The Cycling Tour: Day Forty-Three

Wrote just a bit more. Coming up on what’s going to be another relentlessly stressful week, so signs don’t look good that I’ll be able to write more than this last week’s worth of dribs and drabs. Still, I suppose any amount of words written is good…

Totals

Total Today: 72

Total Overall: 46070

Things I Did When I Could’ve Been Writing Instead

Watching: The latest People of Earth.

Reading: Continuing 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz.

Playing: Gems of War.

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The Cycling Tour: Day Forty-Two

A little more tonight, as I began to de-stress after a rough week. Set up what this flashback sequence will focus on, and am looking forward to writing it!

Tomorrow is D&D day, so I’ll likely be too storied-out from DMing to get much writing done, but I’ll do at least a little bit.

Totals

Total Today: 136

Total Overall: 45998

Things I Did When I Could’ve Been Writing Instead

Watching: The latest The Great Indoors.

Reading: Continuing 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz.

Playing: Gems of War.

The Cycling Tour: Day Forty-One

Stress level continues to rise — only one sentence written tonight. When I get this one particular project at work settled, and when I get this weekend’s D&D session done, writing productivity should (fingers crossed!) go up.

Totals

Total Today: 22

Total Overall: 45862

Things I Did When I Could’ve Been Writing Instead

Watching: The latest Impastor and Superstore.

Reading: Continuing 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz.

Playing: Gems of War.

The Cycling Tour: Day Thirty-Nine

Just a microscopic bit of writing today. I went back and re-read everything I’ve done so far on Fantasy Novel One in preparation of picking it up again, and added a few new words here and there as I went through it.

Will need to tweak some of the details of the book’s world, as some references early on make things out to be much more totalitarian than I intended!

Totals

Total Today: 33

Total Overall: 45772

Things I Did When I Could’ve Been Writing Instead

Watching: The premiere of Falling Water and the latest Those Who Can’t.

Reading: Continuing 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz.

Playing: Gems of War.

The Cycling Tour: Day Thirty-Eight

Finished Lanterns, my third annual Halloween novel, on time and above its targeted word count. Feeling that weird runner’s-high comedown that always accompanies finishing a project. Time to get to work on something else so I can stay occupied through the rest of the year. Most likely this will be Fantasy Novel One, which might actually get its first draft finished before 2016 is done.

Went ahead and removed Horror Novel One, Blackletter, and Let God Sort Them Out from the in-progress section to the right, as they don’t figure into my plans for 2017. They haven’t been abandoned, just put on the back burner. Well, not even the back burner, more like a hot plate on the other side of the kitchen… Right now, they’re unneeded clutter when I’m trying to focus on what to do next year, so away they go!

Totals

Total Today: 2962

Total Overall: 45739

Things I Did When I Could’ve Been Writing Instead

Watching: The premiere of People of Earth. Time to get to work on the huge DVR backlog that built up in October despite my best efforts…

Reading: Continuing 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz.

Playing: Gems of War.

Lanterns: Day Thirty-One – The End

The trip to Fleur’s house took a good four hours. That it sat in the fancy part of town, along with Dr. Godfrey’s home, was the bulk of the walk. Other time was taken up with confused passers-by asking questions, most of which Abby and the others only felt comfortable answering, “I don’t know!”

The rest of the delays were from people happy to see Claude out in public again. Handshakes, hugs, back-claps, and more than a few selfies slowed the three’s progress to a crawl. But Abby couldn’t begrudge Claude his recaptured glory. He looked so happy.

“So okay,” Claude said. “What went wrong for them?”

“Hmm?” Abby had stopped to tie her shoes.

“The,” and Claude looked around to see if anyone was too close and listening in, “pumpkins. They had the town; they had us. But when it came down to it, we had to fight off a few hundred of them during that last siege, not tens of thousands. So what happened?”

Abby straightened up. “You looking for tips? Thinking about mounting your own invasion?”

Claude waved at a couple across the street who shouted his name and said to Abby, sweetly, “I don’t seem to have any problems taking over the world, thanks very much. But seriously…I know you’ve been thinking about it, too.”

“Yeah, I have,” Abby said. “But all I’ve got are guesses. I think –”

“Sorry,” Fleur jumped in. “But I was thinking, too. Can I…?”

“You go right ahead,” Claude said.

“Um, okay. So when they come here, they’re like animals, just following commands, and acting on instinct. Y’know, like that one that was like a mama bear protecting her cub pumpkins.”

Abby and Claude nodded.

“So, yeah, so then they attach to people. And they have to, like, reach inside them to find out what’s bad inside that person. And that’s when they touch that bit of God. I have a cousin who’s, y’know, like a Quaker? And that’s their big thing, that there’s a little piece of God inside everyone. So that shocks them, and some of their victims have more, I don’t know, assertive personalities, and they get all muddled up and decide to try to live on Earth, and try to get back in God’s good graces.”

