“You should see your face,” giggled Laycee. She hopped out of the van and landed not on her feet, but on a flurry of vines that erupted from her pants-cuffs. They flared out as they touched the asphalt, keeping her wavering and aloft a few inches off the ground. As she moved closer, the vines beneath her slithering across the pavement in a ever-entwining mass, Abby could see changes in Laycee’s pumpkin passenger: it had begun to absorb into the skin of her neck and shoulder, looking more like an engorged orange boil or the malformed head of a conjoined twin than a perching gourd. Laycee’s own head had a fixed lean to it as the pumpkin fused and merged with her flesh.
Abby stepped back as Laycee drew nearer. She kept her eye on the suitcase, and was relieved to see its side still tented from the pumpkin inside.
“Poor Miss Abby,” crooned the monstrous little girl. “Can’t cut it as a teacher, but too proud to quit. How many kids did you mess up from being so awful at your job?”
“…Is Laycee even in there anymore?” Abby asked the creature.
“Sure I am, Miss Abby,” Laycee said in stereo, her mouth moving in time with the voice coming from what remained of the jack-o-lantern’s semi-fused mouth. “Are you okay? I’m gonna go get the nurse.” Laycee laughed again. “Actually, just wait a few more minutes, and I’ll get the coroner instead.”
“And what happens when you’ve finished burrowing inside her?”
“Then we’ll be together forever. Oh, I’ll call all the shots, but Laycee gets to ride along and watch me.” She wiggled her fists back and forth in front of her eyes, boo-hoo. “She wants me to tell you she’s sorry. You’re not a drunk whore like her mommy says.”
Abby snorted and put a hand on her hip. “Well, her mom’s half-right. We can smell our own. So let me ask you — what’s the point of this? Bad psychological warfare? I’m supposed to lose it because you’re coming at me with the little girl that ended my career? That’s, like, the twelfth or thirteenth most messed-up thing that’s happened to me tonight. Try harder.”
Laycee raised her palms and shrugged. As she did, Abby could see the tendrils wrapping her arms were likewise merging with the girl’s flesh — vines into veins. “Maybe we have a flair for the dramatic, too, like your big oratory across town to our brothers and sisters. Sure, we could have just taken the suitcase, let the servitor-pumpkin inside loose, torched the van…all perfectly respectable ways of breaking your spirit. But we wanted you to see how close you were to succeeding before you lost. And we wanted you to know how badly you lost when it happened.” Laycee touched her tongue to a thumb. “When I was alive, I loved children oh, so much. And now I get to be one. The things I’m going to do once the sun rises…the things we’re all going to do…”
“Funny way of showing how grateful you are to be back in God’s presence again,” Abby said. She tamped down her revulsion as best she could, but couldn’t quite keep the quavering frown from her face.
“Oh, that,” Laycee said, waving a dismissive hand. “Some of us are more…high-minded than the others. Most of us are going to celebrate our freedom and indulge every urge we’ve ever had. As for God, well…there’s plenty of time to get back in His good graces, now that we’ve got our second chance. Ever hear of a deathbed repentance?” She flicked her human eyes to the clock tower. “Just about time for you to make one, by the way.”
And just as she finished speaking, Laycee thrust out an arm. Before Abby could react, a single vine lashed from the girl’s sleeve, nicking Abby’s cheek with its needle-tip. Laycee reeled the vine back in and looked at the crimson drop hanging from its end.
“Eww,” Laycee said, sounding so much like a little girl it turned Abby’s stomach. “Blood. Gross.”
Abby ducked as Laycee raised her arm again, and dodged the vine that whistled overhead. Her back zinged her in response.
“Death of a thousand cuts,” Laycee said. “No…twenty thousand at least. One for every one of us you were stupid enough to think you could stop.”
Lash, lash, and lash again, as Laycee put both arms into play, closing in on Abby, riding on the squirming mass of tentacles enshrouding her shoes.
“You know what she did?” the girl-thing asked as she attacked and Abby caught rips in her coat and jeans. “That last day, when you passed out and knocked your head on the desk? She kept the class calm while the nurse and principal examined you and tried to wake you up. She got the kids out in the hall and read a book to them, and got them all to hug each other so they weren’t so scared. Such a good little girl. Better than you deserved, you souse.”
Every time Laycee landed a hit — and she connected more than not — it stung like a construction-paper cut.
“What do you want me to — ow! — say?” Abby gasped, able to avoid the vines less and less. “I’m not — nnghh — giving a thing like you my confession. I’m not telling you that I’m trying to be a better person. You — eee! — you can’t understand what being a better person is.”
