As they approached, the DJ switched over to ‘Careless Whisper,’ and one by tentative one, girls and boys walked across the basketball court to ask one another to dance. The floor filled before the first chorus kicked in.
It figured. The one time Andi wanted witnesses, and everyone decided to divert their attention with a dance. Not only that, but to a song about never dancing again.
The world made no sense the more she lived in it.
“Hey,” Cy said as he reached her. “Great costume!” Eddie and the newcomers straggled behind, forming a vague semi-circle around Cy.
“Have you met my friends?” Cy continued as Andi stared hot pokers at him. “This is Carrie,” and he pointed at the one girl in the group: a thin, sallow thing. “And Norman,” and an equally thin boy gave Andi a hesitant wave. “Norman can’t stay long,” Cy said. “His mom is way strict. And this,” he finished, pointing at a boy almost as tall as Jason, “is Michael.”
Andi peered at Michael and thought an expressionless white mask would go nicely with his blue jumpsuit.
“Is Randall here?” Cy asked, looking around the gym. “He and Carrie have a lot in common; I wanted to introduce them. I think they’d get on like a house afire.”
“Glad you could make it, Cy,” Andi said, forcing a smile and trying to keep her peripheral vision on his new friends and Eddie.
And how new were they? Freshly created from the ether this afternoon, she figured.
“It was so nice of you to invite me,” he said, pulling an orange envelope out of his jacket and fanning himself with it. “Makes a guy feel wanted.”
Andi thought back to how hard her heart had pounded when she prematurely got off the bus earlier today to slip the envelope in Cy’s mailbox.
And even without Eddie on her side, her plan still had a chance to work.
The Wham tune finished, and ‘Weird Science’ came on to replace it. “So,” Cy said, crossing his arms, “what were you planning? Settle this with a dance-off? I know you tried to poison Eddie against me,” and his friend nodded, “so there’s that part of your scheme over and done with. What’s next?” He smiled like a proud parent anticipating some choice babble from a talkative baby.
“Next is: I give you one chance to hand over Eury,” Andi said, “before things get ugly.”
“Oh, come on,” Eddie scoffed. “You’re crazy, Red. Cy had nothing to do with any of this. Nothing.”
Andi ignored him. “I had some time to think about this, Cy. You’re using imagination to hurt people. Well, if you can do it, so can I. I’ve played Voidville. I know how it works. All I have to do is want it badly enough, just like you. And I want that little girl safe and sound so bad you can’t understand it.” She took a breath and tried to calm her twanging nerves. “I,” she announced, “am the banshee. A ghost of Celtic lore. I have the power to end life with my scream.” She leveled her stare at Cy, who looked, for the first time since he walked in, uncertain.
“And a shrimp like you?” she said. “I just have to whisper in your ear, Cy, and you’ll drop stone dead.” She took a step towards him. “Tell me where Eury is. Now.”
Norman, crane-like, bobbled forward and seized Andi’s arm. “You really shouldn’t make such a fuss,” he said, milquetoast dripping from every word.
She pivoted and kicked, going for a field goal with his crotch. Norman squeaked and crumpled, cupping his groin. “…That hurt,” he managed to whisper.
Andi wheeled on Carrie. “Are you next, spooky?” Then, to Michael, “How about you? Or do you not go after girls unless you’ve got a knife?”
Michael backed away, protesting to Cy. “Man, screw this. I don’t want to get hurt.”
Cy, not caring if anyone saw it happen, furrowed his brow. Norman and Michael ceased to be, leaving nothing but air behind. Carrie looked pleased at having been spared, until he turned to her as an afterthought.
“That’s how useful you are,” Cy told her. “I’d already forgotten I made you.” With another dark expression, he made her vanish, as well. There was a muffled scream from somewhere on the dance floor, but it sounded more like the result of a pinched bottom than someone witnessing the supernatural.
Eddie turned this way and that, mouth moving silently, eyes bugging. “Wha?” he finally managed. “Whaa–?”
Cy seized the moment, turned and grabbed Eddie’s hands. “Yes, man, yes. I can do those things she said I could. She’s right, but she’s wrong. You don’t understand what I’m trying to do…”
Eddie looked down at Cy, confused. “What is it? What are you trying to do…?” Then, focus coming to his eyes, “What have you done?”
