Claude was unarmed, and Abby had left her trowel on the bed. The entryway to his room was too narrow, so they did the only thing they could do: falling back, quickly retreating into the wider space of the room itself.
After a few seconds of observing the two of them, Gladys walked in, slow and calm, not seeming to want to grapple with Abby like she had in the cafeteria. The pumpkin on the ground, even weirder, stayed where it was, curling its vines underneath itself like a cat settling down for a nap.
“Abby,” said the pumpkin on Gladys’s shoulder, through its unmoving mouth. “Listen to me. We don’t want to fight anymore.”
Abby had reached the bed and snatched up her trowel. “Guess that’ll make it easier for us to win, then.” Claude had ducked aside to grab his nightstick, and he moved to stand beside her.
“Come to town,” the not-Gladys said. “Things don’t have to be like they’ve been tonight. Just come to town and you’ll understand.” It moved her limbs with much more smoothness and certainty than before, backing her out of the room. “We want you to have this one as a show of faith,” and it waved her hand at the other jack-o-lantern, which briefly scuttled inside the door and sat again. “It will stay with you, peacefully, to demonstrate our good intentions.” With that, Gladys and her passenger left the room.
“Hey!” Abby shouted as Gladys left. “Hey, don’t you leave! What are you talking about? Come back he…” She made to run after Gladys, but stopped short as she reached the lone pumpkin. She backed away to stand with Claude again.
Weapons at the ready, they stared at the jack-o-lantern. It looked up at them, as innocent an expression as possible on its crude, glowing face.
“What the hell is going on…?” Claude wondered.
“One second,” Abby said. She took a step forward and looked down the bridge of her nose at the pumpkin. “…You’ve come a long way in a few hours, haven’t you? No more pretending your car has broken down, no more repeating the same phrases over and over. I didn’t even hear that other one whispering abuse in Gladys’s ear. So what’s the deal? What was she talking about, wanting us to come to town?”
The pumpkin kept looking at her.
“I don’t know what to think, Claude, I…” she feigned turning away for a second, then twisted back and knelt, lunging at the pumpkin with her trowel but stopping just shy of stabbing it “Hah!”
The pumpkin didn’t flinch, and all Abby got for her troubles was another burst of pain down her banged-up back. She didn’t let it show, not wanting to give the jack-o-lantern the satisfaction.
“Okay,” she said. “All right, then.” She stood, keeping her eye on it. “You’ll forgive us if we don’t rush to leap in the van and drive down the hill to Caliche. Actually, scratch that — I don’t care if you forgive us or not.”
The pumpkin continued to look at her.
“Guess you can’t talk by yourself, huh? You need someone else’s voice to latch onto like a parasite.” She leaned her head and cracked her neck, and the pain there eased up a wee bit. “But here’s the score: we’re going to need more to go on than your — her — word that things are hunky-dory now.”
“How’s this,” Claude piped up, tapping his nightstick into his cupped palm. “What she said about you being a show of good faith. Well, here’s some really good faith.” He pointed at the suitcase with the baton. “Get in there.”
Without hesitation, the pumpkin bumbled along the floor, its bunched-up vines wriggling underneath it like coiling tank treads. It reached the suitcase, levered itself inside with a plop, then turned to face Claude expectantly.
“I’ll be dipped,” Abby breathed.
“Okay,” Claude said. He walked closer to the suitcase. “Now…there’s one of two things that’s about to happen: one, I’m going to zip up the suitcase. Or two, I’m going to zip up the suitcase then jump up and down on it around a thousand times and squish you into pumpkin butter. What’s going to decide which of those things happens is whether you move an inch while I’m doing the zipping.”
The pumpkin stayed still. Claude knelt and reached out, but not without a quick glance at Abby. She nodded, eyes hard as she looked at the jack-o-lantern, and Claude proceeded. He grabbed the zipper and pulled it to the first corner of the suitcase.
The pumpkin waited patiently.
Claude pulled the zipper across the length of the suitcase’s front, to the second corner. Still no peep from the pumpkin, so he finished up, taking the zipper to its end, sealing the suitcase, its top tented by the jack-o-lantern’s stem.
Even enclosed, the pumpkin didn’t move. The suitcase rocked and shifted nary a millimeter.
Claude sat back on his haunches with a relieved whoosh of breath, and Abby reached out and squeezed his shoulder.
“You’ll excuse me if I repeat myself,” Claude said, “but what the hell is going on…?”
“Dunno,” Abby said. “But here’s the last test.” She moved forward and grasped the suitcase’s handle. “I’m picking you up now,” she called out. “Don’t be startled.”
“You’re warning it?”
She shrugged with her free shoulder and winced at the pain. “It’s behaved itself so far, hasn’t it?” With a jerk she regretted up and down her spine, she lifted the suitcase and its supernatural cargo. “All right,” she said. “Guess I better get this guy downstairs and tell the others. Then we’ll decide what to do.”
Claude nodded and stood. “Guess I better come with you, then.”
Abby turned, the momentum of the heavy suitcase almost overbalancing her. “Do what?”
Claude kept a straight face. “Don’t know if I can trust you to look after my suitcase. I need to come keep an eye on it.”
“Oh, is that the reason you’re coming along? Not because you had a change of heart? Not because you want an answer to that question about what the hell’s going on?”
Claude raised his eyebrows. “I’m just in it for the suitcase.”
“God, you’re a bigger liar than Gerard,” she said, and couldn’t keep the smile from her face. “Let’s get this show on the road, then.” She moved to leave, pretending to swing the suitcase close to Claude’s bureau. “Whoops, almost banged this against the furniture.”
“Knew I couldn’t trust you with it,” he said, and gingerly took the handle from her hand, hefting the luggage himself. “Give it here.”
Carrying the suitcase and its bizarre contents, Claude left his room, Abby tailing behind.
Today’s Words: 1125
Total Words: 17277
Notes: Didn’t write yesterday, so I’m officially a day behind. Will get caught up as soon as I can!