Abby and Claude kept nodding, Abby mostly because this was the longest, most sustained bit of verbiage she’d ever heard coming out of Fleur.

“But they can’t. God sent them to Hell, and He’s not going to go back on His decisions. And they have to know that. And then, I’m guessing that they were supposed to just mess up peoples’ heads then go away. But the longer they stay, the more they and the people start to combine. And the more they combine, the more the evil people take control and become, well, evil. And that many evil people together…”

“Can’t work,” Claude said, and Fleur smiled. “Cowards won’t want to participate. Selfish people won’t help if it doesn’t benefit them instantly. They’d all resent the bossy people trying to run the show. The killers would want to kill, nothing else. They let their true selves free, and those true selves were what made them fail at life in the first place. Hey, how’s it going?” he broke off from theorizing to wave at another fan.

“I think you two were on the same wavelength as me,” Abby said. “I still wonder about some things but…”

A trio of twenty-something women walked up to them, gossiping amongst themselves. “My God,” said the blonde in the middle to Claude and the others. “Did you hear about City Hall? They found Mayor Porter, Superintendent Walden, and Mr. Claremont hung inside. Like, with nooses, like the Old West.”

One of her friends said, “What happened last night?”

Abby shrugged. “Wish I knew.” The three ladies posed for a photo with Claude, then went on their way.

“Well,” Abby said, “that’s one thing I was wondering about solved. I guess we know the shot that started the Failure Revolution.”

“They didn’t deserve to die,” Fleur said. “Not because of that.”

Abby thought of Walden, and how his hatred for her shone through even as he was possessed. If she were going to start a new life after recovery, he would’ve made sure it couldn’t have happened in Caliche.

“…Mmm,” she said, after a moment. “Yeah. You’re right. Nobody deserved to die because of that.”

They reached Main Street, which would have taken them right by City Hall.

“What do you say we take the long way around?” Abby asked.

***

It was close to noon by the time they reached their destination. All three munched on convenience-store burritos and sipped at sweet, bubbly sodas. Unhealthy, obviously, but on the scale of indulgences as a reward for saving the world, a minor vice.

At last, they stood before Fleur’s house. Its charred, skeletal remains still stood months later after Fleur had burned it down.

She handed her lunch to Abby and stepped from the sidewalk, walking hesitantly across the scorched, brown lawn until she reached the perimeter of the house.

Abby and Claude tried to watch without being obvious about it. “They still haven’t torn it down?” Abby whispered.

Claude said back, softly, “The estate’s all tied up. Rich people die, it’s messy enough. They die like…this…and, well.” He shook his head. “Lots of sleazy relatives trying to influence our girl. I know Parky had to escort a few of them off the premises when they’d ‘visit’.” He took a sip of his huge soda. “Guess it’s coming to a head soon enough. She’ll be eighteen next year.”

Abby did a double-take. “Seriously? I always thought she was…”

“Younger? Yeah. I bet most people who meet her get that impression. I think she may have always had that…aura around her.”

Fleur picked her way through the burned frame, onto the scorched foundation. Some water pipes had melted, others still jutted up into phantom rooms. As she moved, trickles of black ash drifted down from what hadn’t caved in of the upper storey.

“Should I –?” Abby asked, but Claude put a soft hand on her arm.

“Not yet.”

Further away from them now, Fleur tiptoed over wreckage until she reached a backmost area of the ground floor. Two beams had fallen but wedged against each other, and in that cradle an immense amount of falling debris had been caught.

Anyone sitting under that spot would have been spared a crushing death. Meanwhile, the falling beams would have torn out a section of roof, allowing smoke to vent away and flames to spread elsewhere.

Fleur stood looking at that confluence for a long moment, then sat underneath the ‘V’ formed by the beams. They could see her lips move as she gazed around, as though she saw the remains of the house for the first time.

When Fleur slumped and put her face in her hands, Abby didn’t need a hint.

Abby made her careful way through the ruins until she reached Fleur. The girl looked up at her approach, a surprising lack of tears on her cheeks.

“Hey,” Abby said, and Fleur patted a spot of pitted, ash-streaked concrete beside her. Abby sat.

“…I used to stare into the fireplace when I was little,” Fleur said, after a couple of minutes of companionable silence. “My favorite part was when I’d close my eyes and the flames would still be there, dancing in the dark inside my eyelids.” She reached down and flicked a pebble, which skittered along the foundation until it pinged into something unrecognizable but metallic.

“Mommy…” Fleur cleared her throat. “…My mother always said I’d ruin my eyes, staring like that. But I didn’t, did I?” She looked over at Abby. “I ruined something bigger than that.”

“Can’t ruins be rebuilt?” Abby asked.

Fleur played with one of her ringlets, twisting it and tucking it behind her ear. “Sometimes they have to totally destroy something, so something new can take its place.”

Abby looked around. “…I’m sorry, Fleur,” she said. “Everyone at Brightest Lantern always treated you like you were a delicate little snowflake, and I just followed along. You deserved to be dealt with like a normal person.”