“I’ve just been testing the waters,” Cy said, “playing around with the reality of the last few games. A pinch here, a poke there. But I’m close, man, I’m really close to fixing everything…”
Eddie frowned. “And Benjamin’s sister?”
“Who gives a shit?” Cy shouted, the loud music stopping his voice from carrying. “Who cares? She ruins the game, she pesters everyone, Benjamin can’t stand her…”
“Can’t stand her?” Andi yelled back. “He was tearing apart that farm looking for her!”
“What if it was your sister, man?” Eddie asked him. “What if someone had kidnapped Beth, and some…twerp was standing in front of you, teasing you about it?”
Cy recoiled like he’d been Maced. He looked up at Eddie, eyes moist. “…Twerp. Twerp? That’s what you think about me? All the…all the time we’ve known each other, and that’s what you think of me…?”
“That’s what I think about you right now,” Eddie said. “But you can change that. If you’re the friend I’ve had all these years, man, then tell me where that little girl is.” He chucked a thumb at Andi. “Or I let the banshee test her theory on you.”
“She’s in the belly of the beast, where she belongs. I’m going to make everything right, Eddie, and you’ll be sorry you acted this w–”
Eddie grabbed Cy by a handful of lapel, and punched him once, quick and piston-like. Blood spurted from Cy’s squashed nose, and he wailed after a stunned second.
“A pinch here, a poke there,” Eddie snarled. “How’s that for a poke? Talk!”
“Don’t hit me, don’t hit me!” Cy begged. “I’ll tell you!”
Andi’s jerked her head away from the scene to see a chaperone coming toward them.
Cy saw the man, too, and before Andi could blink the shorter boy had healed, instantly. No blood, no damage. Even the red stain that had dripped on his shirt was gone.
“Or rather,” he said to Eddie, who stared at him in shock, “I’d tell you if I was really here.”
And with that, Cy disappeared, leaving Eddie holding a handful of emptiness.
“Oh, God,” Eddie muttered, flexing his hand as though Cy’s fading away had given him an electric jolt.
“What’s going on over here?” shouted the chaperone. “Did I see you threatening somebody?”
“We were dancing,” Andi said. “He, um, dipped me.”
The music currently playing was more conducive to a mosh than a waltz, but the man seemed satisfied. “All right, then. Dance a little less aggressively, if you don’t mind.” He stalked away.
Eddie stared at her like the horizon had just slipped out of sight, leaving him lost at sea.
“He always…” he said, voice low and phlegmy, “he always said mean things about me, when he thought I couldn’t hear. Things about me growing up to be a serial killer. I thought he was just joking, but…”
She stepped close and put her hand on his shoulder. His face was vacant, unreadable.
“My friend. All these years, my friend. But he wasn’t.” He looked at her. “Was he?”
“I…think he was,” she said. “People, y’know, they say people change when they get rich. Maybe when people get…power? Maybe it’s the same thing.”
“What’s he going to fix?” Eddie asked. “You heard him. What’s he going to make right? What’s worth Eury’s life? That girl never hurt a soul.”
“What’s the belly of the beast?” Andi asked back. “All he does is act cryptic.”
Eddie looked at the huge throng of dancers: happy, carefree, full of life and energy. “I think you were right,” he said. “Power…maybe when people get it, they decide to be a hero or a villain. And Cy made his choice. He’s taunting us because he can. Because he’s getting off on it.”
“So what now?” Andi asked.
“I think you were on the right track, luring him here and trying to take him down. If he’s fighting with imagination, then yeah…right on.”
She sighed and spread her hands. “If only I’d had a chance to test the theory.”
Eddie blurted out a chuckle. “You? Red, I said you had a good idea. I didn’t say you had a chance in hell of succeeding at it!”
Andi was speechless as he continued to laugh.
“You’re a tourist, Andi. You would have played with us for a few more games until you got bored or your girlfriends peer-pressured you into quitting. Or until you met some quarterback who swept you off your feet. You played the game really good, I’ll give you that, but for you, imagination is something you do when you’re bored. For me? Benjamin? Cy? Imagination is a way of life. Cy would have wiped the gym floor with you if you’d tried to take him on.”
