Lanterns: Day Zero

Hello and welcome to my third year of a recurring writing challenge! Last year and the year before, as part of the Countdown to Halloween blogging group, I attempted to write an entire Halloween-themed horror novel over the course of October. I tried to write every day and post that day’s prose to this blog, with the ultimate goal of a complete first draft before the month ended.

And did I succeed? Well…er, um, *cough*

That first-year novel, Face After Face, is still unfinished, stalled out at around 78K words. (You can see its health bar to the right of the screen). The second-year attempt, Voidville, fell just short of the goal by being completed on November 1st, and is still stuck as a first draft (although still free to read on this blog!).

Will my two-time utter failure stop me from trying again? By any reasonable standard, it should — but it won’t!

So welcome to this year’s Halloween novel: Lanterns. I’m not going to reveal much about it (I’ve dropped some hints on Facebook, to the interest of roughly four people), but I hope you’ll give the first few chapters a whirl and see what you think.

Last year, I tried to make things extra-Halloween-y by posting pictures of my black cat, Valentine, but I won’t be doing that this time around; it was way too much work getting her to stand still for photos. Val is fine — she just celebrated her 15th birthday a few months ago! — but you’ll have to do without pictures of her this year.

…And that’s all I’ve got by way of introduction. I’ll shoot for producing at least 1,000 words a day Monday to Friday, with more on weekends, and do my best to create a finished first draft of Lanterns on or before October 31st.

Hope you’ll come along for the ride!

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The Cycling Tour: Day Four

Back to Fantasy Novel One for another thousand word-ish chunk, but maybe not for long.

In three months, it’ll be time for my third annual live-blogged Halloween horror novel, and I’m trying to be mindful of how the first such novel, Face After Face, hasn’t even been finished, while the second, Voidville, is in need of a rewrite.

And of course, there’s the same old problem that’s been keeping me from writing with any frequency over the last few months: the desire to write versus the knowledge that I will never have any success as a writer.

I keep telling myself this, and it keep not sticking: I just need to write, and put my stuff out there. It’ll never sell, and never be read, and I’ll be throwing away ten-fifteen bucks on cover art each time that’ll never get recouped, but at least I’ll get the stories out of my head.

So I think between now and October I’ll finish Face After Face, do the rewrite on Voidville, do the rewrite on the finished Face After Face, then get them out for (hah!) sale.

Sounds like as good a plan as any to fail at utterly…!

Totals

Total Today: 1005

Total Overall: 3059

Things I Did When I Could’ve Been Writing Instead

Watching: Akihabara @ Deep

Reading: The Shadows, Kith and Kin by Joe R Lansdale.

The Cycling Tour: Day Two

What the–? I fell asleep on January 2nd, and have just now awakened to find it’s almost fifty days later! What could have caused me to fall into such a deep slumber that I…

…okay, you’re not buying it. Fair enough! The truth is, I drifted away from writing a lot sooner than I’d planned, and have, after weeks of inertia, gotten myself back in gear.

I thought about catching up like I did with Voidville, and making a ‘day’ entry for every thousand words I wrote, but decided against it. I’m just going to blog the days I actually get work done, even if they’re forty-some-odd days apart.

So, about nine days total writing this year, then!

Today, I re-wrote instead of wrote. My fantasy novel Crawlspace is locked up on an old, failing hard drive, so I’m having to re-type it manually from a printout I made a while back. Dull, work, but it’s what I feel up to at the moment, rather than creating anything new.

See you tomorrow or at the end of March, whichever comes latest…

Totals

Total Today: 0

Total Overall: 1007

Things I Did When I Could’ve Been Writing Instead

Watching: Person of Interest Season Three

Reading: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King.

The Cycling Tour: Day Zero

Happy Day Before Happy New Year!

Time to kick off this year’s writing challenge. Below is my proposed ‘to-do’ list for 2016, which I’ll set up as a page on the blog’s menu as well. This is all pure idealism on my part; it’s unlikely I’ll accomplish any of the things listed below, even with 366 days’ lead time. But like Mr. Pither, I’m just too much of an idiot to know when to quit, no matter how many times I crash my bicycle…

*****

NEW
* Write a science fiction novel
* Write a fantasy novel
* Write a horror novel
* Write this year’s live-blogged Halloween novel in October (separate from the horror novel above)
* Write my fiction-book-that’s-not-a-novel project (more about this later)
* Write a pitch for a comic book
* Write a screenplay (I’m not thinking it’ll be made into a movie; I’m not that delusional. Rather, to enter into contests.)

INCOMPLETE
* Finish Fantasy Novel One (separate from the fantasy novel above)
* Finish Blackletter (still not sure if this is just going to be a novella)
* Finish Face After Face (separate from the horror novel above)
* Finish Let God Sort Them Out (separate from the science fiction novel above)

FIRST DRAFTS
* Rewrite Voidville
* Rewrite Crawlspace

SHORTS
* Write at least one short story a month

MERE MOMENTS
* Updates to MM website and blog
* Updates to sites selling MM ebooks
* Put out paperback of Tired of Monsters
* Put out paperback of The Festival of Borametz
* Put out audiobook of Tired of Monsters
* Put out audiobook of The Festival of Borametz

ETC.
* Updates to personal website
* Finish the long, long overdue read-thru and critique of my friend’s novel

*****

The list will be amended with strikethroughs if/when any items are finished, and updated with new items accordingly (i.e. a finished project from “NEW” or “INCOMPLETE” would be moved to “FIRST DRAFTS” and so on).

As far as the mechanics of this year’s challenge go, I’m just going to try to write every day, make a brief post about my writing here every day, and also track my non-writing (reading, TV, games, etc.) on the blog. Nothing fancy beyond that. I will most likely post a day late, so that I don’t have to add doing the blog post to the end of the day after doing my actual writing.

See you again soon…kicking things off will either be a return to Fantasy Novel One, or a short story, or…?

Furtherance: Days Forty-Nine to Sixty

Fourth and final catch-up “Furtherance” post — back to daily posts tomorrow!

Finished Voidville a day late. While it was nice to complete the first draft, I utterly failed at the attempt to write it over the course of October. Ah, well.

So what’s next? I have three new things on my plate: a submission to a comic-script contest; the novel that came to me in a dream; and an attempt to write something in a completely new genre (to me). The comic entry and dream-novel will take priority in November while I plan out the third project.

On weekends, I’m going to try to stick to editing and business maintenance. Voidville will rest for a while, and I’ll (finally!) start on rewrites for Crawlspace.

I’ll most likely go back to my former pattern of writing these progress posts a day late, so I can get writing done without having to worry about blogging at the same time. I did it the other way during Voidville, and I think that contributed to a lot of the delay.

See you tomorrow!

Totals

Total Since Last Post: 31083

Total Overall: 55649

Total Average: 843

The Anti-Writing Equation

TV: Watched the premiere of Supergirl and got caught up on The Flash, The Player, Z Nation, and Fresh Off the Boat.

Reading: One-half done with The Naked God by Peter F Hamilton. On some far and distant day, I may actually finish this book! I’m enjoying it, but the reading time just didn’t come to me during the Voidville marathon…

Games: Same idle games as usual, with the addition of Crusaders of the Lost Idols. Uninstalled Tap Tap Infinity.

Voidville: Day Thirty-Two – The End

***EPILOGUE***

CD BONUS TRACK: SAME OLD LANG SYNE

October departed with all the accoutrements. Leaves began their suicidal jumps from every tree, ending their lives without regret. The air developed a constant chill, sapping the warmth from all living things, reminding even the simplest organisms of impending mortality. The sky was devoid of birds across its grey, slablike expanse.

And along every street in every town, monsters roamed in search of candy to devour.

And, for the twentieth year in a row, Andi Brennan-McCall returned to her one, true hometown in Texas for Halloween night.

Passing the City Limits sign always gave her goosebumps, even all this time later. The hell she and the other survivors of that Halloween week went through…interrogations from cops and the FBI, the shunning from the townsfolk, and eventually their departure before Andi had started high school. No one would be surprised if she never went back there again.

Luckily, in the Eighties, forensic science was not at its best. Otherwise, they might have been able to place Andi at the farm where a house burned to the ground, or at the school facility where Cyrus Brodsky was murdered atop a mound of bizarre manifestos, and where Benjamin Vail vanished off the face of the Earth.

They couldn’t even pin the arson of Randall Hart’s house on Edison Montreux, hard as they tried.

Not that the exoneration ultimately did Eddie any good.

Every year, the same landmarks stood, decaying and unimproved. Every year, more storefronts stood vacant and dusty. The practice farm had lain empty ever since Cy’s death, the school begrudgingly reallocating funds meant for the athletics department to relocate the FFA to the other side of town.

No one else had tried to buy the unoccupied land from the school. Superstition ran deep in these parts.

Andi drove into the now-gateless entry and pulled in behind the largest barn, out of sight of drivers-by even if the night hadn’t been pitch black.

She shouldered her purse and stepped out into the cold, dry evening.

“Hey,” she said softly, same as she did every year. “I’m back.”

And for the first time since she started, someone replied.

“Who’s there?”

Andi felt her heart jump as a figure stepped out of the shadows.

“I said, who’s there?” the figure asked again, a woman. “I’ve got pepper spray.”

Andi clicked on the tiny flashlight on her keychain and held it up to her face, hoping it didn’t make her look too scary. “Sorry! I don’t mean to be trespassing. I used to live here, and –”

“Andi?”

Andi shone her light at the woman, who shielded her eyes. Slim and blonde, and a few inches taller than her.

“Ow,” said the stranger. “Andi, it’s me! It’s Eury Vail.”

“Oh my God…Eury?” Andi cast her light on the ground and made her way over the gravel and weeds until the two met and hugged.

“I thought that was you,” Eury said. “I’d recognize that hair if it was a hundred years from now.”

Andi self-consciously patted at her untamable explosion of curls. She’d never needed another hairstyle.

“What are you doing here?” both women said at once, then laughed.

“Let’s sit in my truck,” Eury said, and they walked to a pickup parked by a smaller building. Andi’s headlights hadn’t shined on it as she entered.

Eury turned up the heater and passed Andi a little airline bottle of Chardonnay, from which she took a tiny sip.

“Whew,” Andi said, her breath fogging the window in defiance of the heater’s efforts. “Sorry to startle you,” she said.

Eury took the mini-bottle back and had her own small belt from it. “Not a problem,” she said. “Sorry for doing the same.” They sat in silence for a moment, then: “We’re waiting for each other to ask again, aren’t we?” Eury laughed. “I’m here visiting Eddie, and thought I might…I don’t know, swing by this old, awful place. Don’t know why.”

Andi nodded. This town was as good a place as any to stay overnight if you were visiting the prison thirty miles away.

“How’s he doing?”

Eury blew out a breath. “I think he’s finally starting to regret what he did. He’s got about five years left; it took him long enough. I always ask him why he did it, and he always brushes me off with a smart-aleck remark.”