“I’m not, though,” Fleur said. “I don’t think I ever will be. I don’t think it’s possible.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” the girl said, voice rising, “I burned up my family playing with matches. I burned up my family because I thought fire was so pretty.” She stood and stared at the vertex of beams and debris. “Why didn’t it kill me, too?” she said, and hit one of the beams as hard as she could. Nothing moved, nothing shifted, but Abby got the hell out of the way anyway.

“Why didn’t you kill me, too?” Fleur demanded, hitting the beams again and again, though they refused to yield. Not even a trickle of ash came forth.

Abby could see the blood dripping from Fleur’s knuckles as she pounded away, shouting “Why! Why! Why!” She ducked in behind her and grabbed Fleur’s arms at the elbows, preventing her from any more self-harm. Fleur fought against her for a few more seconds, still demanding an answer of the freak wreckage, until at last the tears came, just when Abby thought the girl had shed her lifetime supply of them.

“I don’t know why,” Abby said, shushing Fleur as she bawled and dripped snot onto Abby’s shoulder. “I don’t know.”

A sobbed garble of words from Fleur, muffled by Abby’s coat. “Nobody knows. Nobody knows, do they?”

Abby hugged her tighter.

Claude came over and embraced the two of them as they stood there in that place of death, that place of inexplicable life. Fleur’s tears tapered off, and she wiped her eyes, looking at Abby with clear sight. She looked her age, for the first time since Abby had met her.

“…I want to sleep,” Fleur said. “Can we please go somewhere where I can sleep?”

Claude put his arm around her and led her away. “Best idea I’ve heard all morning,” he said. “I could sleep for a week.”

“I could sleep for a year,” Fleur said.

“Shoot, I could sleep for…”

As they walked to the curb, Abby looked back at the wedged beams and the killing pile of junk they kept aloft.

“Nobody knows,” she said to herself.

Sleep, she thought. I don’t want to sleep.

I don’t want a drink, even though I should. I don’t want a cigarette. I don’t want pills or coke or pot.

I don’t want to scream at someone until they break down.

What do I want?

She reached out and gave the beams the tiniest poke. They made an alarming creak, and black dust sifted down.

Maybe it’s time to start figuring that out.

Abby turned and ran to catch up with her friends, walking together under the perfect clouds of a November sky.

***

EPILOGUE ONE

One year later, come October, there wasn’t much celebration in the small Texas town of Caliche. Churches promoted ‘Fall Festivals’ and ‘Harvest Hoedowns,’ and people seemed happy for the alternative.

Brightest Lantern Recovery Center continued to run thanks to an influx of new patients. None stayed long-term, but the flow stayed steady enough to keep the lights on.

Dove Tranh turned herself in for elder abuse, losing her nursing license and serving a year’s probation. She kept to herself and left town when her sentence was up, never to return.

Alex Parkinson quit his job as a security guard to pursue a class-action suit against a popular theme park, the winnings from which he parlayed into forming a consumer protection board that carried out independent inspections of roller coasters and other such things.

Gladys, a woman whom everyone adored, but whose last name remained an eternal mystery, retired to spend more time with her grandchildren.

***

That Halloween, local celebrity ‘Cloudy’ Claude Jeffords could be seen entering the cemetery and taking flowers to a small, modest grave marker. He placed the flowers on the ground and stood there a few minutes, hands in pockets, looking at the ground.

As the sky darkened, Claude turned and walked away, returning to his ongoing project of rejoining the living.

***

EPILOGUE TWO

Two years later, come October, there was more of an urge to celebrate in the small Texas town of Caliche. People decorated their yards with skeletons and spiders and ghosts and goblins.

Conspicuously absent were jack-o-lanterns.

The town saw a new run of good fortune, as the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, SyFy, and others came in droves to interview people for an endless series of specials on Caliche. It only took one citizen telling one passer-through to start the rumors going, and the story of two years ago, of how the town passed out en masse only to wake up with odd memories from strangers in all their heads…

It was the biggest case of past-life regression ever seen, and it was TV-ratings and movie-option gold.

Brightest Lantern came close to shutting down again, as people re-adjusted to their new collective delusion of reincarnation and other lives. But a mysterious benefactor set up a trust to keep the center running indefinitely.

No one at Brightest Lantern knew, or would admit they knew, what the ‘BrightPointe Foundation’ was, but they all gave thanks for it.

***

That Halloween, a tall, willowy young lady with brown curls and haunted eyes could be seen entering the cemetery and taking flowers to a small, modest grave marker. She placed the flowers and then sat cross-legged in front of the grave for a good hour, lost in thought.

As the sky darkened, she stood and walked away. Those who saw her in town thought she looked familiar, but they couldn’t quite place her.

***

EPILOGUE THREE

Three years later, come October, exultation of the spooky and scary was back in full swing in the small Texas town of Caliche, complete with an uncarved pumpkin on a porch here and there.

