Lanterns: Day Twenty-Three

“Think about it,” Abby said, and Claude seemed willing to agree, if only to stop her from launching into another tornado of destruction. “The jack-o-lanterns were summoned to attack people and, once they were helpless, torture them by constantly whispering every failure, every mistake in their ears, without end. And once they stopped…”

Gerard poked his head around the door. “The people were wrecked, like Dove was after we stopped her.”

For once, Gerard being on the same wavelength as Abby didn’t bother her. She nodded in appreciation.

“Parky, too, once his pumpkin came loose,” said Claude.

Abby got to her feet and leaned against a tilted mattress. “And they both said — and this is something that’s been eating at me, and I finally know why — they both said words to the effect of, ‘I should be a patient at Brightest Lantern.” She looked at a finger that was throbbing, saw she’d broken a nail during her rampage, and grimaced. “Multiply that by thousands and thousands of people in town, and what do you get?”

“A whole bunch of people who need — want — help with their mental issues,” said Claude.

“And who profits?” Abby asked. She pushed away from the mattress and paced. “The treatment facility that has trouble filling even ten percent of its beds.”

Fleur piped up, addressing the two men. “Dr. Godfrey was crying on the phone. He was saying he was sorry, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this…things like that.”

“Damn,” said Claude. “…But how? Not ‘how did he do it,’ but how could things have gotten to this point? He couldn’t have been this desperate.”

“No?” said Abby. “You try to do something, and no matter what, you fail. You fail and fail and after a while, you get desperate enough to destroy everything in the name of ‘making a change’ just so you don’t have to fail anymore. I understand that mindset better than you can imagine.” She chewed distractedly at the edge of her broken nail. “Anyone who knows the stories knows you don’t make a deal with the Devil. You always get screwed over. But maybe that was the other side of the plan. Make everyone in town crazy, and no one knows you’re a failure anymore.” Abby stopped and yawned, long and loud. Everyone else caught it and yawned themselves.

“…That’s no good,” Abby said. “We’ve got maybe three hours until sunrise, and a lot of work to do if we’re going to stop this.” She jogged out of the room and returned a few minutes later with a small green box with LOSE-4-GOOD printed on its side.

“Take one,” she said, shaking out a card of pills and popping those pills from their plastic blisters. “We need to stay awake. Every rich family has someone hooked on diet pills — amphetamines. It’s like, a law or something. These will wake us up until we either…well, succeed or not.” Claude took a pill, and Fleur, but Gerard balked.

“I can’t,” he said.

“Like fun you can’t,” Abby said, and thrust the pill at him insistently.

“I’m serious,” he said. “All that stuff you were tearing me a new one over in my room? I was telling the truth. I’ve turned over a new leaf, I didn’t have a stash, and I can’t take any drugs. Especially not speed.”

Abby looked at him a moment longer, sizing him up, then shrugged and took the pill herself. “Okay.”

“You believe me?”

“If you’re telling the truth,” she said, “then…sure, man. If you’re really going clean, then…yeah. I’m even proud of you.” She reached out to pat him on the shoulder, but pulled back, feeling awkward. “Just…go downstairs and chug a Coke, or something. Get some caffeine, at least.”

Gerard nodded, blushing a bit, and left the room.

Abby turned to the others. “Okay. Walden said there was a condition of the deal with Godfrey they couldn’t break, or it was game over. We need to get to Godfrey, talk to him, and convince him to tell us.”

“Except we’re surrounded,” said Fleur, looking ready to flinch for having pointed out a flaw in Abby’s plan.

“I didn’t forget,” Abby said. “Don’t worry. Before we talk to Dr. Godfrey…I’m going to talk to those folks outside.”

***

The citizens of Caliche had been kind, ever so kind, to put Abby and the others in a house where they could all find warmer clothes that fit them. Now, dressed in comfy layers and coats, they walked out of the house into a chill night they barely felt.

Abby felt even less. Since her wave of annihilation upstairs and downstairs, she was gripped by a weird calm. Anger had gone, it seemed, and left nothing in its place.

She was fine with that. Anger was good for demolition.

It had no place in surgery.

“Hi there,” she said, walking across the leaf-crunchy lawn to one of the people and its pumpkins who formed the chain of bodies around the house. “Red rover, red rover, let Abby come over?”

The townsfolk tightened their grips on each other’s hands.

“So from what I understand,” she said, stepping closer, “y’all are all scared of me and my friends. To tell you the truth, at first I thought that was silly — we four basket cases, too angry or worried about peoples’ opinions or freaked-out or doped-up to be any threat to anybody — what’s to be scared of?

