Daybreak. That’s the word Abby kept turning over and over in her head as they made the long march to ‘home’. She was positive Mr. Walden had said it by accident, and she was positive she knew why. The other representatives for the possessed kept everything close to the chest — ‘the summoner,’ ‘our commands’ — things like that. But Walden seemed happy to spill his guts so long as he could do it from a position of gloating.
He’d always been an officious little horse apple when she’d worked for him, and it looked like that hatred of her shone through no matter if another soul was controlling him.
So she did the only thing she could to pass time during the walk: kept needling him in the hope he’d give away more information. Because ‘daybreak’ was useful. ‘Daybreak’ was power. It was the difference between fighting to beat a deadline and flailing into the dark, not knowing if you were too late.
“So, Superintendent Walden,” she said, “whatever happened to those kids your pumpkin let get beaten? I’m guessing she didn’t save them, since she wound up in Hell. Or did she decide to join in?”
“Shut up and keep walking,” he said.
“Oh, hey, while I’ve got you here, I was curious about my pension…”
“I said, be quiet.”
Claude had picked up what Abby was laying down, and kept trying to engage his old boss, Claremont. Unfortunately, the TV-station owner was made of sterner stuff.
“Say, Mr. Claremont,” Claude said. “Did I ever tell you I was having an affair with your wife?”
Claremont stayed silent, walking with lockstep precision — perfect gait for a would-be conqueror.
Gerard wandered along, lost in thought. Fleur looked at the ground. She had her hands thrust deep in her pockets, and Abby remembered how the girl had wanted a sweatshirt when they left Brightest Lantern.
“How much further?” Abby asked Walden.
“As far as it takes,” he said, not looking at her.
Behind them, several hundred townspeople kept pace — not the huge gathering that had encircled them; many of those had departed to, as far as she knew, continue pretending being human — but enough still followed to handily run down anyone who tried to make a getaway.
“There’s just one thing I don’t understand,” Abby said.
“Only one?” Walden shot back. “I’d figure the things you don’t understand number in the billions.”
“Good one,” she said cheerfully. “No, but I was wondering: so this summoner — guy, girl? — brings you here to take over the town. So why do the whole whispering evil stuff in peoples’ ears thing?”
“You’ve got it backwards,” Walden said. “There’s a shock. He brought us here to do the ‘whispering evil stuff,’ thing,” and the distaste in Walden’s voice at using Abby’s turn of phrase was palpable, “but we had a better idea. It doesn’t matter, though. As long as we uphold our side of the bargain, he doesn’t have a say –”
“Walden!” Mrs. Porter shouted. “Stop talking and get away from her.” With a sneer, Walden ran up to the front of the line, where Mrs. Porter had some softly-spoken, but no doubt choice, words for him.
And Abby smiled at the new info in her arsenal: Daybreak. He. Why they were brought here. Their side of the bargain.
Their new home wasn’t, as Abby had speculated, a cell at the police station — they’d passed that landmark, and the fire department, a few blocks ago.
What it was, was a pleasant two-story suburban job that Abby knew belonged to one of the richer families in town. The yard was done up with plenty of Halloween decorations, including a huge, inflatable skeleton almost as tall as the house itself. The skeleton bobbed in the breeze amidst a graveyard of cardboard headstones decorated with the names of various annoying celebrities. Fake cobwebs hung from the trees, and dual rows of plastic jack-o-lanterns lined the cobblestone walkway to the front door.
Abby and her group were led up to the front door and taken inside, where the heater had been switched on, leading Abby to suddenly be aware of how cold she’d been. Gerard, in his t-shirt, and Fleur, in her pajamas, rubbed their arms and stamped their feet in the toasty confines of the living room. Only Claude in his cardigan seemed unaffected by the change in temperature.
“There’s plenty of food,” Mrs. Porter said, “and bedrooms for each of you. Feel free to clean up in the bathrooms,” she added, casting an eye at the dried pumpkin innards still clinging to Fleur’s hair. “Needless to say, the phones and Internet are disconnected. Go ahead and sleep in — we’ll be by later in the morning to discuss what’s next.”
Without another word, the spokespeople departed, leaving Abby and the others alone. Abby twitched a curtain aside and looked out the living-room window as they left, and muttered, “Oh, would you look at this.”
Claude and Gerard came to the window to see a contingent of citizens had been left behind. As they watched, the people and their pumpkins joined hands and formed a line in front of the house. Abby ran to the dining room. “They’re here, too. Guess they’re making a circle around us, huh?” She trudged back into the living room.
“…So,” Gerard said as Abby flopped down on the sofa with Fleur. “We’re agreed they’re aliens, right?”
“What?” Abby and Claude shouted.
Gerard shrugged. “I was thinking about it on the way over. Aliens observe us, learn what buttons to push that will influence most of the population –y’know, religious junk — and, well…”
“Why aliens?” Claude demanded. “Why not Hell?”
“Why not aliens?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of the Fermi Paradox?”
Gerard blinked. “How do you know about that?”
Claude crossed his arms and frowned. “I have a PhD in Atmospheric Science. You think there wasn’t an Astronomy class in there somewhere?”
Claude and Gerard continued their argument as Abby sidled over on the sofa next to Fleur, who had balled up in a pile of scatter cushions at one end. Abby paused before she spoke. They needed to make a plan with the information they had; Abby needed to stop the two guys from wasting time over a pointless fight; and most of all, at this point in time Abby didn’t have a spare moment to coddle Fleur.
And balanced against all of that was the crushing fatigue. Abby wanted to fish those painkillers out of her shoe, draw a bath, and soak and sleep until she woke up in her new life as a zoo oddity to a bunch of demons. Or damned souls. Or aliens. Or lizard people from the Earth’s core. Or whatever the scumbags were…
She looked over at the high-strung girl: so messed up, but so brave tonight. And she’d done good, saying she’d reached someone on the phone — more useful info, maybe?
Abby reached out and touched Fleur on the arm, and the girl turned to look at her with those eyes that always seemed to be on the verge of crying.
Only this time, she actually was.
“Abby…?” Fleur said, tears trickling down her face. “…Am I going to Hell?”
Today’s Words: 1217
Total Words: 24153
Notes: A second post for today. On reflection, next year I probably won’t do these notes, as they’re singularly unhelpful to anyone!