwhelmed this thought, as it o’erwhelmed all o’ the others. No, they must be down there--& there was no reason why they couldn’t be, & no good from assuming they weren’t, anyway.
The dread he felt while crossing the short, unlit stairway was forgotten in the mo’ monstrous room to which it led: a short but wide tunnel lit only by glowing tubes & canisters, many o’ which were filled with bubbling water. ’Twas as if someone had taken Dawn’s lab, blown it up, & o’ercharged it with electricity.
Edgar didn’t have much time to absorb the scenery: without warning, he felt fleshy hands grab his shoulders, & then the rest o’ his limbs, & drag him ’way. All Edgar could do was wheeze; that was ’nough to incite 1 o’ them to cover his mouth.
Please, God, if you’re out there somewhere, please help me.
He was pressed down on something soft but thick—probably a mattress. The hands pulled his limbs out & wrapped them down with cold metal clasps.
“You have no idea how glad I am that you decided to come back, Sir. Curiosity just too strong, huh.” The voice wasn’t deep, or raspy, or threatening @ all: ’twas the genial tone o’ an average middle-aged man—maybe a li’l older.
The voice continued: “Please tell me—please don’t flatten my seltzer: tell me that isn’t a disguise. Tell me you’re a true, living skeleton. Please tell me the truth, Sir—you have no idea how important this could be for science.”
¿Dare I lie?
¿Dare I tell the truth?
He did neither: ’stead he asked in stutters, “¿Have you seen 2 friends o’ mine? 1 has a red-orange ponytail & black glasses with a black T-shirt that says ‘PHAT LOOT’ & gray sweat pants; the other is dressed in a scientist coat & tights & has shoulder-length hair & green glasses.”
“Ah, the 1st must be 1 o’ my subjects. ¿Was she the 1 who led you here?”
Edgar barely heard his question, his mind was so preoccupied by the mix o’ sharp hope, horror, & fear.
¿Only 1? ¿Where’s Dawn then?
“I… she’s my friend,” answered Edgar.
¿Should I have said that? ¿Will that make him mo’ likely to hurt her if I don’t do what he says?
The man laughed lightly. “Well, that sure is luck. She didn’t try to bite your head, though, ¿did she?”
“Um, no. ¿Did you make Autumn… attack that clerk?”
“Uh huh. It’s by sinking their fangs into brains that they’re able to transform others—& then they sew their heads back together, ’course. Can’t forget these messy details when you’re performing experiments, e’en if they don’t make it into the journal papers.”
“¿Why are you doing this?” asked Edgar.
“I told you, Sir: it’s for an experiment.”
“¿But don’t—aren’t you s’posed to get permission ’fore using people as subjects?” asked Edgar.
“Well, I don’t think a lot o’ people will be jumping to volunteer for this experiment, ¿do you?”
“¿What’s going to happen to Autumn?”
“You know, I’m not sure.” Edgar heard hands clap. “That’s what the exciting part o’ science is: it can be full o’ such surprises.”
“You… you surely won’t let her be hurt, ¿will you?”
The voice laughed ’gain. “Well, we’ll have to see. This is a world-shaking discovery we’re discussing. It’s to be expected that there will be casualties, as there always are. Imagine where we’d be if Marie Curie hadn’t subjected herself to all o’ that mercury.”
After a beat, during which Edgar’s mind ran out o’ questions, the other man continued:
“Now, you’ve brought a much mo’ exciting new element to my experiment than that other subject you mentioned. None o’ my zombies chased you. That’s intriguing. You have a brain, ¿true?”
“I think I do…”
“Well, we’ll just have to examine.”
Edgar’s arms rattled outside o’ his control, fear possessing his muscles.
“You mean by a machine or X-ray or something, ¿right?”
“Don’t worry, Sir: you won’t feel a thing.”
But that was what Edgar feared the most. He had only a few seconds to register this horror before feeling plastic clamp o’er his face, filling him with nerve-weakening gas.