“Same old Eddie.”

“Mmhmm.” Eury passed the bottle back to Andi. Two sips down and two remaining.

Eddie stayed in town and found the ultimate way to piss off both the citizens and the student body: he became Valedictorian. Then, the day after he graduated, he walked into the local Allsup’s with a gun and no mask and robbed the place. He’d been eighteen, and the court gleefully tried him as an adult.

If she thought about it, Andi figured she knew why he’d done it.

“I pass through every few months for work,” Eury said. “Pharmacy sales rep. If I can get past his army of secretaries, I visit Randall, too.” She smiled. “I’d have been visiting you, too, if your folks hadn’t moved without telling anyone. I could never track you down.”

“Sorry,” Andi said. “I didn’t think you’d want to –”

“I might not have,” Eury said. “Not for a few years there, at least. But I’m glad for whatever happened to make us run into each other, finally. It’s good.”

“…So, Randall…how’s he?” Last Andi had heard, ground had broken on the construction of TV pastor Randall Hart’s megachurch, thirty miles the opposite direction from town.

Pincered between prison and church. Seemed appropriate for this town.

“He’s always glad to see me, and he’s always happy to pretend that none of what happened, happened. He’s managed to protest and shut down a few companies that publish role-playing games. He’s really proud of that.” Eury took the bottle back and finished it off. She looked over at Andi, and Andi had never seen eyes so blue. “I can’t pretend it didn’t happen. Can you?”

“No,” Andi said. “Because it did.” She heard a crack as Eury broke the seal on another small bottle.

“I shouldn’t” Eury said. “My Dad. Eddie’s mom. But…” and she took another miserly sip. “Here you go,” she said, passing it to Andi.

“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” Eury asked. She stared out the windshield of the truck, across the empty field of the farm. They’d stopped storing pumpkins here after that night, too.

“I come here every Halloween,” Andi said. “Or have since I turned eighteen and left home.”

“Have you –” Eury started, but her voice broke. She gestured for the bottle, and Andi passed it back. Eury finished it in a small gulp, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

“I haven’t seen him,” Andi said. “I’m sorry.”

“Ah, God,” Eury said, and fished in her purse for a tissue. She blotted her eyes. “So stupid. So dumb of me to come here. I don’t know what I expected. All I’ve gotten out of it is sad and semi-drunk.” She sniffed and gave Andi a lopsided smile. “Y’all saved my life,” she began, but her expression soured and she turned away, tissue to her eyes again. “He saved my life, and I never got to tell him thank you. I never got to…tell him sorry for being such a pest when I…I was little.” She cried openly now, and Andi put a hand on Eury’s shoulder.

“I get these little bottles,” Eury said, “but sometimes I want to buy a big one and…just drink and drink until I can see him again.”

“Hey,” Andi said. “Hey.” Eury turned back to her, mascara running, and Andi leaned over and grabbed her in a fierce hug.

She thought of carrying Eury, smaller and lighter, out of a now-incomprehensible hell.

“I want him back,” Eury sobbed. “I want him to come back so bad.” Andi clutched at her, crying as well. “I go through life pretending like I’m this big adult,” Eury said, “but I’m just a little girl. I’ll always be a little girl.”

They separated a moment later, sniffing and blowing their noses and not talking from vague embarrassment. Eury pulled out another bottle but, after Andi declined, put it back in her purse.

Eury finally broke the silence. “So what about you?” she asked, smiling through the last of the tears. “I felt that diamond poke me in the neck.”

“Oh,” Andi said, and reached over to turn her wedding ring round and round her finger: an old habit. “Yeah. We met in college; we’ve been together ever since. He’s an architect. I work in insurance. No kids, and we’re happy with that.”

“And this?” Eury said, waving her hand at the farm.

“I told him when he proposed,” Andi said. “Said it was a deal-breaker. He agreed.”

“Sounds like a good guy.”

Andi looked out at the farm herself. “…I do this every year, and he’s happy to see me when I get back home. Yeah…a good guy.”

“Do you think you might not go back home some year?”

Andi laughed, short and soft. “Hasn’t happened yet.”

“If you…” Eury said, and Andi could hear the smallest crack, “if something happens, some year, to make you not go home…you’d tell me, right? You wouldn’t vanish, too?”

“Oh, honey,” Andi said, and took Eury’s hands in hers. “Of course. Of course I’d tell you.”

Eury nodded, a fresh, miniscule tear in the corner of her eye. She wiped it away, then fished in her purse for a business card. “Call me,” she said. “Write me, send me an email if you’re on America Online or something.”

“You’re not leaving, are you?”

“I have to. I’m sorry. I’ve gotta be in Lubbock tomorrow for a convention. Have to get back to the motel and try to pretend to sleep.”

They hugged again. “…He’s out there, somewhere,” Andi said, face buried in Eury’s blonde waves. “Fighting for us.”

“I know.” They moved apart, and Eury said, “Even if you don’t see him…please tell him I love him.”

Andi got out and waved as Eury drove away, back to the world of grown-ups. She felt a bit like a little girl herself when Eury had gone, standing there in the dark in the witching hour, in a place charged with weirdness and the darkest of histories.

She found her way back to her car, her little flashlight cutting out every time it could have warned her of a rock or tangle of weeds in the path. Once there, she sat on the hood for a few minutes, gazing up at the moon.

Almost time to go. Miles before she slept, and all that.

She’d been drawn to her future husband when she saw him posting a notice for a Dungeons and Dragons group on the dorm bulletin board. He was nice, and sweet, and nerdy, even though he never made up his own adventures. He was happy to buy pre-made modules and play within the realms of other peoples’ imaginations.

She’d never told him about Voidville, about any of it. Maybe it was better that way.

At last, Andi heaved herself off the hood and walked the few yards to where she’d last seen Benjamin.

If he came back, would he be old? Would he still be a teenager? Time had to flow differently in that other land…infinite, like the first day of summer vacation. Endless, like the night before Christmas Day.

Not divvied up into delineated boxes, like time became once you were an adult.

“I have to go,” she said to the empty air. “But I’ll see you next year…or the next time you blink your eyes. Whichever.” She turned to go, but spun back on her heel.

“…I try,” she said, her voice strained. “I try so hard to imagine, to wish like you said. But it gets tougher every year. Remembering your face gets tougher, or remembering what it felt like to play the game.

“This world is eating me, I think. Or maybe it already has. Is that it? Am I inside the Leviathan, and just don’t know it?”

The wind blew, making noise that in no way resembled words.

Andi walked back to her car. For just a second, it seemed as though the path ahead of her was a bit more illuminated, as if a light had come on behind her.

She thought of her husband, loving and affectionate and waiting patiently for her return. She thought of her job, and her friends, and her responsibilities.

She didn’t turn back, and didn’t feel bad about it.

Out of the cold, she sat with the key in the ignition for a good thirty seconds before she turned it. She switched on the headlights, and Dan Fogelberg came on the radio.

Andi put the car in Drive and, for the twentieth year in a row, made her decision.

–END–

*****

Today’s Words: 2170
Total Words: 46947

*****

Notes: And that’s all, a day late! Thanks for reading. I’m going to continue to log my writing progress on this blog, and will do another live-blogged novel next October (might as well make it a tradition now). See you then!

*****

I attempted to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October, but finished on November 1st, so the challenge was a bust. Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning.

Voidville: Day Thirty-One, Part Two

On the computer desk this morning, waiting for me to start writing.

SIDE TWO, TRACK SIX: THE SUN ALWAYS SHINES ON T.V.

They spent the night in a section of concrete pipe, back in the rearmost part of a oil-drilling-supply company’s yard. Andi and Benjamin slept chastely, back-to-back and head-to-toe, until the light of daybreak woke them.

Benjamin moved first, shifting away from her. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” she said, stiff and sore. She’d never felt this many joints crack in her life.

They sat at the lip of the rounded concrete, watching the sunrise. The business wasn’t open yet, so they found a hose in back of the office and held it for each other, splashing their faces with the chilly water until they’d both woken fully.

A couple of vending machines sat outside the main office, and courtesy of Benjamin’s spare change they breakfasted on Dr. Pepper and Tom’s potato chips.

“So where to?” Andi asked, as they got their bikes ready to roll.

“Cy’s house.”

“Seriously? Just confront him, like that?”

Benjamin smiled. “He’ll be in school, remember?”

“Will he?”

“If not, then all this comes to a head a lot sooner. Either way…”

Andi packed her hair under Eddie’s cap. “So we’re going to tear up his notebooks, yeah?”

“Yeah. It’s anticlimactic, I know. Hope you’re ready for a few hours of Earth-shattering paper tearing.”

“Will it stop him?”

Benjamin shrugged, looking guilty to be so unsure. “I was able to shift us into Voidville yesterday, which I guess means the cops still have my book in evidence. I don’t know if destroying his books will stop Cy, but it’s my best guess. Every time you have some kind of reality-warping in science fiction, there’s an explanation. I’m still figuring out the rules of this.”

She propped up her bike and walked to him. “For luck,” she said, gently cupping his face and leaning in for a kiss.

“Whoa,” he said, leaning back. “Are you sure? I heard if you kiss before you get married, it makes you sick and –” His smile betrayed his attempt to sound serious.

“Oh, be quiet,” she said, and kissed him. It was awkward, and clumsy, and their lips mashed together all wrong, and he breathed loudly through his nose onto her face…

…but she knew she’d never forget it.

***

Benjamin rang the doorbell at Cy’s, then fished in his pocket for a key. “We can all get into each other’s places,” he explained.

As he pulled out the key, the door opened.

Beth, Cy’s older sister, stood there, head cocked, observing them both. “Hey, Benjamin,” she said. “Cy went to school today. Did he know you were still out of class?”

“Uh, yeah,” Benjamin said. “I just needed to borrow a game. Is that cool?”

“Yeah,” she said, indifferent. “Come on in.”

He did, Andi following. “Be right back,” Benjamin called, leaving the senior girl and Andi together in the living room. Andi recognized it from when she’d run full-tilt through it earlier in the week. Probably not the best conversational gambit to use with Cy’s sister.

“You’re her, ain’t you?” Beth asked.

“…I’m, uh, who?”

“Cy’s girlfriend,” Beth said. “He told me he was dating a pretty redhead.”

Andi coughed. “…Uh, when did he tell you?”

“Oh, last night. Said he was making some changes, and that you meant a lot to him.” She studied Andi. “Oh, hey, I thought I recognized you. JV flags, right? I see you at pep rallies all the time. Varsity cheer, nice to meet you.”

Andi expected ‘aren’t you wanted by the police’ to follow, but Beth didn’t appear to be up on current events.

“It’s good he’s dating a normal girl like you,” Beth said. “He’s a sweet kid, but he’s too mixed up in all his sci-fi and horror and crap like that. You need to, like, steer him straight, y’know?”

