Abby’s heart sank as she saw Dove had been taken. When Abby had come to Brightest Lantern, she’d fought it every point along the way. But Dove had borne every insult, every snide jab, every refusal to follow the rules with grace, politeness, and a smile that never wavered.
Even as Abby hated it here, she had to respect someone like that: someone who’d fight you back without actually fighting. When left to her own thoughts, and not feeling the need to act out, Abby wondered if she might learn to handle life the way Dove did.
For all the good it had done Dove against the jack-o-lantern.
“Abby?” said the thing on Dove’s shoulder. “It’s okay now. You can come back inside.” Dove’s true mouth didn’t move when her voice sounded. It resonated from inside the hollowed-out echo chamber of a gourd riding shotgun on her body.
Dove’s vine-wrapped hand reached up, grabbed the door frame, and pulled her with stiff steps into the courtyard. Her torso turned at the waist like a tank turret to point the pumpkin’s view directly at where Abby thought she was hidden.
The stiff steps started up again, and Dove headed right for Abby’s position.
If only I hadn’t left Gerard back in the bushes, I could’ve shoved him out ahead of me —
“AAAAHHHH!!” came a shout from behind Abby, and she turned just in time to see Gerard run past her, screaming, hauling something long and coiled and, as she could see the moment he triggered the motion lights, green —
— the garden hose she’d tripped over. Gerard ran up to Dove and looped a length of hose like a lasso around her tiny frame. Then, quicker than her jerky motions would allow for resistance, he ran rings around her, playing out the hose as he went to wrap her tighter and tighter, arms pinned against her body, then lower loops binding her knees together.
Trussed, with plenty of hose left over, Dove dropped to the ground, the pumpkin’s eyes flaring angrily with yellow light. Gerard rolled her over onto her back as Abby, amazed, approached.
He grinned up at her, panting with his effort. “Never let ’em tell you 4-H is a waste of time.”
Abby stood over the two of them. Three of them? “Somehow I’m having trouble picturing you in a cowboy hat and brush popper,” she said.
Gerard scoffed at that. “I think you have trouble picturing anyone outside the little boxes you like to put them in.”
“Wow, you were on the debate team, too? You must’ve thought your life was full of promise back then.”
“Abby? It’s okay now. You can come back inside,” the pumpkin said, louder this time, pulling the two residents away from their mutual sniping.
“Why does it keep saying the same thing over and over?” Gerard asked.
“I don’t know, ” Abby said, studying the bound nurse. “It’s like…they’re really smart in some ways and really stupid in others. There some others that repeated –” she trailed off, coming back with a whispered, “Shoot.”
“I miscounted,” she said. “I thought I was keeping track of them, but there are three more outside — people from town — unless they’ve found a way in. Or Parky or Gladys opened a door for them. Dammit.”
“People from town? It’s — this is happening in Caliche, too?”
“I don’t know!” Abby shouted. “Man, I can only juggle so many awful thoughts in my head at once! Evil pumpkins, evil pumpkins that mind-control people, evil pumpkins taking over the treatment center, evil pumpkins maybe taking over my friends, then taking over the town…Christ Almighty, Gerard, it’s like telling someone they have cancer, AIDS, and Alzheimer’s all at once.” She knelt down beside him, crushed, her arms slack, her lungs spent.
He looked at her for a long moment as she caught her breath. “Well, the plus side of that is that the person would forget two out of three diagnoses.”
Abby squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Y’know, it’s a damn shame you’re such a douche, because that was actually pretty funn –”
“Abby! It’s okay now! You can come back inside!” The pumpkin was almost at screaming volume.
“…Calling others,” Gerard said, gazing down at Dove. “It’s got to be. What’s the point of saying something meaningless louder and louder, unless you’re trying to draw attention?”
Abby snapped her head up, looking at the open door then at the smashed window across the way. Nothing at either that she could see.
“Abby! It’s okay now! You can come back inside!” The two unaffected humans flinched at the noise.
“You’re right,” she said. “Others have to have heard that. We — we gotta –”
“Yeah,” Gerard said, and reached behind his back. “I figured if my plan worked, you’d eventually say ‘we gotta.’ So I brought this, too.” He produced the other thing they’d tripped over — a trowel, which he handed to Abby. “So go ahead.”
He tilted his head. “And kill it.”
“I…” Abby looked down at the pumpkin. It stared back. Dove’s own eyes had rolled back in their sockets, giving her a pupil-less zombie gaze. “What if killing it kills her? What if we cut away the vines instead?”
Gerard pointed at the wrapping of tendrils around Dove’s throat. “What if it senses you’re cutting the vines, and breaks her neck? Breaks every bone in her body? Seems like her life’s in danger either way. Why not choose the option that gives us a little more getaway time, just in case?” He mimed stabbing downward, and Abby frowned sharply. “Come on,” he needled. “Come on, Miss Abby. Miss Always Knows What’s Best For Everyone. Miss My Way Is The Only Way. Miss…”
“I’m about to plant this thing in your face and take my chances,” Abby fired back. Gerard shut up and sat back on his heels with his smirky-smug face. Abby looked back down at Dove and the pumpkin and slowly raised the trowel with two numb hands.
“Ah God, ah God,” she groaned.
“Choosing who lives and who dies,” Gerard said in a soft voice. “Who’s God now?”
Abby ignored him and held the trowel up a few more seconds, just long enough for the emergency lights to switch off.
Luckily, the jack-o-lantern’s glowing face gave her a target, even in the darkness.
Today’s Words: 1077
Total Words: 9008
Notes: I wanted to extend this section a little further, but I am tuckered from fun with friends today. More writing tomorrow, guaranteed!