Edgar woke smothered in darkness. When the memory o’ what had happened since Muertoween night swarmed back into his mind, the heat o’ frustration flushed to his face, causing him to sob.
This stopped when he heard a voice ’hind him say softly, “Shhh, it’s OK,” followed by something clothy wrapping round him.
Suddenly, all o’ his snot & tears were sucked back in.
“¡Autumn!” he said in a whispered gasp.
E’en mo’ quietly, Edgar asked, “¿How?”
“My specialty: lying. Sorry I didn’t tell you: ne’er know who or what may be bugged.”
“¿But what ’bout now?” whispered Edgar.
All Autumn responded with was, “There’s no worry now; they’ll ne’er find us here.”
Autumn tightened her hold on Edgar & rubbed the cold skin o’ her cheek on Edgar’s. As usual, he could feel the warm pulses zipping through Autumn as if trying to flow into him—but now he realized just how much he had missed it.
“¿What time is it, by the way?” whispered Edgar.
“5 AM. ¿You don’t mind waiting her a while do you?”
He wanted to say that he wouldn’t mind staying like that for eternity, but thought that sounded dumb, so just said, “No—I don’t mind.”
So they waited like this for hours. Near the end Autumn’s phone kept flashing on & off. Autumn’s breathing began to accelerate.
Then she tightened her hold on Edgar a second & said, “I’ll be gone for just a few minutes. Keep hidden.”
Edgar gripped back. “I want to come. Since I can’t be zombified, it’ll be safer.”
Autumn paused a moment.
Holding Edgar’s arm, Autumn led him out. Edgar recognized this new room: it had the same neon pulsing lights as the room from which the scientist had captured him. He noticed by the faint light cast onto the ground bodies lying curled-up.
He shivered. I guess e’en as zombies they still have to sleep.
Autumn stopped them. Then Edgar heard a knock ’head, soon followed by some click, & then the beginning o’ the scientist’s voice: “He—” Autumn yanked Edgar forward with her before he could say mo’.
This new room was smaller, though just-as-dimly-lit. ’Long the walls Edgar could see glowing computer terminals & the faint outline o’ a gurney.
His survey was dashslap, though: he quickly turned to his side, whence he heard muffled struggling, & from the orange light bulb strapped to the scientist’s forehead Edgar could see Autumn tying a gag round his mouth, & then pulling his wrists back & tying them together, followed by lowering the scientist to the ground & tying his ankles. The scientist, surprisingly, seemed to resist li’l; the only sign o’ trouble from him were his eyes bloated in surprise.
Finally, Autumn bent o’er the scientist’s back & seemed to put something in his hands. She bent e’en lower to his ear & whispered something before walking round him & sitting in front o’ him with her legs crossed under her, her eyes pasted to his.
The scientist shook his head.
Autumn’s eyes darkened. She whispered, but this time loud ’nough for Edgar to hear, “If you e’er want to eat & drink or use the bathroom, you will; I feel no qualms with threatening the life o’ one who does the same to many others.”
The scientist’s fingers wiggled for a moment, & then he lightly tossed the device—¿her phone?—o’er his back. Autumn reached forward & grabbed it. As she watched it, her brows furled.
With a sigh, Autumn murmured, “You’ll get the same, but with mo’ inconvenience for me, I’m ’fraid.”
Then she pocketed her phone & pulled out some vial. While holding it in 1 hand, she slowly pulled off the scientist’s gag, shoved the vial up to his mouth, & then poured its contents in. She watched it carefully. Then, in 1 swift move, she pulled the bottle potion back & pressed the gag back down o’er the scientist’s mouth. He stared ’head o’ him as usual; but Edgar noticed his lids droop slightly.
Autumn rose & walked past Edgar. She pushed closed what was probably the door & fiddled with what was probably the lock. Then she turned back to the room &… did something… Suddenly, a yellow light burst from just below Autumn’s chin, causing Edgar to wince.
She aimed it round the room. @ 1 point she stopped & walked forward. She stopped @ a desk & began rummaging through its scattered papers & books.