“I guess I do,” Andi said, wondering where Benjamin was.

“Promise me you’ll do that,” Beth said. “He needs to stop daydreaming all the time and face the real world.”

“I will,” Andi said. “I promise. So, uh, why are you home today?”

“Senior skip day,” Beth said. “You got a lot to look forward to when you get to the 12th grade.”

“Couldn’t find it,” Benjamin said, bounding back up the hallway. “Guess I’ll ask him later. I’m supposed to meet him tonight.”

“Well, have fun trick-or-treating, or whatever,” Beth said. She bade them goodbye and flopped on the sofa to watch TV.

As they walked to their bikes, Benjamin said, “The notebooks are gone. His closet’s empty. I looked around the rest of his room, but they weren’t there. He must have known. Or maybe he could sense you rescuing Europa yesterday, and he knew we’re closing in. Either way…”

“Where could they be? How could he have moved them?”

“Maybe he conjured up a group of monsters to move them by hand last night, who knows? Now I have to figure out where he’s going to be tonight.”

“Why are you sure it’s going to be tonight?”

He gestured at the houses lining the street they biked down. Each one had its yard filled with decorations: carved pumpkins, paper skeletons, fake cobwebs in the trees. “It’s all connected, I think. Halloween, monsters, Voidville, the supernatural. If you’re going to do something occult, well, Halloween is when you do it for maximum effect. I’m just not sure where.”

“Why not anywhere?”

“No, no…Cy is picking a place, and he’s picking it for a reason. I just have to try to think like him.”

Andi thought of Cy’s craziness, then of Benjamin, when he described how godlike he felt during that first Voidville session at the Harts’ house.

“Don’t try too hard,” she said, shivering.

***

They got hungry that afternoon, and Benjamin decided to play the odds. Living in a town of a few thousand people meant you couldn’t know everyone, but it increased the chances of running into someone you did know whenever you went out.

He cruised by the convenience store once or twice until he was sure he didn’t know the clerk. Andi still had some cash, so he loaded up on burritos, chips and soda. They ate in the small park in the south side of town, sitting underneath a jungle gym, keeping an eye out for nosy people.

“Can I ask you a question?” Andi said through a mouthful of spicy meat and tortilla.

“Shoot,” Benjamin said, mouth equally crammed.

She sat her food down on a napkin in her lap, flicking away an errant ant. “It’s things Eddie and Cy have said to me this week. About how some people have nothing but imagination, like the real world doesn’t mean anything to them. That’s not true, is it? That can’t be true.”

Benjamin swallowed and looked at her. “Why can’t it be true?”

She searched for an answer. “Well, because…it’s so sad.”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “It is, isn’t it?” Then he went back to eating.

“…What kind of answer is that?”

Benjamin sighed and set down his own burrito. “Because if I give you any more of an answer, it’s going to sound even more sad.”

She kept staring at him.

“All right,” he said. “Something you find as you grow up is that the world…well, okay, some people just aren’t made to function correctly in the world. They’re strange, they don’t fit. For them, what’s the point? You’re playing a rigged game. So why not stop playing and make your own game?”

“Why not try to fit in?” Andi asked.

“Why lose everything that makes you unique by conforming?” Benjamin fired back. “The thing is…I’m never going to have a place in this world. Neither is Eddie. Neither is poor, screwed-up Cy. I’ll get by, I’ll find a job, make a living, and all that…but I won’t fit, no matter what I do.”

“You won’t if you give up,” Andi said. “If you quit before you even start.”

“If you went to a carnival,” Benjamin said, “and they had a ring toss, and they had a big sheet of bulletproof glass over the pegs, so that no matter how you threw the rings they’d always bounce off and never hit a peg…would you play?”

“Of course not.”

“Well, there you go.” He picked up his burrito again.

“It’s not the same!”

“Okay. Say you went and saw the ring toss, and they gave you magic rings that passed through the bulletproof glass and landed on the highest-prize pegs every time, would you play?”

“…Yeah.”

“Of course you would,” Benjamin said. “And you’re playing now, every second of every day. And winning every time.”

“That’s not fair,” Andi said. “And you’re not being fair to yourself, either. You’re so smart and so creative. You have a lot to offer this world!”

“I have a lot to offer some world,” Benjamin said. “But not this one.”

“And what if this is the only world?”

He laughed and took a big bite of burrito, finishing it off. “Then I guess I’m screwed.” He stood, dusting his hands on his pants. “You about ready?”

“No,” she said. “I still want to talk about this.”

He remained standing, and reached out to grab one of the jungle gym crossbars. “Nothing else I can say will make you happy. And nothing else you can say will change my mind.” He looked away. “And the sun is setting. And we’re running out of time.”

She ate the rest of her food in two quick, chomping bites and stood. “We’re not done talking about this. When this is all over, I’m gonna make you see reason.”

“I’ve already seen the sleep of reason,” he said over his shoulder as they walked to their bikes. “That was good enough.”

She frowned as she got on her bike. “Okay, so Cy. Any ideas? I was wondering about the graveyard.”

Benjamin shook his head. “The police patrol the graveyard extra during Halloween. He won’t risk it. The school? He hates it, but it doesn’t have any significance past that. It’s got be somewhere that really connects with Halloween. Somewhere — oh. Connecting…with Halloween. Oh, man. I think I know. And it’s perfect.”

“Where? Where?”

Benjamin turned to her. “He’s gone to Randall’s.”

Andi stared back at him. “…Randall’s just burned to the ground.”

Benjamin blinked, then laughed. “Oh, no, sorry, no. Force of habit. Something we always said in the group. When we talked about going to Randall’s…we never actually meant Randall’s.”

***

Andi had to admit: the place certainly did look like Halloween Central.

Life in a small country town meant one thing when October rolled around — pumpkins. Everyone with a patch of land grew them, either to enter in contests or to sell to friends and neighbors.

And if there was one thing pumpkins did, it was grow and multiply, like any other gourd. Try to grow pumpkins, or summer squash, or zucchini, and before you can blink you’re up to your armpits in the stuff.

So what to do with the excess? The town had, after many years, arrived at a solution:

Store them at the FFA practice farm.

The excess pumpkins were dropped off by the pickup-load on Halloween. Over the next few days, they’d be picked up by enthusiastic canners to be jarred and stored for a few weeks, after which equally enthusiastic bakers would make pies by the hundreds to be given to food banks and churches and shelters around the county, just in time for Thanksgiving.

But for tonight, the pumpkins sat in huge piles at the practice farm, walls and mounds of ridged, orange bulges in the moonlight, like a crude maze.

And what a moon to light them — full and bright and looking fit to burst in the sky. Andi and Benjamin had brought flashlights, but found them unneeded.

“I’m going to feel really stupid if he’s not here,” Benjamin said as they climbed over the gate.

“What will we do if he’s not?”

“Keep looking until we find him, or it’s too late. What else is there to do?”

They walked around the grounds for a few minutes, getting their bearings despite the sameness of the piles of pumpkins fighting against that. Andi was again thankful for her track outfit, as the cold breezes of the day had given way to a cruel, cold nighttime wind.

“Oh, hey,” said Benjamin. “I think…” he walked a few steps away. “Yep,” he called back to her, “it’s a bike. Beth’s old one, looks like. It’s just been rotting in their garage since she got a car.”

“So where’s Cy?”

Benjamin looked around. “Wouldn’t this be a good time for you to step out and say, ‘right here’?”

Silence.

“Come out, Cy. We’re here. Let’s get this over with.”

Silence, squared.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Benjamin said. “Andi, come on. We’ve obviously got to hunt for him.”

She ran forward and he offered his hand, which she took without hesitation.

They prowled the stacks of pumpkins, looking for any sign of Cy. At last, they reached the various buildings of the farm, and started testing doors to see what was locked. The big, main barn door slid open for them, and they went inside.

Here, they needed the flashlights.

Andi clicked hers on, and immediately blinked as the light glinted off something, reflecting back at her.

Something like linked metal rings, or coiled wire…

…or the spirals of a thousand notebooks.

“My God,” Benjamin said. “You told me about it, but I never pictured…so much.”

They walked cautiously to the gigantic mound of paper, swinging their beams to the side as they moved.

“Is that…?” Benjamin asked as they got close.

“Huh?”

“Hang on, on top of the stack, is…?” He stepped ahead, closing in. When he reached the notebooks, he said, “Andi, stop. Don’t come any closer.”

“What? What is it?”

“Don’t do it. You don’t want to –”

Andi stubbornly ignored him and walked to where he stood. She shone her light on top of the stack.

There lay Cy. One hand was at his neck, a knife buried in his throat. Blood had spilled off, staining the ruled paper, sticky and red in her flashlight beam.

She turned and threw up, semi-digested burrito spilling to the ground.

“Jesus Christ,” Benjamin said. “Cy…why? Why, man?”

“I don’t understand,” Andi groaned, wiping her mouth, still feeling like she had more to puke up.

“…Human sacrifice,” Benjamin said. “Black magic. I guess…I don’t know what he was thinking. Trying to complete some ritual, like being able to manifest Voidville in the world wasn’t enough.”

Andi turned away, wanting to look anywhere but at Cy’s final resting place.

“We have to go,” Benjamin said. “If someone finds us here, with everything else that’s been going on…”

“We can’t just leave him!”

“We’ll call in a tip from a phone booth,” Benjamin said. “It’s the best we can do. Come on!”

Hand in hand again, they hurried out of the barn into the pumpkin stores. As they sped up the main path, a light burst brightly behind them, illuminating the way ahead.

Andi clutched Benjamin’s hand tightly. The cops. It had to be. They’d been waiting for someone to return to the scene of Cy’s murder, and now they had their prime suspects.

They stopped and slowly turned, shielding their eyes against the glare — golden and swirling.

Not headlights. Not any kind of light found on Earth.

It was a vortex of energy, coruscating and hypnotic.

“What is it?” Andi shouted. As the light had appeared, the wind had picked up, howling almost painfully.

But before Benjamin could answer, a figure stepped forth, the vortex calming and glowing less brightly as he exited.

“Man,” Cy said. “I wasn’t sure that was going to work.”

***

The doorway through which he’d stepped had dimmed down to almost nothing by the time he reached them. It still stood, but was at best a few dozen sparks endlessly chasing each other in the air.

“Hey, man,” Cy said, smiling at Benjamin. “Good to see you.” He looked at Andi for second, but rolled his eyes and turned away. “I’m glad you could be here, Benjamin. If anyone was going to understand what I’m doing, it’s you.”

“And what are you doing, Cy?” Benjamin asked. “Besides killing yourself and coming back to life?”

“You saw that?” Cy grinned proudly. “When you took away my sacrifice yesterday, I didn’t think I had any choice. And y’know? It was a weak little body, anyway. Good riddance.”