Those pumpkins didn’t survive the night, falling under the bats and boots of kid vandals.

And as October 31st began, Abby walked the halls of Brightest Lantern. She’d started the day with breakfast and her ritual viewing of Claude’s daytime talk show, ‘Parting the Clouds.’ Every weekday, he’d have on someone who’d made huge mistakes in their life — sometimes celebrities, most often ordinary folks — and they’d discuss how they had turned their lives around.

When the show launched, he’d sent Abby a framed photo of himself smiling and giving a thumbs-up, autographed, To Abby, My #1 Fan!

She’d sent him a photo of herself flipping off the camera, autographed, Here’s A #1 For You!

He called not long after, and the two of them got to laughing so hard they could barely speak to catch up.

Abby said hello to the nurses as she passed their station, and gave a smile to Dr. Ingalls, the new director, hired by the BrightPointe Foundation after an exhaustive search.

She paused before making the last few steps of her morning walk. This part was always the hardest, no matter how many times she did it. She stopped to feel for the reassuring roundness of the three-year chip in her pocket.

She was getting better every day, and this part of her morning, easy or hard, was a piece of that.

She walked into the lobby where a young man, skinny and nervous and edgy, sat in one of the big puffy chairs.

“Hi,” she said, and closed the distance between them, stepping around the big leather sofa. “I’m Abby, one of the counselors here. Welcome to Brightest Lantern.”

“I don’t want to be here,” the kid said, looking at the floor.

“I understand,” she said. “Court-ordered stays are rough. But I think this place will surprise you.” She held out a hand. “Ready to get started?”

The kid slapped her hand away and stood abruptly, fists clenching, eyes darting around the room as he looked, panicked, for a way out.

Abby raised her hands. “It’s okay,” she said. “Let’s just take it slow. Things aren’t as bad as they seem right now, I promise –”

The boy lunged at her, fists raised.

And just like a security guard she used to know, Abby grabbed one of those fists, pivoted and pulled, and flipped the kid over her shoulder and onto the sofa, where he landed with a woof of breath. Abby kept the hold for a second, just so it sank in that he could’ve been slammed onto hard tile instead of comfy furniture.

“Now,” she said. “Let’s take a deep breath, and then we’ll get started settling you in.”

A tear leaked out of the boy’s eye. “What if I don’t want to?” he said, the last dregs of his bluster draining away.

And just like a nurse she used to know, Abby smiled.

“Then you’ll leave me no choice but to be nice.”

***

That Halloween, a former bartender, cab driver, courier, telemarketer, teacher, and current drug and alcohol counselor could be seen entering the cemetery and taking flowers to a small, modest grave marker. She placed the flowers, then knelt in front of the stone, kissed her palm, and pressed it on the stone’s engraved BRENT, right between the engraved GERARD and MERCHANT.

As the sky darkened, she stood and returned to her car, leaving the grave marker where it was, as it continued to soak up the chill & the warmth, and the light & the dark, of another year’s journey around the Sun.

Another year of chances and choices, for good or bad, for better or worse.

–END–

*****

Today’s Words: 2962
Total Words: 40664

*****

Notes: Woo-hoo! This is officially the first Halloween novel to beat its assigned challenge of being finished on 10/31 with a word count in excess of 40K!

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading along. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride, and that you’ll join me next October.

Happy Halloween!

*****

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

The Cycling Tour: Days Thirty-One To Thirty-Seven

Fifth and final catch-up “The Cycling Tour” post!

Today will be the final installment of Lanterns, and it’s cause for celebration — this is the first Halloween novel of mine to be finished by the October 31st deadline!

I’m not sure what I’ll start on tomorrow. It’ll either be Face After Face or Fantasy Novel One, the completion of both of which figures into my plans for 2017.

Totals

Total Since Last Post: 13549

Total Overall: 42777

Things I Did When I Could’ve Been Writing Instead

Watching: The premieres of Mom, Rectify, and The Great Indoors; and the latest Ash vs Evil Dead, Impastor, and Superstore.

Reading: Finished Red by Ted Dekker, read all three volumes of Penultimate Quest by Lars Brown, and started 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz.

Playing: Gems of War.

Lanterns: Day Thirty

“Guess he never heard of the aluminum foil trick,” Abby said. She and Fleur took off down the hall, but just as quickly as the alarm sounded, it shut off again as the door closed.

Abby turned and took Fleur by the shoulders, gently. “I’ve got to get the pumpkin and get outside, but they’ll see me and try to stop me. It’s almost over, I promise. I just need to do this one thing, and I need you to help me. Can you kick some butt for me one last time?”

Fleur nodded once, short and sharp. “Always,” she said.

Abby could hear the others from down the hallway heading their way. She patted Fleur on the shoulder and the girl took off running to intercept the employees. Abby herself ran behind, and as Fleur turned the corner, Abby went the other way and ducked into the cafeteria. She could hear Fleur yelling, “I tried to get out! I tried to go outside, but they’re here! They’re all around the building!”