She spun as a vine whickered past, and Abby felt a line of red pain open up across the back of her neck.
“But if you can hear me,” she said, pulse thumping in her ears, “I’m sorry, Laycee. I’m — aghh! — I’m sorry. Forgive me or don’t, I just have to say –”
Laycee got close enough that her feet-tendrils lashed out and got Abby by the ankles. They gave a mighty yank, and Abby’s feet went out from under her. She landed flat on the pavement, and her skull cracked against the hard ground. Abby saw stars.
“There’s that deathbed penance,” Laycee crooned. She moved over Abby slowly, deliberately, like an egg-laying wasp that’s just paralyzed its prey. Vines snuck out from her sleeves, her cuffs, her collar and midriff, and pinned Abby down, ankles, knees, stomach, and neck, one by one, with aching, methodical movements. Abby thrashed her arms as best she could to avoid being pinned entirely, and Laycee laughed at her efforts. “Oh, keep your arms,” the creature said. “For all it’ll help.” She looked Abby in the eyes. “Never good enough, even up to the very end. Half-Ass Abby, always a failure.” More vines, more than Abby would have thought possible, snaked forth, tightening their tips into sharp ends. Two moved before Abby’s eyes, two at her temples, two at her ears, and one at her carotid artery.
Laycee got in extra-close, their noses nearly touching. “I want to see it,” she said, singsong. “When I push these into you, inch by inch, I want to see the light die in your eyes.”
“…I want to see something, too,” Abby panted. “Whether or not Gerard had a good idea.”
From her jacket pocket, she pulled out the stun gun, planted it clean in the middle of Laycee’s sternum, and pushed the button.
Laycee arched her back and screamed, an echo of rage like Abby hadn’t heard since the mother-pumpkin had attacked. The girl herself screamed wordlessly, jaw ratcheted open, eyes bugging out. Abby could feel the residual voltage passing from Laycee’s body to hers, Abby’s muscles going through short, quick tremors.
With a whip-crack, the vines holding and threatening Abby withdrew back under Laycee’s clothing as one. The girl tried to fall back, but Abby stayed with her, keeping the stun gun in place, her thumb pressing down on the button so hard Abby feared something would break.
And as she watched the monster shimmy and shake, Abby could see the half-pumpkin at Laycee’s neck begin to swell, electricity dancing along the crude gaps of its eyes and mouth. The blue arcs combined with the orange glow make the pumpkin start to turn purple like a huge, vile blood blister.
Then it burst.
Abby and Laycee both were showered in pumpkin guts, and through her goop-covered eyelashes, Abby could see green crud slopping out of the gaps in Laycee’s shirt and pants.
And it was all over but the dripping.
Abby cradled Laycee’s body to hers. The girl breathed, seemingly asleep. Abby swept away a glop of pumpkin from Laycee’s neck. No injury was present: the skin was smooth and unblemished. To all appearances, the pumpkin’s destruction had left no physical injuries.
Abby wiped the excess sludge from Laycee’s face, and the girl stirred as if in a dream. “…Mommy,” she whispered.
Abby leaned in and kissed Laycee on the forehead, tasting rotten fruit. “Go back to sleep, baby,” she said, and Laycee settled into her arms with a contented sigh.
She lifted her and carried her to the van. As safe a place as any for now — they could come back get her if things went well, and the pumpkin-people wouldn’t find her right away if…
Abby ran a hand through her own seed-and-pulp-clotted hair, and tried to think positively. It was a new habit, and she wasn’t quite used to it yet.
She laid the girl down on the back bench seat and, before she left her, buttoned up Laycee’s coat. It was cold out, after all.
Abby walked back to where she’d dropped the stun gun and put it back in her pocket, giving it, too, a quick kiss.
Sorry to go through your pockets, dude, Abby thought. It’s just that Godfrey’s back was turned, and well…
She looked up at the night sky as blue crept into its black.
Thanks for the save.
She limped to the van and retrieved the suitcase, sliding the door shut. Say what you will about being electrocuted by association…at least it had made her back feel better.
A screech of tires came. Across the street, she saw the hybrid, Claude at the wheel, whip in by the pizza place.
A few blocks away from them, sirens just becoming audible, came the cop cars. And behind them, a line of even more cars, civilian and otherwise, in pursuit.
Abby gripped the suitcase’s handle as hard as she could, and ran to her friends, the end of the world snapping at her heels.
Today’s Words: 1764
Total Words: 32432
Notes: A day behind — not where you want to be when closing in on the end of a novel! I should catch back up tonight, though…