“Sacrifice?” Andi asked. “Eury? So all that ‘collateral damage’ stuff was a lie.”

“Of course it was,” Cy and Benjamin said at the same time. Benjamin followed up with, “Sorry.”

“Of course it was,” Cy said again. “One thing I found, creating life, was that the matter and energy I drew from Voidville was second-rate. I couldn’t make anything lasting, anything worthwhile. Jason was a dimwit, and his replacements were even worse. No, to make life you have to give life. And now that I have, your attempts to stop me to the contrary, I can finally do what I’ve been planning all along.”

“What is it, Cy?” Benjamin asked. “What’s all this for? What’s almost killing my little sister worth?”

“Man, don’t you know?” Cy asked. “Haven’t you figured it out yet?

“I’m making everything right. I’m bringing back Lloyd.”

Benjamin stared at him for a few seconds. “…Say what?”

Cy frowned. “You heard me. I am bringing our friend back to life. And it’s going to fix you, fix Eddie, fix the game…everything’s going to be all right again!”

Benjamin stood, quivering and quiet. Cy stepped closer. “It’s okay, man. I know it was an accident, we all did.”

“What are you talking about?” Andi asked. She glanced at Benjamin and didn’t like how he looked.

Cy rolled his eyes again. “Like you care. Like you could understand. But fine…Lloyd was the original Horror Host of Voidville. And he was brilliant, the best we ever had. But one day, because Benjamin kept pestering him, Lloyd let him run the show. We were playing keep-away with a ‘dragon egg’ — really, one of those pre-inflated balls you get at Wal-Mart — trying to keep it from the…”

“Cerulean Sorcerer,” Benjamin said, his voice affectless and dull.

“There you go,” said Cy. “So it got thrown to Benjamin, who got all mad because you don’t directly play with the Host. So he tossed it away, and it went out into the street. Lloyd went after it, and I guess he didn’t see that drunk guy in time. And,” Cy clapped his hands together.

Benjamin flinched at the noise.

“And you’ve never been the same,” Cy said. “But if he comes back, then everything’s okay again. Don’t you see? Don’t you agree?”

Benjamin stood still for so long, Andi almost reached out and shook him. But at last he turned to Cy.

“Do I agree? How can I? Do you think I want Lloyd to come back, knowing he’ll never be able to forgive me for what I did? I’ll never be able to forgive myself!”

Cy fumbled for the words. “It doesn’t matter! If he comes back and hates you, I’ll make him over again, and create a version of him that doesn’t!”

Benjamin bared his teeth in fury. “And you think that’s okay? Jesus, Cy, I can imagine Lloyd forgiving me a hundred times over, but that doesn’t make it true! And making some lobotomized copy of him instead…how is that right? How?”

Cy stared back, then spoke after a long silence. “I should’ve known. I probably could have guessed, especially after she ruined you,” he said, pointing at Andi. “But it’s okay. I’m going to do what I’m going to do, and neither one of you can stop me.” The portal began to churn and glow again, gaining substance. “My big mistake was trusting other people,” Cy said.

Another Cy stepped out from behind a stack of pumpkins, followed by another and another, until a full dozen stood at various points across the area, all looking at Andi and Benjamin.

“I just needed to rely on myself,” all the Cys said as one.

Benjamin wasn’t bothered. “Oh, gee. Let me guess. This one,” and he pointed at a nearby Cy, “is the one who’s friendly to Eddie. And this other one is the one that talks crap about him behind his back.”

Andi, emboldened by Benjamin’s words, took up the game. “And this one here is the one that tells his sister I’m his girlfriend, while that one over there is the one that slips me a poisoned Coke.”

The Cys flinched and scowled at the taunts. “Shut up,” they all said.

“This is absolutely accurate for you, Cy,” said Benjamin. “Not just two-faced, but baker’s dozen-faced. Suits you down to the ground, man.”

“I am going to fix everything,” said the original Cy, while his dupes glowered. “I am going to make the world perfect, and you will beg me to let you live in it. A new Lloyd. A replacement for Eddie, with all the smarts but none of the jackass. A replacement for his convict dad. A replacement for all the judgy church people in town. A replacement for my bitch sister. I’ll make it all correct, the way it should be.”

“So,” Andi said, “this is the one that nicely asks his sister for face paint, and this one,” and she pointed right at the one that had just spoken, “is the one who calls her a bitch.”

Shut! Up!” Cy screamed, and his duplicates all popped like soap bubbles.

“That’s something I found out,” Andi stage-whispered to Benjamin, making damn sure Cy could hear. “He can’t do his little magic tricks when you break his concentration.” She looked over at him, smirking. “By the way, did you get all the sleeping pill residue cleaned out of your little computer?”

Cy reached out his hand and flickered his fingers. Andi felt something rush by, thrumming and fast, but nothing happened to her.

Then Benjamin collapsed to the dirt, and she saw the arrow jutting from his chest.

“You can’t hurt him anymore,” Cy said. “Never again. And I don’t need him for this. Lloyd was my friend, too.” He walked away, waving his arms like a conductor, and the portal started to swirl and blaze.

Andi scrambled over to Benjamin, who lay on his back, the arrow clearly having punctured a lung or even nicked his heart. He looked up at her, eyes rolling in the sockets.

“Hey,” he said. “Sorry. Thought I could…” he coughed, and blood flecked his lips.

“Don’t talk,” she said. She had to save him. She had to stop Cy. But everyone was right. She didn’t have the imagination. She didn’t have the power. She was too much a part of the real world, the world that rejected those who used their minds and loved transcending Earth with their thoughts.

She didn’t have enough imagination to stop Cy.

But as she looked at the arrow, it seemed to waver and fade, just for a second.

Maybe she had enough imagination to do something else, instead.

She focused. The arrow wasn’t real. It was just another trick of Cy’s, just another thing he conjured up. Like Jason, it could move through the world, touch things, even cause harm…but it

just

was

not

real!

The arrow blinked away, and Benjamin’s chest was un-punctured. He set up with a gasp and looked at Andi, amazed.

“Go get him,” she said, and ran just a step behind as Benjamin bolted towards Cy.

He hit his old friend with a flying tackle, knocking him clear of the portal, which had begun to blossom at its center, revealing something beyond.

Something that looked very much like another world.

Benjamin and Cy tumbled together, punching and kicking, until they bumped up against a stack of pumpkins. One fell off and bonked Benjamin on the head, and while he reeled from that, Cy conjured up a sword and chopped Benjamin’s head off with one clean stroke.

Andi screamed and ran to Benjamin, pushing down the shock as best she could and finding her focus again because this wasn’t real, either, it was just another one of Cy’s damned tricks, and Benjamin’s head —

— was back on his body, and he was whole again.

“Oh,” said Cy, pulling a hatchet out of nowhere. “I see. I’ve been trying to kill the wrong one.” He advanced on Andi, but Benjamin produced a sword of his own, and parried Cy.

The two swung weapons at each other, clanging and clashing, until Benjamin swirled his sword around and disarmed Cy. Cy took it in stride, inhaled, and breathed a plume of fire right in Benjamin’s face. Benjamin dropped, his head a blackened chunk of charcoal.

Except Andi knew that wasn’t real, either.

Benjamin’s head healed and he sprung up, a chain whipping from his hand to wrap around Cy’s neck. With a pivot, he whipped his friend up in the air and slammed him back down again by the chain.

Cy shot out circular saw blades that chopped off Benjamin’s feet at the ankles…until his feet reattached again.

Benjamin created a python that wrapped Cy up tight.

Cy shot gamma rays out of his eyes and scorched twin holes through Benjamin’s chest, which healed in less than a second.

At last, Cy staggered away from Benjamin. “You know,” he gasped, “of all the ways this could’ve played out, The Sword in the Stone wouldn’t have been my first guess.”

Benjamin laughed at that, an honest, pure chuckle.

“You can’t stop me,” Cy said. “And I can’t stop you. But I…” and he stopped, pained, clutching at his neck where the chain had wrapped, then his chest where the snake had crushed.

“Oh,” Cy said. Then, looking at Andi, “Oh. Ha. Ha ha ha! Oh, this is perfect. Absolutely perfect.” He went to the portal.

“Cy,” Benjamin warned.

“Calm down, man,” Cy said. “I’m not doing anything. I’ll just…” and he laughed again. “I’ll see you soon.” With that, he dived through the portal before Benjamin could make another move. Benjamin ran to the portal, which still stood, cycling back down to a few whirling embers.

“What did he mean?” Andi asked.

“I don’t know,” Benjamin said. “Maybe his concentration broke, but –”

Andi looked back at the gate to the farm, wondering if they could still get away, if someone had come by and noticed all the craziness going on.

“I have to go after him,” Benjamin said, “just the same. If he’s in Voidville, he’s still a danger to this world…I need to –”

Benjamin cried out pain.

She spun, and saw blood beginning to seep from his chest, his neck, his ankles…

“Oh, God,” he said. “I understand now.”

“What’s happening?” she said. She tried to focus. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He was fine.

“It’s from when you healed me. You made the weapons disappear, but the damage? It was very real. So, you repaired me…with your imagination. Imaginary blood vessels, imaginary muscle fibers…”

She thought of threatening Cy in his room. If she beat him up, and she was made to vanish, the damage would still remain…

“And now it’s failing,” Benjamin said. “Where you healed me is fading away.”

“I’ll try harder,” Andi said. “I’ll imagine it back!”

“And then?” Benjamin said, and coughed up some blood. “You’ll have to sleep. You’ll have to focus on taking a test, or remembering a flag routine. And then I fall to pieces.”

“No, no,” she said, breathing the words as fog in the chilly air.

“But I think Cy was onto something…get me to the portal.”

She got under one arm and the two of them lurched to the swirling sparks, which began to enlarge and shine as they drew closer.

“Voidville is pure imagination,” Benjamin said. “I can stay healed as long as I’m there.”

She almost dropped him. “No! Benjamin, you can’t go!”

“It’s the only way,” he said. Then, with a wincing quirk at the corner of his mouth, “…Told you I couldn’t function in this world.”

“But…maybe you can function in another,” she said, words barely getting out from the tears that had started.

“You could come with me,” he said. “Think about it. After we stop Cy, then there’s nothing but play, forever. Every day is a new adventure. For long after the Earth is dust.”

And she could come with him, couldn’t she? There was nothing but hurt and complication here: angry parents, angry school, angry cops. She could turn her back on tests, on electives, on college, on becoming an adult, on having kids, on starting a family and passing on her gran-da’s stories…

He looked at her, and must have seen something in her eyes she thought was hidden. “Oh, yes,” he said, and coughed again, wetly and more violently this time. “The siren song of the magic ring-toss game.”

“No,” she said. “It’s not like that, it’s just –”

He pushed away from her with necessity, not scorn, and stood, wobbly, in front of the now-open portal.