Abby grabbed the suitcase and peeked through the roundel windows set in the cafeteria’s swinging doors. Parky was leading the group away from the nurses’ station, towards the front of the building, no doubt to check the barricades. Fleur looked back as the others walked away, caught a peek of Abby through the cafeteria doors, and flashed her a quick thumbs-up.

One silent push of the doors, and Abby was out in the hallway, hauling the luggage alongside. She got to the fire door and paused. No time to go back to the lunchroom storage and hunt for foil for her own exit. Oh, well — the time for subtlety was over, anyway.

She pushed open the door, squeezed through a small gap, and shoved against the hydraulics to shut it as fast as she could.

Not fast enough, as the siren gave a one-second blat before she got the latch engaged.

Abby sprinted beside the building, casting an eye to the town below as she moved. She could make out the traffic jam Fleur had reported as they drove out here: a snarl of a hundred or more headlights with shapes moving amongst them.

It almost looked like the figures down there, in the dozens of dozens, were fighting each other. Bodies collided and shoved and tripped and climbed on cars only to leap off on each other…from Abby’s vantage point, it looked like pure, violent chaos.

But even then, she could see the occasional figure break away and move past the front-most grouping of headlights. Those could only be pumpkin-people heading to the hill on foot. Beyond that, more cars approached from town only to stop at the pile-up and disgorge their passengers, who joined in the fray.

Base desires? she wondered. Easier to act out and fight each other than join forces and come after us?

Gee, and they had such high hopes for forming a new society earlier tonight. Who’d have thought thousands of evil creatures couldn’t work in harmony?

Abby reached the ladder to the roof and saw, with relief, that it had been lowered. She climbed as best she could with the unwieldy luggage in one hand, rung after chilly metal rung, and reached the roof surprisingly quick, all her cuts and scrapes throbbing. She tossed the suitcase ahead of her, and finished the climb, looking around as she boosted herself over the curved rails at the ladder’s top.

Dr. Godfrey stood on the edge of the roof at the front side of the building, looking on the cars and madness below. He swayed slightly, as if a tree in the breeze.

Abby paused where she’d landed, thinking of how to get his attention without startling him and driving him off the edge. One slip, and whoops, apocalypse. She left the suitcase where it lay, and walked softly, almost casually, to within audible distance.

“Dr. Godfrey,” she said, in a calm but firm voice. He stiffened at the sound, but turned to look at her, his face filled with sadness and fear.

“Abby,” he said. “Come here, would you please?” His voice cracked as he spoke, and Abby could tell he was firmly back in pistol-in-mouth mode. She tried to smile, to be reassuring, and walked the rest of the way to where he stood.

From here, she could see what he saw: citizens, their pumpkins absorbed to the point of being gentle, bulging curves against the sides of their necks. They milled around in front of Brightest Lantern, slapping hands against doors and windows, picking up and throwing rocks at the building, and occasionally bumping into each other and fighting.
She could also see the horizon, barely lit by a weak red glow.

“You want to make me into one of them,” Godfrey said accusingly. “What in Heaven’s name did I ever do to you to make you hate me that much?” A tear ran down his cheek. “I testified on your behalf, did you know that? I read your case, thought I could help you, and spoke to the judge in your defense. And this is how you thank me for saving you from prison. This is how you, and those other ingrates, thank me.”

Abby closed her eyes for a second and took a breath. “You told me,” she said, “when I first came here, that there would be a lot of pain to go through before it was all over. Well, fixing this problem is going to take some pain before it’s taken care of, too.”

He laughed, a bitter guffaw. “Don’t turn your therapist’s words back on him, Abby. That’s Psych 101. You think you can convince me with something that obvious?”

“Depends,” she said. “Is it working?” She took another step forward. “Can you at least step down off the ledge for me? Please?”

“You never ask directly,” he said. “You try to find out what the person has to live for. Honestly, you’d think someone intelligent like you would have picked up better techniques while you’ve been here. Or maybe everyone was right. Maybe you never intended to get well.”

“Maybe,” Abby said. “But you know what I did tonight? I had the person — the little kid — I hated most in the world at my mercy. And guess what — I bundled her up, reassured her, and hid her somewhere safe.”

Dr. Godfrey golf-clapped. “Good girl. You get a gold star.”

“Might as well take it back,” Abby said. “I also convinced myself I needed to pop an amphetamine to get through the night, and pressured other people to take one, too. One step forward, two steps backward, right?”

Godfrey shook his head, and started to turn back to look upon his work.

“So tell me what you have to live for,” Abby said, and he stopped his spin, wobbling slightly.