Andi fumed. He was wrong. She never would have abandoned the guys. She never would have stopped playing. She wasn’t…she wasn’t that kind of person. She was positive she wasn’t.
“Okay, then,” she said, when she could trust herself to speak without cussing a streak, “what do we do then, genius? Are you going to take Cy on?”
That set Eddie off again, guffaws galore. “Me? Are you out of your mind? The best gameplay I can come up with is based on things I’ve swiped from TV and movies. I talk a good game, but inventing new things, fresh ideas? I might last a minute or two longer than you against him.”
“Oh,” said Andi, taken aback by his honesty. “So…oh!”
“Yeah,” Eddie said. “If the game is Voidville, and a player’s breaking the rules, there’s only one person you can go to…
“…the Horror Host.”
SIDE TWO, TRACK FIVE: BURNING UP
Andi snuck away from the gym to the girl’s locker room and changed out of her dress into her track clothes, grateful for the increased range of motion. Eddie met her outside and they took his bike into town. She sat behind him, hands around his waist, though not too tightly.
She tried to reconcile his jerkiness with the other, more passably human emotions he’d shown at the dance.
Once or twice, headlights illuminated them from behind as Eddie pedaled along, and Andi glanced back, half-expecting to see her dad’s car gaining on them. He had to have shown up to the gym by now, and he had to have realized she’d gone.
Eddie stayed silent the whole ride over, grim and focused on the dark streets ahead. Nothing accompanied their ride but the whir of bike spokes and the howl of the wind.
A block from Benjamin’s house, he coasted to a stop. “His parents might still be up,” Andi said.
“House looks dark from here,” Eddie said, “but let’s walk the rest of the way.”
As he said, the Vail home was dark, cars in the driveway, as they approached.
“This is his room,” Andi said, then, “Sorry. You know that.”
They crept to Benjamin’s window, and Eddie scratched on the screen. “Benjamin!” he whispered. “Wake up, man; we gotta talk.”
Sounds of movement and the creak of bedsprings came from the window. But when the lights came on, the shadow they illuminated was too tall to be their friend.
“I agree,” said Benjamin’s mom.
She paced for the first minute or two, back and forth in the living room, the kids seated in a line on the sofa. She paused, looked as though she was about to speak, but then went back to her small circuit of the living-room floor.
Mr. Vail had been the only one asleep, but you could hear the quote-marks when Benjamin’s mom said ‘asleep.’ Benjamin had been up watching TV, and his mother…
“I heard you two talking the other night,” she said once she stood still, wagging a finger back and forth between her son and Andi. “You aren’t as quiet as you think. So I thought I’d make him swap rooms with me and give you, missy, a piece of my mind if you came back.
“But like I say, I heard you talking. And I heard what you said. And while I was lying awake, waiting to pounce on you, I thought about everything I heard.” She turned her focus on Andi. “Do you know where my daughter is?”
“I’m — I’m not sure,” Andi began.
Mrs. Vail cursed and turned to Andi’s left.
“Eddie,” she said, almost pleading, “you’re a good kid. You try like hell not to be, but you are, underneath it all. Please. Please. Do you know anything about Eury?
“Miz Vee,” Eddie said, sounding just as tortured as her, “you wouldn’t believe me. There’s just no way. But if you’d seen the things I saw tonight –”
“What? What? Eddie, stop pussyfooting around and tell me!”
“We saw Cy make some people vanish,” Andi said, flinching under the baleful stare that spun her way. “Just, poof. Not like a magic trick, either. They were there, then they weren’t.”
“And then Cy disappeared himself,” Eddie added. “I had a grip on his shirt, and he…wasn’t there anymore.”
“It really did happen,” Andi said. “Please, we need you to believe us!”
“Shut up!” Mrs. Vail shouted, and the three of them clammed up.
“You boys,” she said, quieter but with no less danger in her voice, “and your game. I didn’t think it was healthy, boys your age playing make-believe and dress-up. But I knew you were hurting after your friend died, and I thought it might be…I don’t know, therapeutic or something. But you need a doctor. It’s gone on too long, and you can’t tell reality and fantasy apart anymore. All this garbage about Eury, and knowing where she is, and who took her…it’s just another part of the goddamn game, isn’t it?”