“You played as well as anybody ever did,” he said. “If you ever want to play again, just imagine. I’ll hear you.”

And with that, he fell backwards into the portal. This time, it flared and shut completely, with no more floating embers, just the emptiness of the space where it had hung.

Andi reached out and waved her hand where the portal had been. No warmth, nothing. Just the same chill wind as everywhere else.

She breathed great hitching breaths that stung with the cold air, the tears slowing and finally ceasing.

On the way back to her bike, she paused to kick a pumpkin, not stopping until it was unrecognizable pulp beneath her feet.

Then she hopped the gate, got on her bicycle, and started the long ride back home.

Back home, and back to reality.

*****

Today’s Words: 5029
Total Words: 44777

*****

Notes: Whew! One-point-five hours until midnight here in Texas, and I am wiped out. I had hoped to finish the epilogue today, but I don’t think I can. Nearly eight thousand words in a day seems like my limit. That unfortunately means the challenge is a complete failure this year, as well.

So it goes. See you tomorrow for the epilogue, and the conclusion of the first draft of Voidville!

*****

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

(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)

Voidville: Day Thirty-One, Part One

On the computer desk this morning, waiting for me to start writing.

They lit out from Eddie’s that next morning. His mother was gone, already ten miles away in the county seat, starting her shift at the DMV.

The boys had taken the floor to sleep while Andi took the bed, joined late in the night by Eddie’s standoffish cat, who provided some much-welcome warmth.

After waking up they ate Super Sugar Crisp, sans milk, while they discussed the town and the best way to get out of it.

“So who’s all looking for us?” Andi asked. “My parents, for sure.”

Benjamin swallowed his mouthful of cereal. “The school’s looking for you, too, I’m sure. And the cops. Eddie and me? No one, I don’t think.”

Andi thought of Benjamin’s broken, screaming mother, and a bit of puffed wheat caught in her throat. She coughed.

“So I’m the weak link,” she said, voice dry. “Maybe I should stay here.”

“Ye–” Eddie began.

“No,” Benjamin said. “We need you.”

Andi shook her head. “You think you need me, Benjamin. But Eddie’s right. He told me I couldn’t go toe-to-toe with Cy, and he wasn’t wrong.”

“Well,” Benjamin said, “Eddie’s an asshole.”

No one argued his point.

“If we’re doing this,” Benjamin continued, “we need to stick together, and we all need to contribute. So you don’t have years of experience with role-playing games and horror and science fiction and all the rest of it. So what? You’re here, and you’re willing to fight for what’s right. And that puts you light years ahead of most of the people in this world. We need you, Andi. Europa needs you. So don’t stay behind, okay?”

Andi smiled, feeling a prickle at the corner of her eye. “Okay,” she said at last.

Eddie got up, went to his room, and returned quickly, tossing Andi a Megadeth baseball cap. “Here,” he said. “Might as well try to disguise yourself.”

She stuffed as much of her unruly, signal-flare hair under the cap as she could. It was uncomfortable and made her scalp feel constantly tugged-upon, but it was the best course of action.

Benjamin looked at the clock. “At nine, Randall’s parents should both be gone to work. We’ll leave then.”

“So are we playing?” Eddie asked. “I mean, to get inside the Leviathan of Randall’s house. Do we need to make props or anything?”

“Just the clothes on our backs and the brains in our heads,” Benjamin said.

***

Randall’s house looked more imposing than Andi remembered. The windows in the second story were like eyes, gazing judgmentally on them. They ditched their bikes in the culvert by the entryway and walked up the long gravel stretch to the front door.

“Aren’t you going to set the scene?” Eddie asked. “Start the game?”

“We’re not starting yet,” Benjamin said. “We still need the Wolf Man.” He rang the doorbell.

After a few seconds, a voice called, “Just a minute!” Andi could hear steps thudding down the stairs, then a figure appeared at the door, distorted through the stained-glass insets.

The locks and chains rattled and clicked, and the door swung open to reveal Randall. He almost seemed to cave in on seeing his friends, and let out a groan of relief.

“Thank God,” he said. “Oh, thank God.”

Andi stepped up and hugged him. “How are you?”

“I’m…” he started, but stepped away from the door. “Come in, y’all, please.”

They walked in to the smell of fresh paint. The walls had been re-done, and a few new religious icons and pictures hung from the walls. The most heavily-shredded sofa had been replaced.

“I’m so glad to see y’all,” Randall continued. “You want some Wyler’s?” He went into the kitchen and the group followed. Randall kept up his cheerful patter. “We just got grape, but it’s not too bad if you drink it fast and don’t let it linger on your tongue too long.” He began fetching tumblers out of an overhead cabinet.

“Where’s your brothers?” Benjamin asked.

“Off at church camp,” Randall said. “They were…having a rough time of it here,” and the bobble in his voice suggested it hadn’t been smooth for him, either. “How about y’all? Back in school yet?”

“No,” all three said at once.

“I’m glad you came by,” he said. He fetched a pitcher out of the fridge. “But it was smart for you to wait until Momma and Daddy left, let me tell you.” He went to pour the purple drink into the first tumbler, but spilled it. “Ah, shoot,” he said, and set the pitcher down to get a paper towel. When he turned, his gangly elbow knocked over one of the plastic glasses, and ice scattered everywhere. Then he spun to correct that, and knocked the pitcher onto the floor. Its lid burst off on impact with the floor, and sugary liquid went everywhere.

“Ah, God,” he wailed. “Ah, man, they’re gonna kill me! They’re gonna…!” Randall turned this way and that, not knowing what to clean up or fix first. He spun to face his friends, tears in his eyes. “Help me,” he said. “Please, y’all…for the love of Christ, y’all gotta help me.”

Andi took him by the hand and led him to sit, shivering, at the kitchen table. She stroked his forearm and murmured calming words while the other boys cleaned up the mess.

“…It’s his sister,” Randall said. “It’s Eury. She’s here; she’s in the house, but only I can see her. She’ll slip around a corner when you blink. She’ll be standing in a room, but when I call for someone to come see, she’s gone. I’m going out of my mind. Momma and Daddy are about ready to call an exorcist, and we’re not even Catholic…” He turned to Benjamin. “Please tell me that’s why you’re here.”

Benjamin walked over and touched Randall on the shoulder. “It is.”

“Oh, thank you,” Randall said. “I wanted to call you and tell you, but they unplugged all the phones. I just felt trapped here, haunted by Eury, and I couldn’t think of any way to help her.”

Eddie joined the group at the table, still holding a dripping, stained towel. “We’re going to take care of it, man, but we could use your help.”

“Anything.”

***

“I still can’t believe it’s Cy,” Randall whispered, “but I know y’all wouldn’t lie to me.”

They sat on the new sofa: Randall, Andi, and Eddie. Benjamin stood before them, eyes closed, preparing.

“The first thing that hits you is the smell,” Benjamin said, and the others quit their whispering.

“The smell of biology, ancient biology. Saliva, phlegm, blood, gastric juices, all stewing from since before your most elderly ancestors were born. The creature you’re trapped inside has lived for millennia, swimming the oceans of Voidville, devouring countless lifeforms to slake its demigod’s hunger. This is the brother of the Leviathan — the Ziz.”

Andi saw the other two close their eyes to concentrate, and she did the same, taking Benjamin’s words and projecting them on the darkness of her shuttered eyelids.

“You are in the creature’s throat, a slick, vile surface, spongy beneath your feet. And echoing up that cavernous esophagus, you hear the cry of a lost soul…Bast, goddess of cats.”

With that, the image bloomed in Andi’s mind: her, regal and corpselike in her green dress; the Wolf Man and Frankenstein, as real and dangerous as they were in the movies. The stink of the Ziz’s innards wafted on its warm exhalations.

And in the distance, the plaintive meows of Bast.

Benjamin wasn’t there with them, of course. He narrated, but was never a physical presence.

Not in the real, true Voidville.

“Further down,” said the Wolf Man. “Banshee, can you fly ahead and scout for us? The Monster and I can gouge handholds in the flesh, but it will be slow going.”

“Aye,” Andi said. “Sure, and ’tis no burden.” She rose from the moist, tacky floor and drifted down the throat, ears and eyes alert. Behind her, her compatriots followed cautiously, ready to claw and clutch at the Ziz’s flesh at the slightest sign of a slippery slope…or the pulsating waves of swallowing.

Another yowl, and Andi homed in, only to hear more voices.

“Dinner, dinner,” grumbled something in the darkness ahead. “Dinner, dinner.”

Andi glided ahead, eyes piercing the dark.

She spotted Bast, who clung to a gobbet of torn meat just on the edge of a precipice, where the throat gave way to a dead-drop into the mighty Ziz’s eight hundred interlinked stomachs.

Around her, giant crabs — symbiotic pests that infested the Ziz’s digestive system, living off its intake of food, shielded from its acidic guts by their thick exoskeletons.

“Dinner, dinner,” grumped another, poking at Bast with a closed claw. She hissed and swatted back, an act that gave the crabs great amusement.

Andi swooped in close to get a count of their foes, but not without getting noticed. One crab, its polished bowling-ball eyes swiveling, caught sight of her.

“Dinner, dinner — dinner, dinner!” it cried.

Other crabs took up the chant. “Dinner, dinner — dinner, dinner!”

Then one crab, bigger and crustier than the others, scuttled through the group and intoned, “Feast. Feast.

Andi gave Bast what she hoped was a reassuring wave, and the cat goddess shouted out, “Andi!”

“We’re coming, honey,” Andi shouted back over the crabs’ clamor. “We’ll be back to get you soon!” With that, she hovered in close to the crabs’ bristle of snipping claws, just enough to taunt them further. She floated back, and they followed, so she poured on the speed until she reached the friendly monsters.

“Crabs!” she shouted. “Huge ones! A whole passel of the beasties, coming this way!”

“Dinner, dinner!” came a mighty chorus from down the throat, getting closer. They could hear the clicks of dozens of heavy-plated legs, and the organic clanging of huge carapaces bashing together as the throng approached.

“How many?” asked the Wolf Man. She saw his toe-claws dig into Ziz’s esophagus for purchase.

“A dozen, easy — with one massive bugger running the show.” She swung in the air, pivoting to come behind her friends, ready to rain down screams of death on the overgrown seafood.

The crab army got close enough to see, and there were more — dozens more than Andi had spotted.

“Must have…called friends…” Frankenstein moaned. He raised his hands and, when the crabs were in range, let off a lightning bolt at them. It struck without effect.

“I don’t think my claws or teeth can make a scratch in those shells,” the Wolf Man shouted. “Maybe we should fall back?”

“They were just about to rip Bast apart,” Andi cried. “This is our only chance.” She swept in and shrieked at the crabs, the walls of the throat wobbling with the transverse wave.

It didn’t faze the crustaceans at all.

“What can…do?” Frankenstein said, electricity laddering between his fingers.

