“What does it feel like?” Dr. Godfrey wondered aloud, breaking up the somber atmosphere in the car. During the ride, Fleur had scooted as far away from him as possible in the back seat, and the sound of his voice made her turn to him with an annoyed glare.
Abby didn’t feel like talking, but Claude took the bait. “What does what feel like?”
“When they do that — when one of those pumpkins…takes you over.”
Claude considered this. “Guess you’ll be finding out soon enough.”
Godfrey considered that. “…I wonder if it hurts.”
Fleur finally broke off from eyeing him and went back to looking out the window. “I hope so,” she muttered.
They rode in silence again for a couple more blocks before Abby spoke up. “You forgot your next line.”
“What?” Godfrey asked, confused.
“About how you never meant to hurt anybody. Or how you only had the best of intentions. Or maybe how it was all for the greater good. Y’know, some B.S. like that.”
Godfrey looked at his lap.
“They got everyone else at Brightest Lantern. Did you know that? Dove and Parky and Gladys. Was that part of the master plan, too?”
“…You can’t make me feel any worse than I already do,” Godfrey pouted.
“Oooh, psychology,” Abby said. “Yeah, well…that may be the case, but it doesn’t mean we’re gonna stop trying.”
“What I want to know is,” Claude said, “how do you even get the idea to try something like this? Where do you find out how to do it? Just…just how, in general?”
Godfrey sat there quietly as the car jounced over a speed bump. “…You know how they say when you pray to God for something, sometimes He says ‘no’? I always hated that. Because the only people who say things like that are people who never have anything go wrong in their lives. They want to pretend they sympathize, when they’re really thankful they aren’t suffering like you are. So instead of trying to help, they shift the blame to God and act like they have some huge insight into why He does what He does.
“So sure, at first I did what I was supposed to do. The treatment center was bleeding money, and I prayed and prayed and prayed.
“And then I decided I wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer.
“I researched online. I took trips out of town to weird bookshops, whose smell I’ll never get out of my clothes. I used my credentials to interview murderers in prison, claiming I was working on a book about ritualistic, occult killings. And gradually, I put a plan together.
“This last week — during the ‘vacation’ I made sure everyone knew about — I went through with it. I fasted. I meditated. I chanted. I painted my garage with symbols and signs that made my eyes ache to look at. And a few hours ago, I said the very last of all those impossible-to-pronounce syllables.
“And the lights went out.”
The car hit another speed bump, and Abby could’ve sworn she saw Claude turn the wheel ever so slightly to hit it on purpose. She looked out the windshield, and there was the clock tower in the distance once again. 5:00 AM. Maybe two hours to go, for good or bad.
“They came to me,” Godfrey said. “Probably while you were still up on the hill. Claremont, and Walden, and –”
“And Porter,” Abby said. “Yeah. We had our own run-in with them.”
Godfrey nodded sadly. “They told me the plan had changed, but the agreement hadn’t. I would get to live in my gilded cage, and the people of Caliche would come and visit me as ‘patients’.” He grunted, a tiny sob. “The look on Porter’s face when she said, ‘They’re going to tell you all their problems…'”
Claude let out a small rumble from his throat and adjusted his hands on the wheel.
All along the streets, Abby could see the shadows of people in their homes, going about their parodies of daily activities, misshapen lumps on all their shoulders. They cruised by one house where a man mowed his lawn in the semi-darkness, he and his pumpkin’s backs to them as they drove past.
“Are they really doing things, or are they just pretending?” Godfrey asked.
“Or re-learning,” Abby said.
A set of headlights moved into place behind them, then another: two cars behind them, driving side-by-side, occupying the whole road one block back.
“…Here we go,” Claude whispered.
“How far do we have to go?” Abby asked. “Three blocks?”
Both cars began flashing red-and-blue at them.
“Pumpkin cops,” Claude said. “Sweet Jesus.”
“Make the next right,” Abby said, brain churning its gears, “fast and sharp. Get far enough ahead of them so I can jump out without their seeing. I’ll get to the van on foot. Try to lose them, and meet me…I’ll be a block over, behind the pizza place. Okay?”
“I do not like that plan at all,” Claude said, and Fleur agreed.
“Well, tough titty,” said Abby, “because here’s that corner. Punch it!”
Claude stomped the accelerator and the modest hatchback put on a sudden burst of speed, throwing them back in their seats once more. They whipped around the corner with a squeal of tires as the cops’ flashing roof lights receded in the rear-view mirror.
Abby pulled the door handle until they drew close to some bushes in someone’s yard. “Now!” she shouted, and opened her door, diving out and rolling in a heap in front of the biggest bush, which she quickly crawled under. She could see Fleur lunging over the seat and pulling the door shut as the hybrid sped away. Seconds later, the cop-o-lanterns blew past without slowing.
She lay there on her side in the cover of the scratchy bush, panting, counting the time.
Two hours. Sixty seconds, 3600 seconds, two hundred…and…ten, six…two hundred and sixteen thousand seconds. 432,000 seconds left. 431,999, 431,998.
She gave herself another thirty seconds of getting her wind back and deciding nothing was broken.
Then she stumbled to her feet and started to run.
Everyone in Caliche seemed enraptured with the idea of play-acting. Abby passed house after house, each one with a car in the driveway and a family bustling inside. In one yard across the street from where she sprinted, a boy and his pumpkin tried to play fetch with a dog that wouldn’t come near them. It snapped and growled when they approached.
“C’mon, Patches,” the kid’s jack-o-lantern pleaded,” be a goo–” *sound glitch* “–ood boy!”
As she moved down the street, house lots broke up into houses-repurposed-into-businesses, into a couple of convenience stores where pumpkin-laden customers filled their gas tanks and bought heat-lamp burritos, and finally she reached the center of town, where she saw something that made her screech to a stop:
The Brightest Lantern van sat where they’d left it, unguarded. Its wheels still popped, it listed forlornly to one side, there in the middle of the street in front of City Hall. A few pumpkin-people hurried in and out of the municipal building, but no one noticed her.
So it’s a trap, then. The jack-o-lanterns from Dr. Godfrey’s house had to have let someone know we were on the move. Or did they think sending a couple of black-and-whites after us would be enough?
She jogged across the lawn, feeling horribly exposed, until she reached the van. She looked back at City Hall, and while no crowds rushed towards her, the sight of the clock — 5:30 — sent a pang through her ribs. She dropped down and peeked under the van in case something lurked there. All clear. She couldn’t see inside; it was still too dark despite the streetlamps and lit-up businesses in the town square.
It couldn’t be this easy. But no matter how hard it might actually be, it had to be done.
Abby dusted her hands, took a deep breath, yanked open the sliding door, and —
“Hi, Miss Abby.”
Sitting on the suitcase, prim and proper and pigtailed, was little Laycee Vandenberg.
Today’s Words: 1363
Total Words: 30668
Notes: Posting early today, as tonight is dedicated to watching the final season premiere of Rectify. See you tomorrow!