Claude saw her coming, made a quick U in the parking lot, and had the passenger door open before Abby reached them. He and Fleur were shouting, cheering her on as she ran, the heavy suitcase banging her thigh with every step, the wounds she had from her fight for that suitcase burning all over her body in the cold autumn breeze.
The cars pursuing them drew closer, cop cars flashing their Visibars as hard as they’d go, and the civilian cars blasted their headlights like dozens of angry will-o-wisps barreling down the street.
Abby hopped in the car, suitcase squashing her lap, and hollered, “Drive!” before she’d even closed the door.
Claude got the car moving, peeling out and throwing gravel, and pulled onto the road a hundred yards ahead of the vehicles hounding them.
“You’re all scratched up!” Fleur shouted as Abby closed the wildly swinging door.
“It’s cool,” Abby called back. “You should see the other guy!”
“Trouble getting the suitcase?” Claude asked, eyes flicking frantically between the road ahead and the car’s mirrors.
“It went about as well as everything else tonight,” Abby said. She looked back over her shoulder. “I can’t believe it! I thought you were going to lose them!”
“Yeah, well…” Claude said.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said again. “Didn’t you at least try the thing where you lightly touch the brake then accelerate?”
Claude was too focused on the getaway to look at her, but she saw the corner of his mouth twitch up.
“Man, shut up,” he said. “If you make me wreck this car, then where’ll we be?”
Abby became aware of the unutterable tension twanging through her body. She made a conscious effort, and sank into the leather upholstery, sighing under the weight of the suitcase. “…God, I’m so glad y’all are okay.”
“Us too,” said Fleur. “Um, to see you.”
Abby looked back at the silent member of the group. “How are you holding up, Dr. Godfrey?”
He looked up at Abby. “We’ve seen what they’re turning into,” he said, then went back to thinking.
“Along the streets,” Claude said, “and once when they tried to cut us off. The pumpkins are…melting into the people, combining with them.”
“Yeah,” said Abby. “The good news is, it’s not permanent.” She gave them a quick rundown of her encounter with Laycee Vandenberg, and they were appreciably grossed out.
“I just don’t –” Claude began, but a car even smaller than theirs pulled out in the intersection ahead and stopped. Claude slewed around it and kept going. “If they figure out how to drive semis, we’re cooked. But no, the way these things keep changing, I just don’t see how they can keep it up. First they’re mindless, then they parrot us, then they’re making plans to live among us…so why break those plans to live like savages? What do they think they’re doing?”
“We’ve seen what they’re turning into, Abby,” said Godfrey again, as though speaking to her for the first time.
“What –” Abby said, but Fleur caught her eye.
“He’s,” said the girl, who then made a moue and shook her head.
How far gone can he be, Abby thought, before the pumpkin won’t touch him? Without thinking, she ran a hand over the vinyl surface of the suitcase. The thing inside moved, just a bit, and she gave a start.
…It could have been a rock in there. They could have swapped out a rock, and I wouldn’t have known, and we would have been shafted. But they were so sure they could take me down, they got cocky.
No, prideful. That’s one of the seven deadly sins, after all.
“So where to?” Claude asked, taking another corner, still in the mode of eluding rather than seeking a stopping point. “I don’t think there’s anywhere in town we can get to where they wouldn’t be on us in seconds. Not enough time to get to the next town, either.”
“I don’t know,” said Abby. “I don’t want to let this thing loose in the car, no matter how docile it acts. But I just can’t think of anything, and we’ve got less than an hour until…”
“Um, you guys?” Fleur piped up. “Why don’t we just go home?”
The hatchback took the hill well. On the highway out of town, Claude had floored it and put some more distance between them and their chasers. Halfway there, Fleur looked back and laughed.
“A wreck!” she shouted. “I think they had a pile-up!”
Cresting the hill, they pulled around to the side of Brightest Lantern, only to find someone had closed the garage door after they’d left.
“The hell?” Abby said. “Stop, let’s get out.” Claude pulled up in front of the garage and they exited the car, Fleur leading a shuffling, disoriented Dr. Godfrey by the hand. Abby and Claude jogged to the front of the building, but stopped. “See the shadows on the glass?” Abby asked, pointing at the doors. “They’ve been barricaded. It’s got to be someone uninfected…why would the jack-o-lanterns block themselves inside?”
They trotted back to the garage, and Abby started battering the metal door with her fists. “Hello? Can you hear me?”
After a few seconds of banging, someone hit the door from the other side, and she stopped. “Who goes there?” demanded a tough male voice.
“…Parky? Parky, it’s Abby! Let us in!”
She could barely hear a whispered voice. “They can imitate voices. Remember when it was talking like me?”
“Gladys?” Abby called. “Gladys, are you okay? They still had you the last time I saw you…they used you to lure us down into town!”
“I don’t remember that,” she heard Gladys whisper.
“Ask her something only she would know,” came another whisper, this one louder — Dove.
“Okay,” said Parky. “Abby, I’m going to have to ask you a question to prove you are who you say –”
Abby rolled her eyes. “Parky, I swear to Christ, if you don’t open this door, I’m going to kick you in the nuts so hard you’ll have three Adam’s apples!”
There was a pause. Moments later, she heard the chain inside rattle as Parky hauled open the door. “Good enough,” he said, when he saw her, and smiled. All three employees, sans pumpkins, came out to hug and escort the others in, and to rejoice on seeing Dr. Godfrey.
Once safe inside, Parky led them to the nurse’s station. “Dove and I snapped out of…whatever they did to us…long enough to find each other and make a plan. We ran across Gladys, freed her, then the three of us went on a pumpkin hunt and cleared the facility of the rest of them.”
“And the babies,” Dove said, wrinkling her pert nose.
“Yeah,” Parky said, and squeezed Dove’s shoulder. “But what it comes down to is: I think we’re safe for the moment. Come daybreak, we can head out for the next town and get help.”
Claude said, “We have some things to tell you, but trust me…waiting until daybreak is the worst thing we could do.”
“I don’t understand,” Parky said. “We’re safe here. For right now, this is a pumpkin-free zone.”
Abby coughed and moved the suitcase behind her back.
Today’s Words: 1216
Total Words: 33648
Notes: And now on to the weekened! The current plan is to finish the novel by Sunday, then write the epilogue on the 31st. This may actually happen!