Andi fell back to land beside her comrades. “What would they not like? What have we not tried that we could –” She trailed off, thinking about crabs at the seafood place in her last hometown.

“Get your clothes off,” she said. “All of you.” She shucked her own dress, leaving her corset and pantaloons. The other monsters could only stare. “Now!” she shouted, putting just a tiny thread of death-energy into her voice to shock them into action.

The others stripped down to their drawers and lumped all the clothing together per the Banshee’s instructions. The crabs would be upon them in seconds.

“Now,” she called, “lightning, right on the clothes. We need fire!”

Frankenstein hesitated. “Fire…bad.”

“I know, dear, I know it scares you…but we’ve got to do it. You’ve got to be as brave as I know you can!”

The monster swallowed, nodded, and pointed at the cast-off garments. Blue electricity crackled from his fingers, and the clothes caught fire, bursting into a pyre just as the crabs reached them.

The plated monstrosities clattered to a halt.

“If you don’t want to steam in your own shells, I suggest you back off!” Andi shouted.

“Hot, hot!” cried one crab.

“Hurt, hurt!” went another.

Without waiting for their leader to speak, the gang of crabs retreated, scuttling their way down the throat to the myriad stomachs.

The heroic monsters ran around the fire and down the throat, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein stopping as the floor got too slick. Andi flew ahead and found Bast where she’d left her, now un-menaced.

“Take my hand,” Andi called, and grabbed Bast’s paw, hoisting her into the air. “Hold on,” she said, and the two of them flew up the throat to freedom, their friends racing behind.

Ziz’s mouth was slowly closing.

“Go!” someone shouted. “Go!” It sounded like the Host.

They slipped between the teeth just as they closed with a thunderous clash, and tumbled onto a rocky beach.

Andi looked down. Eury was enfolded in her arms, fast asleep.

“And with that,” said the Horror Host, “you have completed your latest adventure, rescuing your beloved friend Bast from a horrendous fa — *cough* — fate. You have earned the right to –*cough, cough* — to a rest, heroes. Well — *cough, cough* — well don — *cough* — done…”

Andi could still smell the smoke from their burned clothes, as it wafted into her nose and coated her throat. She coughed, too, tears leaking from her eyes as she opened them to look around…

…and see the Harts’ house was on fire, raging and blistering.

Benjamin bent double, hacking. Eddie looked over at Randall. “He’s out! The smoke!”

The smoke was indeed thick in the room as the walls blazed, the curtains going up into frazzles of coiled, scorched polyester. “Come on,” Benjamin choked, and waved the others ahead to the door, Andi holding Eury, Eddie with Randall slung over his shoulder.

They stumbled out the front door, hacking and soot-covered, to the sound of distant sirens. At this point in Autumn, it made sense. Everything was dead and dried-up. A fire would be responded to faster than any other emergency in the county.

“They’ll get us,” Andi gasped as they raced away from the house to the fence line. She noticed absently that they were all clothed, so that hadn’t transcended from Voidville, at least. “Cy’s still out there; we have to…”

Eddie laid Randall down by the barbed-wire fence. “Go,” he said. “The three of y’all, get out of here. I’ll take care of this.”

“You can’t,” Benjamin said. “They’ll blame it on you. They’ll –”

“I said,” and Eddie stood, looming over them, “get the hell out of here. Get your sister home.”

Andi looked around. The sky had darkened. How long had they been in there, enraptured in Voidville?

Benjamin hugged Eddie. Then, to Andi, “Come on.”

They ran back to the barn, getting out of sight just as the fire engines and police cars pulled up the driveway. Andi could see the small figure of Eddie running to meet them.

“I’ll carry her for a while,” Benjamin said, and took Eury from Andi’s aching arms.

They headed away from the house and barn until they reached the far side of the Harts’ property, worked their way along the fence until they reached the highway, then hopped it and followed it from the other side until they found the culvert with their bikes. The flashing lights of the emergency vehicles continued to strobe as arcs of water jetted into the ruined house.

Benjamin got Eury behind him on the seat, and she was responsive enough to loop her arms around him and hold on.

“We’ll be home soon,” Andi heard him murmur to Eury, who said something fuzzy and half-dreamed in response.

***

The lights at the Vail house were dark when they pulled up. Benjamin got off, keeping Eury upright, then pulled her into his arms and carried her to the front door.

Andi stood by the bikes as he sat his sister up in the front porch swing. He studied her for a moment, then leaned in and kissed her on the temple.

He rang the doorbell and sprinted back to the bikes, tear tracks on his cheeks.

The two of them rode off into the night, not speaking and not looking back.

*****

Today’s Words: 2726
Total Words: 39768

*****

Notes: Part one of today’s posts…taking a break for lunch!

*****

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

(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)

Voidville: Day Thirty

Preparing to use the scratchy ramp.

As they approached, the DJ switched over to ‘Careless Whisper,’ and one by tentative one, girls and boys walked across the basketball court to ask one another to dance. The floor filled before the first chorus kicked in.

It figured. The one time Andi wanted witnesses, and everyone decided to divert their attention with a dance. Not only that, but to a song about never dancing again.

The world made no sense the more she lived in it.

“Hey,” Cy said as he reached her. “Great costume!” Eddie and the newcomers straggled behind, forming a vague semi-circle around Cy.

“Have you met my friends?” Cy continued as Andi stared hot pokers at him. “This is Carrie,” and he pointed at the one girl in the group: a thin, sallow thing. “And Norman,” and an equally thin boy gave Andi a hesitant wave. “Norman can’t stay long,” Cy said. “His mom is way strict. And this,” he finished, pointing at a boy almost as tall as Jason, “is Michael.”

Andi peered at Michael and thought an expressionless white mask would go nicely with his blue jumpsuit.

“Is Randall here?” Cy asked, looking around the gym. “He and Carrie have a lot in common; I wanted to introduce them. I think they’d get on like a house afire.”

“Glad you could make it, Cy,” Andi said, forcing a smile and trying to keep her peripheral vision on his new friends and Eddie.

And how new were they? Freshly created from the ether this afternoon, she figured.

“It was so nice of you to invite me,” he said, pulling an orange envelope out of his jacket and fanning himself with it. “Makes a guy feel wanted.”

Andi thought back to how hard her heart had pounded when she prematurely got off the bus earlier today to slip the envelope in Cy’s mailbox.

And even without Eddie on her side, her plan still had a chance to work.

Maybe.

Hopefully.

The Wham tune finished, and ‘Weird Science’ came on to replace it. “So,” Cy said, crossing his arms, “what were you planning? Settle this with a dance-off? I know you tried to poison Eddie against me,” and his friend nodded, “so there’s that part of your scheme over and done with. What’s next?” He smiled like a proud parent anticipating some choice babble from a talkative baby.

“Next is: I give you one chance to hand over Eury,” Andi said, “before things get ugly.”

“Oh, come on,” Eddie scoffed. “You’re crazy, Red. Cy had nothing to do with any of this. Nothing.”

Andi ignored him. “I had some time to think about this, Cy. You’re using imagination to hurt people. Well, if you can do it, so can I. I’ve played Voidville. I know how it works. All I have to do is want it badly enough, just like you. And I want that little girl safe and sound so bad you can’t understand it.” She took a breath and tried to calm her twanging nerves. “I,” she announced, “am the banshee. A ghost of Celtic lore. I have the power to end life with my scream.” She leveled her stare at Cy, who looked, for the first time since he walked in, uncertain.

“And a shrimp like you?” she said. “I just have to whisper in your ear, Cy, and you’ll drop stone dead.” She took a step towards him. “Tell me where Eury is. Now.”

Norman, crane-like, bobbled forward and seized Andi’s arm. “You really shouldn’t make such a fuss,” he said, milquetoast dripping from every word.

She pivoted and kicked, going for a field goal with his crotch. Norman squeaked and crumpled, cupping his groin. “…That hurt,” he managed to whisper.

Andi wheeled on Carrie. “Are you next, spooky?” Then, to Michael, “How about you? Or do you not go after girls unless you’ve got a knife?”

Michael backed away, protesting to Cy. “Man, screw this. I don’t want to get hurt.”

Cy, not caring if anyone saw it happen, furrowed his brow. Norman and Michael ceased to be, leaving nothing but air behind. Carrie looked pleased at having been spared, until he turned to her as an afterthought.

“That’s how useful you are,” Cy told her. “I’d already forgotten I made you.” With another dark expression, he made her vanish, as well. There was a muffled scream from somewhere on the dance floor, but it sounded more like the result of a pinched bottom than someone witnessing the supernatural.

Eddie turned this way and that, mouth moving silently, eyes bugging. “Wha?” he finally managed. “Whaa–?”

Cy seized the moment, turned and grabbed Eddie’s hands. “Yes, man, yes. I can do those things she said I could. She’s right, but she’s wrong. You don’t understand what I’m trying to do…”

Eddie looked down at Cy, confused. “What is it? What are you trying to do…?” Then, focus coming to his eyes, “What have you done?”

“I’ve just been testing the waters,” Cy said, “playing around with the reality of the last few games. A pinch here, a poke there. But I’m close, man, I’m really close to fixing everything…”

Eddie frowned. “And Benjamin’s sister?”

“Who gives a shit?” Cy shouted, the loud music stopping his voice from carrying. “Who cares? She ruins the game, she pesters everyone, Benjamin can’t stand her…”

“Can’t stand her?” Andi yelled back. “He was tearing apart that farm looking for her!”

“What if it was your sister, man?” Eddie asked him. “What if someone had kidnapped Beth, and some…twerp was standing in front of you, teasing you about it?”

Cy recoiled like he’d been Maced. He looked up at Eddie, eyes moist. “…Twerp. Twerp? That’s what you think about me? All the…all the time we’ve known each other, and that’s what you think of me…?”

“That’s what I think about you right now,” Eddie said. “But you can change that. If you’re the friend I’ve had all these years, man, then tell me where that little girl is.” He chucked a thumb at Andi. “Or I let the banshee test her theory on you.”

“She’s in the belly of the beast, where she belongs. I’m going to make everything right, Eddie, and you’ll be sorry you acted this w–”

Eddie grabbed Cy by a handful of lapel, and punched him once, quick and piston-like. Blood spurted from Cy’s squashed nose, and he wailed after a stunned second.

“A pinch here, a poke there,” Eddie snarled. “How’s that for a poke? Talk!”

“Don’t hit me, don’t hit me!” Cy begged. “I’ll tell you!”

Andi’s jerked her head away from the scene to see a chaperone coming toward them.

Cy saw the man, too, and before Andi could blink the shorter boy had healed, instantly. No blood, no damage. Even the red stain that had dripped on his shirt was gone.

“Or rather,” he said to Eddie, who stared at him in shock, “I’d tell you if I was really here.”

And with that, Cy disappeared, leaving Eddie holding a handful of emptiness.