“Mrs. Vail?” Andi asked, and caught that withering gaze again, “what about me? I only played the game twice, and I never knew Lloyd…”
“I don’t know,” Benjamin’s mom shot back. “Maybe you’re just natural-born crazy.” Andi bristled, but didn’t retort.
“Give me your number, girlie,” she continued. “I’ll call your parents and tell them all this. Hopefully they can get you the help you need. And Eddie –”
“Miz Vee,” Eddie said again, his voice quiet. “You know Mom’s not going to be awake this time of night. She’s passed out before seven most of the time.”
Mrs. Vail looked at him, her eyes pinched. “Ah, Jesus. You poor thing.” She stepped close and cupped his cheek in her hand. “We’ll get you well again, Eddie. I promise. Mr. Vail and I will do whatever we can to –”
“Mom?” asked Benjamin. But the sound didn’t come from Andi’s right.
It came from across the room.
Benjamin’s mom looked at him then turned to see her son also standing by the piano on the far side of the living room. The new Benjamin waved, soft and light, as if afraid of breaking his hand.
“Hey, Mom,” both Benjamins said, in disconcerting stereo.
One Benjamin stood from the sofa, and the other walked toward him. They circled his uncomprehending mother, talking all the while.
“Sorry,” one said. “Sorry I didn’t speak up sooner. I was trying to concentrate.”
“I wanted to see if I could do it,” said the other. “You know, create something out of nothing like Cy did.”
“Turns out I could,” said the first, somewhere between proud and abashed. “Even though the cops have probably burned my so-called ‘devil worship’ book.”
“Mom?” asked the second. “Momma?” She looked down at him, focus laser-like, looking as if she wanted to pretend there was only one version of her son in the room. “I’m sorry to do this. I know it hurts, when people who have trouble imagining — or people who gave up on their imaginations — hit something they can’t explain.”
“But,” said the first one, resolutely ignored by Mrs. Vail, “it was the only way I could prove to you that we know what’s going on –”
“–and that we know how to stop it,” finished the second one, who snapped his fingers and vanished. Mrs. Vail screamed, brief and piercing.
“It’s going to be okay,” the remaining Benjamin reassured her. “I promise. I’m going to get Europa, and we’ll be back home soon.” To Andi and Eddie: “Ready?”
“Where are we going?” Andi asked.
“I figured out where my sister is,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about it, and if all this going on is Voidville-based, there’s only one place she can be.”
He walked back over to his mother, who had sunk to her knees, sobbing.
“Mom,” he said.
He hugged the hell out her.
But she shoved him away, and backhanded him clean across the face.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “I know; you’re that thing, that copy. I watched the two of you; I know which was which. You’re not my Benjamin. What did you do with him? What did you do with MY BABY BOY??”
Benjamin stepped back as she screamed, “Get out! Get out!” He, Eddie, and Andi ran for the door, Mrs. Vail’s shouts pursuing them.
Andi saw him turn back one last time, to make one last plea, but his mother would have none of it.
They got his parents’ ten-speeds out of the garage so they could all have a bike. Theft, at this point, seemed the most minor of transgressions.
“So where are we going?” Eddie asked as they mounted up and pedaled away.
“Nowhere, tonight,” Benjamin said “We’re crashing at your place, Eddie. There’s nowhere else to go. But tomorrow…”
“Tomorrow we’re going to Randall’s house. That’s where Eury is. Leviathan, yeah?”
Eddie nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, man. Makes sense. Belly of the beast?”
Benjamin glanced at him. “Say what?”
“Something Cy said about Eury.”
“What are you two talking about? What makes sense?” asked Andi. “Why are so sure she’s there?”
Benjamin turned to her, and his weird little smile almost broke her heart.
“Haven’t you heard?” he asked. “Houses around these parts tend to turn into monsters and eat kids alive.
“I’ve seen it first-hand.”
Today’s Words: 3186
Total Words: 37038
Notes: Big finale tomorrow! I will probably break up things into a few smaller posts, to allow me time to eat, nap, etc. See you then!
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)