“Brightest Lantern would have shut down at the end of the year,” he said, his voice thick. “All this for nothing. I did my best to fix it, and look. Just look at how well I succeeded. And now you want me to do some other stupid thing to ‘make things better,’ and all it’s going to do is turn me into a monster.” He put his hands to his face, and she could barely make out his murmur: “I’ve ruined everything.” He began to sink into a pitiful kneel, hands still over his eyes, and Abby seized the opportunity. She closed the distance between them with a quick bolt, grabbed his elbow, and hauled him off the edge and onto the tarpaper roof with a rough tug.

Godfrey landed in a heap, and Abby danced around to interpose herself between him and the edge.

“Stay down,” she said, and looked back at the sky, where red was transitioning into orange, spreading more broadly along the skyline. “If you know what’s good for you, stay right where you are.”

“Jumping off and breaking my neck is what’s good for me,” he mewled. “Eating a bullet is what’s good for me. Why won’t you let me? Do I have to beg?”

“Are you trying to make me sympathize by using self-pity?” Abby asked. “I thought someone intelligent like you would be above something obvious like that.”

“You hate me, and everyone at the center, and everyone in town,” Godfrey said. “Why are you doing this? Why are you acting like you care?”

I’m not acting!” Abby shouted, then, stunned by the realization, said more softly, to herself, “…I’m not acting…” She looked down at Godfrey. “And maybe…maybe I’m not that much better, but this is me trying.” She reached down, grabbed him by the ankle, and started walking. He had at least a hundred pounds on her, but the threat of having his knee hyper-extended forced him to butt-scoot along the roof after her as she walked.

“Stop,” he pleaded, “please stop.”

Foot by foot, they made their way to the suitcase. “Don’t you dare move,” she snapped, and left Godfrey in a cowering heap as she took two quick steps to the suitcase. She spun it to face him and grabbed the zipper tab.

From below came the sound of breaking glass and shouts of fear.

She moved the zipped to the first corner. A glow shone from the gap in the lid.

Hey, she thought. I’ve got a favor to ask, and I know I don’t have any right to.

The zipper moved across the length of the suitcase to the second corner. The glow became stronger. Godfrey whimpered as it illuminated him.

I just really hope you don’t answer ‘no’.

She pulled the zipper all the way to its starting position, and flipped open the suitcase. The jack-o-lantern sat there, docile as ever.

It made no move toward Godfrey, who babbled with terror at the sight of it. He began to move away, but Abby ran to the doctor, knelt behind him, and grabbed his arm in a hammerlock, keeping him in place. Godfrey wailed with a baby’s terror of everything.

“Hey,” she shouted, with a quick, anxious glance at a sky that had gotten no less darker. “What are you waiting for?”

The pumpkin sat there, its calmness a contrast to the sounds of battle below.

It’s turned on us. It knows if it does this, its plans are over. No, no no.

Godfrey mirrored her thoughts, writhing in her grip. “Nononononononono…”

Why won’t it move? Why won’t it —

“Move,” she shouted, and the pumpkin bobbed just a bit, looking from side to side as if unsure where to go.

And if Abby hadn’t been pinning Godfrey, she would’ve kicked herself.

‘Servitor’. Something that serves. Like a trained animal. Only does what it’s told, and it didn’t move earlier until Claude told it to. So it won’t do anything unless —

“I’m sorry,” she said to the weeping, gibbering Godfrey. Then, to the pumpkin: “Take him.”

In a flash, vines uncoiled from the suitcase by the dozen, and Abby shoved Godfrey towards them, backing herself clear. The green tendrils wrapped around his legs, and though Godfrey screamed and kicked mightily, it was no use.

The pumpkin wrapped his legs and chest and, as Godfrey began pulling himself along the roof with spastic, clawing hands, curls of tar working under his once-immaculate fingernails, the pumpkin hauled itself out of the suitcase, tiptoeing after him on a delicate thrush of fronds on its underside. The vines, meanwhile, did their work, moving up his chest to collar Godfrey’s neck and pull him back like a reined horse.

Abby couldn’t stop watching. She was vaguely aware of the noises below reaching a thunderous climax of shouts, screams, and shattering. But she just could not stop staring at the nightmarish spectacle before her.

The vines whipped around Godfrey’s shoulders and splayed his arms out so he lay cruciform on the roof, in a pose Abby knew couldn’t be a coincidence. Then they finished with his arms, shrouding them in verdant coils.

And then, only then, did the jack-o-lantern make its move. The vines pulled it along the length of Godfrey’s helpless body, ropes of green shifting and playing out to tug the pumpkin up his form, inch after inch. Godfrey screamed, hoarse from the tendrils clenching around his neck.

With a final shift of its bulk, the pumpkin settled itself on Godfrey’s shoulder. It yanked his limbs around until he sat upright.

Then its mouth and eyes flared with that eerie inner light, and it began to whisper.

From below, there was a change in the screams. It started small, at first, but the noises from the fighting below tapered off, and the screaming went from bravery and anger and aggression…to pure terror.

Terror, multiplied by the thousands.