“Oh, God,” Eddie muttered, flexing his hand as though Cy’s fading away had given him an electric jolt.

“What’s going on over here?” shouted the chaperone. “Did I see you threatening somebody?”

“We were dancing,” Andi said. “He, um, dipped me.”

The music currently playing was more conducive to a mosh than a waltz, but the man seemed satisfied. “All right, then. Dance a little less aggressively, if you don’t mind.” He stalked away.

Eddie stared at her like the horizon had just slipped out of sight, leaving him lost at sea.

“He always…” he said, voice low and phlegmy, “he always said mean things about me, when he thought I couldn’t hear. Things about me growing up to be a serial killer. I thought he was just joking, but…”

She stepped close and put her hand on his shoulder. His face was vacant, unreadable.

“My friend. All these years, my friend. But he wasn’t.” He looked at her. “Was he?”

“I…think he was,” she said. “People, y’know, they say people change when they get rich. Maybe when people get…power? Maybe it’s the same thing.”

“What’s he going to fix?” Eddie asked. “You heard him. What’s he going to make right? What’s worth Eury’s life? That girl never hurt a soul.”

“What’s the belly of the beast?” Andi asked back. “All he does is act cryptic.”

Eddie looked at the huge throng of dancers: happy, carefree, full of life and energy. “I think you were right,” he said. “Power…maybe when people get it, they decide to be a hero or a villain. And Cy made his choice. He’s taunting us because he can. Because he’s getting off on it.”

“So what now?” Andi asked.

“I think you were on the right track, luring him here and trying to take him down. If he’s fighting with imagination, then yeah…right on.”

She sighed and spread her hands. “If only I’d had a chance to test the theory.”

Eddie blurted out a chuckle. “You? Red, I said you had a good idea. I didn’t say you had a chance in hell of succeeding at it!”

Andi was speechless as he continued to laugh.

“You’re a tourist, Andi. You would have played with us for a few more games until you got bored or your girlfriends peer-pressured you into quitting. Or until you met some quarterback who swept you off your feet. You played the game really good, I’ll give you that, but for you, imagination is something you do when you’re bored. For me? Benjamin? Cy? Imagination is a way of life. Cy would have wiped the gym floor with you if you’d tried to take him on.”

Andi fumed. He was wrong. She never would have abandoned the guys. She never would have stopped playing. She wasn’t…she wasn’t that kind of person. She was positive she wasn’t.

“Okay, then,” she said, when she could trust herself to speak without cussing a streak, “what do we do then, genius? Are you going to take Cy on?”

That set Eddie off again, guffaws galore. “Me? Are you out of your mind? The best gameplay I can come up with is based on things I’ve swiped from TV and movies. I talk a good game, but inventing new things, fresh ideas? I might last a minute or two longer than you against him.”

“Oh,” said Andi, taken aback by his honesty. “So…oh!”

“Yeah,” Eddie said. “If the game is Voidville, and a player’s breaking the rules, there’s only one person you can go to…

“…the Horror Host.”

SIDE TWO, TRACK FIVE: BURNING UP

Andi snuck away from the gym to the girl’s locker room and changed out of her dress into her track clothes, grateful for the increased range of motion. Eddie met her outside and they took his bike into town. She sat behind him, hands around his waist, though not too tightly.

She tried to reconcile his jerkiness with the other, more passably human emotions he’d shown at the dance.

Once or twice, headlights illuminated them from behind as Eddie pedaled along, and Andi glanced back, half-expecting to see her dad’s car gaining on them. He had to have shown up to the gym by now, and he had to have realized she’d gone.

Eddie stayed silent the whole ride over, grim and focused on the dark streets ahead. Nothing accompanied their ride but the whir of bike spokes and the howl of the wind.

A block from Benjamin’s house, he coasted to a stop. “His parents might still be up,” Andi said.

“House looks dark from here,” Eddie said, “but let’s walk the rest of the way.”

As he said, the Vail home was dark, cars in the driveway, as they approached.

“This is his room,” Andi said, then, “Sorry. You know that.”

They crept to Benjamin’s window, and Eddie scratched on the screen. “Benjamin!” he whispered. “Wake up, man; we gotta talk.”

Sounds of movement and the creak of bedsprings came from the window. But when the lights came on, the shadow they illuminated was too tall to be their friend.

“I agree,” said Benjamin’s mom.

***

She paced for the first minute or two, back and forth in the living room, the kids seated in a line on the sofa. She paused, looked as though she was about to speak, but then went back to her small circuit of the living-room floor.

Mr. Vail had been the only one asleep, but you could hear the quote-marks when Benjamin’s mom said ‘asleep.’ Benjamin had been up watching TV, and his mother…

“I heard you two talking the other night,” she said once she stood still, wagging a finger back and forth between her son and Andi. “You aren’t as quiet as you think. So I thought I’d make him swap rooms with me and give you, missy, a piece of my mind if you came back.

“But like I say, I heard you talking. And I heard what you said. And while I was lying awake, waiting to pounce on you, I thought about everything I heard.” She turned her focus on Andi. “Do you know where my daughter is?”

“I’m — I’m not sure,” Andi began.

Mrs. Vail cursed and turned to Andi’s left.

“Eddie,” she said, almost pleading, “you’re a good kid. You try like hell not to be, but you are, underneath it all. Please. Please. Do you know anything about Eury?

“Miz Vee,” Eddie said, sounding just as tortured as her, “you wouldn’t believe me. There’s just no way. But if you’d seen the things I saw tonight –”

“What? What? Eddie, stop pussyfooting around and tell me!”

“We saw Cy make some people vanish,” Andi said, flinching under the baleful stare that spun her way. “Just, poof. Not like a magic trick, either. They were there, then they weren’t.”

“And then Cy disappeared himself,” Eddie added. “I had a grip on his shirt, and he…wasn’t there anymore.”

“It really did happen,” Andi said. “Please, we need you to believe us!”

“Shut up!” Mrs. Vail shouted, and the three of them clammed up.

“You boys,” she said, quieter but with no less danger in her voice, “and your game. I didn’t think it was healthy, boys your age playing make-believe and dress-up. But I knew you were hurting after your friend died, and I thought it might be…I don’t know, therapeutic or something. But you need a doctor. It’s gone on too long, and you can’t tell reality and fantasy apart anymore. All this garbage about Eury, and knowing where she is, and who took her…it’s just another part of the goddamn game, isn’t it?”

“Mrs. Vail?” Andi asked, and caught that withering gaze again, “what about me? I only played the game twice, and I never knew Lloyd…”

“I don’t know,” Benjamin’s mom shot back. “Maybe you’re just natural-born crazy.” Andi bristled, but didn’t retort.

“Give me your number, girlie,” she continued. “I’ll call your parents and tell them all this. Hopefully they can get you the help you need. And Eddie –”

“Miz Vee,” Eddie said again, his voice quiet. “You know Mom’s not going to be awake this time of night. She’s passed out before seven most of the time.”

Mrs. Vail looked at him, her eyes pinched. “Ah, Jesus. You poor thing.” She stepped close and cupped his cheek in her hand. “We’ll get you well again, Eddie. I promise. Mr. Vail and I will do whatever we can to –”

“Mom?” asked Benjamin. But the sound didn’t come from Andi’s right.

It came from across the room.

Benjamin’s mom looked at him then turned to see her son also standing by the piano on the far side of the living room. The new Benjamin waved, soft and light, as if afraid of breaking his hand.

“Hey, Mom,” both Benjamins said, in disconcerting stereo.

One Benjamin stood from the sofa, and the other walked toward him. They circled his uncomprehending mother, talking all the while.

“Sorry,” one said. “Sorry I didn’t speak up sooner. I was trying to concentrate.”

“I wanted to see if I could do it,” said the other. “You know, create something out of nothing like Cy did.”

“Turns out I could,” said the first, somewhere between proud and abashed. “Even though the cops have probably burned my so-called ‘devil worship’ book.”

“Mom?” asked the second. “Momma?” She looked down at him, focus laser-like, looking as if she wanted to pretend there was only one version of her son in the room. “I’m sorry to do this. I know it hurts, when people who have trouble imagining — or people who gave up on their imaginations — hit something they can’t explain.”

“But,” said the first one, resolutely ignored by Mrs. Vail, “it was the only way I could prove to you that we know what’s going on –”

“–and that we know how to stop it,” finished the second one, who snapped his fingers and vanished. Mrs. Vail screamed, brief and piercing.

“It’s going to be okay,” the remaining Benjamin reassured her. “I promise. I’m going to get Europa, and we’ll be back home soon.” To Andi and Eddie: “Ready?”

“Where are we going?” Andi asked.

“I figured out where my sister is,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about it, and if all this going on is Voidville-based, there’s only one place she can be.”

He walked back over to his mother, who had sunk to her knees, sobbing.

“Mom,” he said.

He hugged the hell out her.

But she shoved him away, and backhanded him clean across the face.

“Who are you?” she demanded. “I know; you’re that thing, that copy. I watched the two of you; I know which was which. You’re not my Benjamin. What did you do with him? What did you do with MY BABY BOY??”

Benjamin stepped back as she screamed, “Get out! Get out!” He, Eddie, and Andi ran for the door, Mrs. Vail’s shouts pursuing them.

Andi saw him turn back one last time, to make one last plea, but his mother would have none of it.

“Get out!!”

***

They got his parents’ ten-speeds out of the garage so they could all have a bike. Theft, at this point, seemed the most minor of transgressions.

“So where are we going?” Eddie asked as they mounted up and pedaled away.

“Nowhere, tonight,” Benjamin said “We’re crashing at your place, Eddie. There’s nowhere else to go. But tomorrow…”

“Yeah?”

“Tomorrow we’re going to Randall’s house. That’s where Eury is. Leviathan, yeah?”

Eddie nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, man. Makes sense. Belly of the beast?”

Benjamin glanced at him. “Say what?”

“Something Cy said about Eury.”

“Mmm.”

“What are you two talking about? What makes sense?” asked Andi. “Why are so sure she’s there?”

Benjamin turned to her, and his weird little smile almost broke her heart.

“Haven’t you heard?” he asked. “Houses around these parts tend to turn into monsters and eat kids alive.

“I’ve seen it first-hand.”

*****

Today’s Words: 3186
Total Words: 37038

*****

Notes: Big finale tomorrow! I will probably break up things into a few smaller posts, to allow me time to eat, nap, etc. See you then!

*****

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

(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)

Voidville: Day Twenty-Nine

I'm pretending this photo is blurry because it's 'artistic'.

SIDE TWO, TRACK FOUR: LIFE BEGINS AT THE HOP

A man in her room. A man, huge and towering, flickering in and out of reality as he loomed over her, his clutching hands going for her neck as she lay in bed, drugged and barely conscious.

It might have been real; it might have been a dream. But either way, it was enough to send her fumbling out of bed, colliding with every bit of furniture she had in her woozy, dead-headed rush to the door.