Edgar walked up to her & whispered in her ear, “¿You want help? I brought my flashlight.”
“Sure. Look for anything that looks like chemicals.”
They searched for the next hour. Within that time Autumn found 2 cases full o’ vials, & both found stray bottles there & here. However, most were unlabeled, & those that were weren’t what Autumn was seeking. Despite her calm eyes, Edgar could tell by Autumn’s rapid chest movements that this was still urgent. She stood locked, eyes boring into a stack o’ unlabeled potions. After a minute or 2, her sight wandered, only to lock onto the scientist’s still-glowing monitor. She rushed for the chair & sat. There she spent mo’ than a half hour reading multiple screens o’ text in typewriter letters that had been left on-screen. He couldn’t neglect noticing her expression becoming e’er mo’ harried, her grip on the chair’s arms tightening, & her body slumping farther. Many minutes passed without scrolling, with Autumn moving her arms round arbitrarily, & e’en spinning in her chair.
The following actions were all done slowly & hesitantly, jerking backward & forward like a shy video: she picked up a vial, only to stare @ it. She stared @ the monitor for mo’ minutes. All the while, Edgar stood back—what felt like kilometers—his vision burning from the contrast o’ the bright monitor & the dark room, his chest perpetually tight, every second expecting someone to barge in through the door or the scientist to wake & somehow ’scape.
Neither happened: hours merely passed as Autumn concocted a potion piece-by-piece, each piece accompanied by long periods reading the plain text or various websites. @ 1 point Autumn searched the room ’gain & returned to the chair with a pile o’ hefty books & spent hours flipping through them, lingering o’er a couple dozen pages.
After ’nother 10 minutes o’ reading, scrolling swiftly back-&-forth, she released a deep sigh as she gazed @ the potion she’d been working on. Then she looked up @ Edgar & bent her index toward her. Edgar followed it o’er to her.
She whispered in his ear, “There’s a high probability that this chemical will utterly destroy someone, though it’s also the only chance o’ saving someone—’less Dawn taught you any chemistry.” She stared @ him, seeming to wait for a response. When Edgar gave none, she continued, “¿Should I try it on someone? I’m tempted to use the potion he made that started this all on him & then trying the cure on him.”
“¿Couldn’t we find ’nother chemist?” asked Edgar.
“¿How’re we going to ’splain this to them? I mean, ’ventually we could—after going to jail for drugging so many people to sleep, which will probably lead to Equinox being released, feigning innocence, & then hiding when he resumes his tests.”
Edgar didn’t know how to respond to this, either.
“I’ll test it on the cause o’ this &, if it seems to work…” Autumn frowned mo’ deeply, eyes sinking. “I’ll have to then give some to Dawn & have her examine it. Jesus… I don’t know how long to test him, though—shit.” Autumn looked up with dilated pupils. “I’ll be back soon. If anything suspicious happens, text me.”
She rushed out the door. There Edgar stood with a mix o’ dread @ being left ’lone ’gain & self-pride @ helping Autumn.
She’ll figure this out… She usually can…
Nothing happened while Autumn was gone, & she returned after an hour.
Just after returning, she bent down & poured a potion into Equinox’s mouth—but a different 1 than that she’d just concocted. This time Equinox woke, eyelids slowly rising. Autumn waited, watching her phone as Equinox wiggled in his rope. After a few minutes, Autumn reached up for ’nother potion & poured it in Equinox’s mouth. After that, his eyes became blank. Though Autumn hadn’t put his gag back on, Equinox said nothing, letting his jaw hang loosely.
She slowly reached up for the potion she’d made that morn, took ’nother deep breath, & poured some into his mouth.
After a minute, clarity returned to Equinox’s eyes. He stared @ Autumn in confusion ’fore widening his eyes. He opened & closed his mouth.
“You’re still here,” he said, voice still chipper. “¿How’s your strange experiment going, Madame?”