Abby staggered to the edge of the roof and saw figures stumbling in the near-dawn, silhouettes with grotesque swelling on their necks that, as she watched, swelled and burst in sticky showers.

Further below, the traffic jam was witness to hundreds more being freed of their supernatural parasites, messy explosion after messy explosion.

Abby sank to her knees, pressed her face into the arms she folded on the roof’s edge, and let out a huge, hitching sob, that quickly turned into a scream of triumph. She wouldn’t look, wouldn’t raise her head. Abby hollered her joy, her relief, her tension, her ecstasy, and the last ashen particles of her anger into her curled arms until her ears rang.

At last, she stood to see citizens either passed out in heaps or wandering around the building drunkenly.

They were easy to make out in the first light of sunrise.

She turned back from the view to see Godfrey still rocking in place, still taken over by the final remaining jack-o-lantern. She stepped over to him, looked down at him for a moment, then knelt behind him, holding him through the rough green wrappings he wore.

And as the pumpkin slowly disintegrated, Abby whispered to him.

“It’s going to be okay. Everything’s going to be okay now.”

But her whispers weren’t loud enough to drown out the ones from the pumpkin, which continued until the last piece of it had turned to orange-green slag and melted away:

“You’ll never help anyone. You’ll never make anyone well. You’ll never change anything for the better.

“AND YOUR SOUL IS OURS.”

***

They had to leave him on the roof; no one was in any shape to finagle Dr. Godfrey’s unconscious form down the ladder. They left him with promises to fetch him as soon as they could.

Abby hugged Claude and Fleur, all of them weeping into each other’s shoulders, high-fiving, fist-bumping, then crying again. Claude picked up both Abby and Fleur in turn, spinning them around in the air, then putting them back down with a protest about his back…only to pick them up and spin them again in short order.

“How are the others?” Abby asked, as they wandered through the crowds of dazed but physically unharmed citizens.

“Dove got knocked out cold,” Claude said. “Parky’s looking after her and ignoring a couple of broken fingers he picked up himself.”

“And Gladys?”

Fleur grabbed Abby’s arm. “Omigod, you should’ve seen her! She made us look like we were slap-fighting those things!”

“And not a scratch on her,” Claude added.

A woman in a pink terrycloth robe wandered up and almost ran into them. She shook her head, then focused on the group. “…’Cloudy’ Claude?” the woman asked. “What are you doing here?”

“Um…just, uh, helping out,” Claude said, nonplused.

“That’s so nice,” the woman said. “You were always such a nice guy. I’m glad to see you.” With that, she stumbled away.

The three of them made their way to the top of the hill, right where the driveway began to slope down. A couple more people came up to Claude, shook his hand, and expressed how nice it was to see him out and about.

“Can’t drive into town,” Abby said. “Not with that traffic jam. That’s gonna stop emergency services from getting in from that direction, too.”

“You’re not saying we go back down there?” Claude asked.

“Yeah,” Abby said. “Why not? A lot of people to help, a lot of work to do. We need to get our friend out of Godfrey’s house, and I need to help a little girl find her mother, to name a couple of things.” She nudged him. “Besides, your public awaits, it looks like.”

“Oh, hush,” Claude said, but he looked back at one of the people who’d greeted him, and Abby saw a tiny smile spread across his face.

“Can we…” Fleur began, but she shook her head and went quiet.

“Can we what?” Abby asked.

Fleur leaned over and whispered in her ear, and Abby reached out and gave the girl’s hand a squeeze.

“Of course we can,” Abby said.

Claude shook his head. “If we can’t drive, that’s going to be a long walk.”

“Yeah,” Abby said. She held out her arms, and her friends linked elbows with her. “But isn’t it a beautiful morning for it?”

And with that, they took their first steps down the hill.

*****

Today’s Words: 2875
Total Words: 37702

*****

Notes: See you tomorrow for the finale!

*****

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

Lanterns: Day Twenty-Nine

They got Dr. Godfrey settled in his office with a cup of coffee Abby insisted on making for him over Gladys’s protests that she should be the one doing anything in the cafeteria. Fleur sat with him, smiling, patting his hand, and nodding whenever he made a cryptic pronouncement.

“He got so scared in the car,” the girl said about her volunteering to watch him.

Abby had stashed her suitcase in the cafeteria, and debated ripping off the bandage and just showing Parky the pumpkin. But he seemed so trigger-happy about the idea of the jack-o-lanterns, she didn’t want to risk him splattering the pumpkin before she could explain what was going on.

Claude was trying to tell them, but it seemed the others’ suspension of disbelief had a very low limit. Jack-o-lanterns invading and taking people over? That was okay. The invasion coming from the depths of Hell, and people merging with the pumpkins, ultimately being taken over by the souls of the damned? That raised an eyebrow, not to mention some healthy skepticism.

That Dr. Godfrey could have had anything to do with it? Parky, Dove, and Gladys flat-out refused to accept that, no matter what.