Her father found Andi, still half-asleep, trying to force the lock on his gun cabinet.

“Whoa,” he said, taking her hands in his and steering her away. “Hey, hey, what are you doing?”

“The man,” she mumbled. “Man in my room.”

“What man?” he asked, alert and stern.

“In my room,” she said, and leaned against him for warmth. She felt something between her face and his shirt, an extra layer of thin cloth. “Gotta shootum.”

He crouched, pulling her with him until she sat, swaying gently, on the hallway floor. “Wait here, baby,” he said. “Don’t mess with the guns.”

Dad was gone for a few minutes. Andi jerked awake for a second at the thought of him opening her closet and finding the rat-thing waiting, but fatigue won and closed her eyes again.

He came back, heavy steps approaching her. “There’s nobody there, Andi,” he said, and pulled her up to stand. “Do you want to go back to bed?”

“Nnn.”

“Do you want to sleep with Mom?”

“M’fourteen, Daddy. M’not a little girl.”

“I know.” He led her by the hand, just like when she was young and they’d go to Astroworld during the summer, down the hall to her parents’ room.

“Hey, she needs to bunk up with you tonight, okay? She’s having a rough night. I’ll take her room.”

“God, poor thing. Of course. C’mere, honey.” Dad led her to the empty side of the bed and Andi slid under the covers, into Mom’s gentle hug, without protest. “This stress is eating her up, Joseph.”

“I know. Damn school.” Then, his voice came from further away. “We’ll talk about it in the morning, make a decision then. Good night.”

Andi snuggled up, feeling safer than she had in days, and let pure, natural sleep claim her, a tear of gratitude mingling with the sleep-crusties in her eyes.

The man came back, like all nightmares do, but he was far away this time, a dot on the horizon. And no matter how fast he ran, he could never get any closer.

***

Andi woke early, disentangling herself from Mom, and sat on the edge of her parents’ king-size as the morning light leaked through the curtains.

She thought about the day ahead, and if she’d survive it.

Cy had to be gunning for her. She was the only one who knew about his plan (whatever it actually entailed), and she’d made clear her intent to stop it. But before she’d even opposed him, he’d tried to slip her a drugged soda.

So why hadn’t he walked the few blocks to her house, stood outside her window, and created something in her room to kill her?

Maybe he’d tried. Maybe she hadn’t been dreaming last night.

She stood. Dad.

Andi raced down the hall and opened her door.

Dad lay in her bed, curled up, gently snoring, and unharmed.

She let out a huff of relief. Then, to convince herself of his well-being, she walked over and gave his hair a light, affectionate pat, but not so light that he didn’t grumble awake.

“Hrrm…hey, Little Flame.” He shifted, tangling his flannel pajamas with the blankets, and rubbed his eyes. “Did you sleep okay?”

Andi nodded.

“You ready for breakfast?”

“Yes, please.” The thought of food sent her from normal to starving in a snap.

“Okay,” he said, and rolled over and pretended to go back to sleep. “Go wake your mother.”

Andi laughed at the old joke and reached out, poking his shoulder, doink-doink-doink. “Daddyyy!”

“…All right, all right,” he said, and got up, yawning and scratching his head. “Chef’s on duty.” He walked past her, but paused. “And afterward, we’ll change those bandages.”

She didn’t know what he was talking about until she looked down, seeing herself for the first time. Band-aids and gauze, dotting her arms and, as she felt around, her face and neck. She could even feel it rustle in her pajama legs, gauze against fabric.

She had no idea what had happened.

***

“We heard the crash last night,” Dad said over the sizzle of frying sausage patties. “Went out and found you passed out in the hedge on your bike.” He turned and smiled. “You just konked out. Everything finally got to you, I guess.”

Andi frowned, now feeling the itch of dozens of jabs and scrapes all over her body.

Mom wandered into the kitchen, matching Dad yawn for yawn, and hugged Andi. “Somebody got a solid night’s sleep,” Mom said, then moved away to peck Dad on his stubbly cheek.

“Hot stuff, coming through,” Dad said, and put a plate of eggs, sausage, and toast in front of Andi. Mom poured some V-8 and set the glass by Andi’s food.

As she ate, devouring the food at first then picking at the dregs, her folks got their own breakfast together and joined her. She looked up from forking a fluff of scrambled eggs into her mouth to find them looking at her. Smiling, unthreatening, but staring all the same.

“Ummm…” she managed, around the mouthful of food.

“Honey,” Mom said, “we’ve been thinking about it. We’re worried that everything that’s been going on, plus all your school work and electives, are overloading you. And that you fell asleep riding your bike last night is the capper.”

“Mom, I’m just –”

Mom closed her eyes. “Andi, it was dark. What if you’d passed out a few blocks away, in the middle of the street? What if someone hadn’t seen you in time?” She opened her eyes. They glistened. “What we’ve decided to do is this: we’re taking you out of school for the rest of the year. We’re going to get you a private tutor to keep you up to date with your schoolwork, and then you can go back to campus after New Year’s.” She held up a hand as Andi began to protest. “We’re not forbidding you from seeing your friends, or anything like that. Well, besides the ones we already talked about. You can still hang out with Wren and the girls. This is not a punishment; this is just…simplifying your life for a couple of months.”

Andi wondered how her mother would react if she knew precisely how complicated her daughter’s life currently was.

Or how much more complicated it was going to get.

But…was that a silver lining glinting at her? No school meant no snooping students or interfering teachers reporting back to her parents. No school meant she could meet with Benjamin and try to solve this nightmare without outside troubles.

“And,” Mom said, “we know tonight is the Halloween dance, and we know how hard you and your friends have worked on it, and how much it means to you. You can go and tell your friends what’s going on, and say…well, not goodbye, but au revoir.”

With that, Andi agreed so enthusiastically she worried her parents might suspect she had another motive.

She wanted to go to the dance, and had been prepared to beg her folks to let her.

Because since she woke up, she’d had the beginnings of a plan bubbling in her head.

And the dance was crucial to its success.

***

At this point in her life, Andi had exhausted both ‘redhead girl Halloween costumes’ — Raggedy Ann and Pippi Longstocking — several times over.

Luckily, she had another costume now. One she’d gotten very comfortable in.

Mom almost managed to hide her frown when Andi came downstairs that evening in the green dress, pancake makeup blanching her face, hair done up in haloing ringlets. Her scratches and scabs looked more like makeup effects than actual injuries.

“It’s all I had handy,” Andi lied.

“Well…okay.” In truth, Mom might have been right to frown, since the last time she’d seen Andi dressed like that, the girl had been getting out of a police car.

Dad, too, appeared less than happy at her costume choice, but he drove her to the school all the same, singing along to Sixties music on the radio. Andi joined in on the ones she knew.

“When is this thing over again?” he asked, as they pulled into the gym parking lot.

“Eight thirty,” Andi said.

“I still don’t understand why they had to do this on a Wednesday,” Dad said. “Seems like it could run later on a Friday or Saturday.”

“Tomorrow and Friday are football, Dad,” she said, “and Saturday’s November 1st.”

“Oh, right,” he said. “Football.” Then, she chorused along with him, “Damn school.”

Dad grinned at that despite himself. “Don’t cuss. It’s not ladylike.” He reached over and squeezed her shoulder. “Have fun. See you after eight.”

Andi got out and waved him goodbye, hurting terribly inside.

She hadn’t figured the odds, but there might be a chance she’d never see him again.

***

The last-minute decoration after school today had gone off without incident, with streamers and cutouts and banners strung and hung by committee members dedicated to pulling off a great dance rather than stroking their egos. Scuttlebutt around school said the high schoolers were having much less success getting their Thursday dance together.

The flags who’d arrived fashionably early mobbed her, complimenting her on her outfit, even if her explanation bored-slash-confused them.

“A banshee is a spirit from Celtic mythology…” Andi would begin, before their eyes glazed over.

She saw, and waved at, a few other friendly girls before touching base with the other dance committee members, checking that their areas of expertise had been covered. Snacks, check. Punch, check. Music — currently ‘In A Big Country,’ blaring through the loudspeakers, check.

Then it was time to make her own check.

She spotted him after just a few seconds, leaning against a far wall, cup of punch in hand. She knew he’d be here. He came to every school function, no matter how unwelcome he was, just to irritate people.

One could, after enough observation, surmise that everything he did was calculated to irritate people.

This was her last time at school until next year, so she strode across the empty basketball court, not caring who — peer or chaperone — saw her. She might have waited until enough students had gotten over their initial shyness to start dancing, providing her with a little cover, but time was crucial.

It was only a matter of time until the other person she expected to be here showed up.

“Red,” said Eddie as she walked up to him. Then, as she got into better light and he saw her scrapes and cuts, “Jesus, what happened to you? Looks like you got dragged through a hedge backwards.”

“You’re half right,” Andi said. “Listen, Eddie.” She looked around then drew a deep breath. “You did shoot lightning out of your fingers. Everything strange at Randall’s house? It really happened.”

“You talked to –”

She nodded. “Yes, yes, yes — but it’s not him. It’s not Benjamin, it never was. It’s Cy. Cy’s the one behind it. He kidnapped Eury, he — he made Jason out of thin air. Now, I know you’re his friend, but I was at Cy’s house last night, and –”

Eddie held up a hand. The smart-assery had started draining out of his face the moment Andi had mentioned Cy, and now it was all gone, leaving nothing but seriousness in its wake.

Seriousness, and a little anger.

“Yeah. Yeah, he is my friend. My friend since kindergarten, Red, and my friend when a lot of other people stopped being my friend. Now, I don’t know why Benjamin might be trying to drive a wedge between us, but…”

“He wasn’t…isn’t…!” She glanced around the gym. If she couldn’t get Eddie on board, what chance did her plan have?

You weren’t here when my dad robbed the Allsup’s and went to jail. You weren’t here when this town turned its back on my mom and me. Even Benjamin wasn’t my friend then. But Cy was. He’s always been there. So whatever ‘proof’ you think you’ve uncovered about him…whatever ‘evidence’ Benjamin has whispered in that little ear of yours…it’s all crap.” Eddie drained his cup. “I’m thirsty,” he said, and stalked away to the punch bowl.

Right then, Cy entered the gym.

He had three other kids with him, no one Andi recognized, and before she could move to intercept, they had met up with Eddie.

The conversation was quick and animated, and Eddie pointed across the gymnasium at Andi more than once. She could see Cy shake his head, that’s-too-bad, a couple of times.

Then they were walking towards her, all five of them, Cy in the lead.

When he got far enough ahead of the pack, so that none of them could see his face, Cy gave Andi a wink.

*****

Today’s Words: 2222
Total Words: 33852

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Notes: Not as much writing today as I’d hoped to get done, but I think I’m still on track to finish this on Halloween. It might be an all-day marathon, however…!

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

(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)