“But I’ve had a little time to ponder, and here’s what I’ve come to realize. You’re right to be scared of us.” She looked up and down the line. “Oh, not because we’re armed or anything like that. We could smash pumpkins all day, and for every one we splattered, you’d send a dozen more against us. If your name’s not Legion, it damned well should be.” She grinned. “No, the reason you should be fudging your pants at the sight of us is because of what we represent: something superior to you.”

Abby spun and raised her hands in mock dismay. “Oh, but how can we possibly be superior, frail little humans like us? We can’t animate jack-o-lanterns and take over helpless people and be all scary with our stabby, pointy vines, can we? And you’d be right. You’ve got us beaten in numbers, and beaten in evil superpowers, and all that. But it doesn’t change one simple fact:

“You’re weak.” She marched right up to the closest person. “And I’m not just talking about you,” she said, staring a pumpkin in its fissured, glowing eyes, then sliding her gaze to the dull eyes of its wrapped-up victim, “I mean you, too. Both of you, weak as anything.”

Abby jabbed a finger at the pumpkin. “Let’s start with you. Damned to Hell, but so stupid you think God’s going to reverse His decision. People don’t go to Hell by accident, idiots. They are sent there because they are supposed to go there. And you believe that an all-knowing, all-seeing presence made a mistake? Do you not understand what ‘omnipotent’ means?” She flopped her hands and danced around. “Ooh, look at us, God, we want to be freed from our damnation because we really, really want it, and we’re going to hold these peoples’ breath until they turn blue if you don’t!”

The pumpkins didn’t react, but Abby could see vines loosening and tightening — fidgeting, almost — along the chain.

“And as for you,” she said, turning her attention to one of the humans, “you good, kind, Christian folks of Caliche…give me a break! Singing hymns out of one side of your mouths and whispering gossip with the other. Canned food drives for homeless people you’d wear gloves to touch. Emotionally stunting your kids and expecting strangers to raise them for you.” She fished the LOSE-4-GOOD box from her pocket and dropped it on the grass. “Your polite, under-the-table drug addictions. Rushing into marriage and rushing even faster to divorce because you can’t get your own mental problems under control before trying to mesh them with someone else’s. Pretending everything’s normal when you’re falling apart inside, terrified someone might know you’re not perfect like they are, while they’re all thinking exactly the same thing….”

She paused for breath, leaning forward, hands on hips. No one and nothing spoke.

Abby straightened up. “…And I’m not saying my friends and I are perfect, that we have some moral high ground over you. I’m not. But I am saying we have strength you’ll never have, none of you, alive or dead. We screw up — again and again. I’ve fallen more times than I can count; so has my friend here,” and she jerked a thumb back in Gerard’s direction. “Sometimes we fall, and we climb back so slowly it looks like we’re barely moving. Sometimes we fall, and we lose sight of which way is up, and we wander for ages.

“But we climb. We fall, but then, by God, we start to climb. We don’t wallow and expect someone else to fix everything. We don’t pretend that gravity is backwards and falling means flying. And yeah, sometimes we do entertain thoughts like that, and sometimes we lose our grip and slide down despite our best efforts.”

She looked their captors over once again and closed her eyes. “The worst beating you can get is the one you dole out to yourself. But if you can survive that kind of beatdown, nothing can stop you. How about you, any of you? How many times have you taken a punch from one of those nasty little shadows inside yourself?” Abby opened her eyes. “And did you ever hit back? Did you ever even try to raise your arms, to block it?” She turned and looked at her friends, one by one, seeing not them, but what was inside. “Well, we did. We took the shots, we got back up, and we’ve been fighting ever since.”

Abby turned back to the chain of people and jack-o-lanterns. “We are still standing. We are strong. And we are your betters.”

She took one step back: the only one she needed to take.

“On your knees.”

As she watched, the members of the chain let go of each other and collapsed to the lawn. She couldn’t tell if the pumpkins forced the humans down or if the humans broke control and caved despite the pumpkins’ commands. But they all went down, and they all stayed that way, shivering and twitching on the grass, all whispering things she was glad she couldn’t hear.

After watching them for a moment longer, Abby spoke once more. “Let’s go.”

She didn’t need to look back to see if her friends followed; they all walked right by her side.

*****

Today’s Words: 1802
Total Words: 27267

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Notes: Tonight’s post (if I have time to get it done) will catch me up!

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I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

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