So for the moment, they played nice and polite, when all Abby really wanted to do was have Claude and Fleur pin Godfrey to a cafeteria table while she unzipped the suitcase and got this whole mess settled. She toyed with the idea of just leading a frontal charge on the employees, but Parky’s martial arts and Navy combat training meant he’d disassemble Abby and her group in seconds.

Play nice. Less than forty-five minutes to go, and we’re here playing nice.

Wish I could summon up some of that old anger.

Abby hadn’t had much time to think about anything , but that burning-out of her former easily-raised ire puzzled her. Her extinction-level tantrum at their prison-house still weighed on her, and while she could recall how furious she felt then, the big red button in her head that triggered said fury was not only broken, it seemed like her head had been re-wired so that it had never been there.

It worried her, and made her think about PTSD and what other psychological awfulness might be waiting for her on the other side of this deranged night.

The cafeteria was line-of-sight from where Claude held court with the employees, so they’d see her retrieving the suitcase. She’d already piqued their interest by taking it to the cafeteria and not bringing it back —

“What’s in the luggage?”

“Er…tampons.”

— however, she’d managed to deflect any interest for the moment. Fetching the suitcase again would draw their eye for sure.

And likewise, they’d see her and Fleur leading Dr. Godfrey into the cafeteria, and given the employees’ unwavering defense of him, that would likely set off their radar as well.

Should’ve just done it outside. But what if the pumpkin ran off?

She had an urge to knock Parky, Dove, and Gladys unconscious, and for a moment thought her anger was coming back, but realized the urge came from a cold, clinical understanding of the easiest way to solve the problem.

Cold obviously didn’t understand judo flips, and neither did Clinical.

So Abby put on her best smile and went to join the discussion.

“But if there are twenty thousand people coming up that hill, we can’t defend this place,” Claude was saying, and Abby smiled inwardly, as well. “We need to go now.”

Parky pooh-poohed the idea. “We fought them off here. That many people in Caliche? They stomped those pumpkins. There are going to be stragglers, pockets of resistance, and that’s what we’ll go get help for when the sun’s up.”

“Man, I am telling you that’s going to be too late! We were down there, in town! We saw what was going on. What do we have to gain by lying about it?”

Dove said, “You’ve got this weird grudge against Dr. Godfrey. Was it because he left on vacation, and wasn’t here to run group therapy?”

Abby interrupted. “If he was on vacation, why did we find him at home?”

Dove shrugged. “Vacation, stay-cation, what difference does it make?”

“We don’t have a grudge against him –” Claude said, but Gladys butted in.

“Good. He’s a sweet man. I won’t hear a bad word said against him.”

Claude paused to take a breath. “…How can we convince you that sunrise is too late? C’mon, let’s look outside, or go look from the roof. You’ll see them coming for us.”

Or maybe not, Abby thought. With the pumpkins combining with the people, they don’t glow anymore. We may not be able to see them storming up the hill.

How long to force down the barricades at the front door? How long until they swarm over us in a wave?

The sound of running footsteps stopped the argument, and they all looked up to see Fleur heading their way.

“Abby!” she shouted, but slowed as she noticed the others. “Um, Abby — it’s, um, I mean…it’s…” She blushed under the scrutiny of the group.

“What’s wrong?” Abby asked, but felt a dread growing inside her, coiling up the length of her spine.

“I…I have to go to the bathroom,” Fleur blurted out. “I’m scared!”

Abby stared at her for a second, then let out a breath. “Okay. All right, let’s go, then,” she said, but turned back to the group as she left. “We’re picking this up again when I get back.”

The two of them headed down the hall, and Abby hissed at Fleur, “Seriously? The bathroom? You just about scared me to death. I thought you were going to say –”

“Dr. Godfrey ran away,” Fleur whispered back. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I just couldn’t think of how to tell you, y’know, secretly, and…”

“Oh, God,” Abby said as they rounded the corner. The dread that had receded sprang right back into position, clenching her vertebrae, drilling into her skull. “How? How did it happen?”

“He was getting freaked out,” Fleur said. “He stood up, and I stood up to try to stop him, but he shoved me and I fell and the next thing I knew he was gone and I don’t know –”

Abby cut in. “Okay. We’ve just got to find him. I didn’t think he’d be able to go anywhere, though.”

“Why?”

Abby looked at Fleur. “Because that coffee I gave him was full of hydrocodone.” She wiggled her right foot, having gotten used to the lump under her arch that was no longer there. “He should’ve been zonked out by now.”

Fleur ducked her head. “He didn’t drink a lot of it. He said it was too bitter.”

“So much for the miracle of Splenda,” Abby groused. “Regardless, we don’t have time to go on a big hunt. We’ve got to find him, and find him fast.”

Just then, the air was split with a piercing siren, one Abby knew well:

The fire exit had been opened.

*****

Today’s Words: 1179
Total Words: 34827

*****

Notes: Two days left, and still on target to finish by the deadline!

*****

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