“Good, but I’ll need your cooperation. In return, I promise to give you half credit on my thesis.”
“O, that’s not necessary: I’m only interested in the knowledge itself.”
“That’s good to hear,” said Autumn. “I just need you to tell me o’ any strange feelings you develop & ’splain to me the experiment you had attempted.”
Dr. Equinox did this with zeal, telling her o’ every cramp in his wrists, numbness in his feet, & rumble in his stomach, dispersed through an excited description o’ his experiment. Throughout, Autumn nodded, checking her phone regularly.
After ’bout 2 hours, Autumn thanked him & asked him to drink a potion from her pocket. In his new excitement, Equinox didn’t resist. He promptly fell asleep.
Autumn exhaled deeply ’gain as she returned to her feet. She stretched & said, “Well, I guess we have no choice but to try it on Dawn.” She slumped. “Let’s just hope no complications arise.”
Edgar knew Autumn was in a hurry by her decision to spend money on a bus ride. Whence they exited, Edgar couldn’t catch up with Autumn’s pace. He could only be glad he recognized their block; he stopped to catch his breath, wincing @ the sharp stitch in his side, & then made his way up to their apartment room ’lone.
Seeing the lab door ajar, he went inside to see Autumn standing o’er Dawn, who was strapped down to an ironing board. When her eyes opened, gazing blankly, Autumn grabbed a potion from the table & poured some o’ it into Dawn’s mouth. Autumn then proceeded to unstrap her, starting with removing the chip clips.
Like Equinox, Dawn’s eyes loosened. She swung her head, eyes fearful, till she looking on Autumn just unstrapping her leg.
“¿What’s going on?” asked Dawn. “¿Why am I strapped down? ¿What happened?”
“No time,” said Autumn. “¿Can you analyze a potion to see what it does exactly?”
“I don’t know… ¿Why?”
“To ensure I haven’t fucked you up in some subtle manner.”
“¿What? ¿What happened?”
“You became a zombie, I had to figure out how to make a potion to make you not 1, & you’ll have to examine it to ensure I didn’t fuck up somehow.”
Dawn’s brows furled, followed by them suddenly rising.
“¡That guy! ¡He chewed my fucking head! ¡Holy shit!”
By this point, Autumn had finished, & Dawn sat up. She looked down, frowning.
“Ugh. ¿Can I use the bathroom & shower 1st?”
“No time,” Autumn said as she nudged Dawn on the shoulder.
While Dawn sat on her stool, staring into the vial through a device that looked like a telescope, Autumn paced up & down the side.
“Well, it’s nice to hear you’re so worried ’bout me,” Dawn said with a sideways smile.
Autumn’s gaze fell. Without stopping, she said, “Just hurry.”
“You still ne’er told us how you did everything,” said Dawn.
“You gave me that sleeping serum, ¿remember? When I was there, I noticed that everyone drank from some strange gothic fountain he had set up. When I pretended to take a drink, I poured some o’ the serum in. ’Ventually, all o’ the zombies fell asleep. I waited till that late afternoon to enact my plan, figuring that was the best balance ’tween assuring that my plan would work & not taking so long as to starve Dawn—or the others.”
“¿But why wasn’t Equinox asleep?” asked Edgar.
“That was a hitch I hadn’t foreseen: he hadn’t drunk anything all that night. Too preoccupied with his research, I s’pose.”
Dawn turned ’way from the desk. “I don’t see anything wrong with this potion. ¿Did you truly make it yourself?”
“¿You sure?” asked Autumn, brow rising.
Autumn grabbed it & headed for the door.
“All right. We don’t have much time: we have to cure all o’ the others.”
As they ran out the room & the apartment, Edgar stared down in concentration, scratching his chin.
“Wait… But I saw you—a’least I thought I saw you—biting that clerk’s forehead. ¿How did you fake that?”
Autumn looked ’way. A hand rose & began rubbing the side o’ her mouth, only for Autumn’s other hand to yank it back down soon after.
“Some explanations you’d prefer not to learn.”