And now I am no longer in the red!
I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier, but I decided to play with the math and just push off my word-debt to the rest of the month. Now instead of writing 1667 words a day, I'll be writing a little under 2200. Yes, it's more, but I think it'll be for the best.
Anyway, here's some more draft. Of note, I realized a plot point I needed to include for the scene a bit late. I had concluded the scene in my last post, so I took a hammer to that and continued it.
Also featuring: PUMPKIN.
Nicky grabbed Caleb’s other arm in turn. Their initial motive of continuing the search party was still in both Stephanie and Nicky’s minds, but at this point it was like trying to read someone’s driver’s license from 60 paces. They knew something was there, and the general shape, but no detail was visible except for ‘continue into the forest’, so that is what they did with their friend-turned prisoner, Caleb.
“I am both very drunk and very absolutely serious,” Caleb shouted. “I started this dumb dumb stupid stupid internship thinking it would just be an internship but that asshole Patrick has kidnapped me and I think he knows magic.”
Stephanie dropped her hold and stared blankly at Caleb. The part of her that had worked at CPS for a single week in 2013 before being fired felt for him. A larger part of her head told her that Caleb was drunk and full of shit; however, that part of her head was also drunk and full of shit, and the CPS part of her head had emotional trump power. So after all the math was done, Stephanie felt sympathy for Caleb.
Nicky also felt sympathy, but not of her own accord. She was in that susceptible state of cross fadedness where she was too numb to feel anything independently and just sort of mirrored the energy of the room, or in this case, energy of the cold dark mysterious forest.
Robin did not feel sympathy because Caleb was a stupid dumb human, and stupid dumb humans receive absolutely no sympathy from spirits like Robin. The one exception of course being Jesus Christ. Although long gone, Robin still had a soft spot for that man.
“Come again?” said Stephanie.
This statement was not a rhetorical exclamation. Stephanie had legitimately forgotten what Caleb had said. Her sympathy and emotional demeanor had stuck around, but the stimulus that had brought it about was completely gone.
Caleb launched into a lengthy explanation of what had happened; how he had responded to an internship listing on craigslist that looked more like a data harvesting scam from a non-native English speaker who had never used craigslist before than an actual internship; how he had been contacted by Patrick and it actually wasn’t a data harvesting scam; how Patrick had offered room, board, and a stipend to do that internship which had made it so appealing; how on day one Patrick beat him over the head with a stick and chained him in the grotto; how on day two Patrick tried to get him to start a website by giving him a laptop and absolutely no internet connection; how Caleb had to reluctantly teach Patrick about establishing an internet connection in the forest; how Caleb had tried to get the TDS person to help him but the TDS person did absolutely nothing because that’s just how TDS people work; how he would regularly wake up in random places in the forest with absolutely no clue how he had gotten there with large sections of his memory blacked out; and how he, on more than one occasion, seen Patrick and Robin use magic when they didn’t know that he was looking.
As previously, and repeatedly established, Stephanie and Nicky were incredibly crossfaded, so they picked up maybe twenty percent of what Caleb had said. Maybe thirty if we’re being generous. That much as an average, with Stephanie picking up considerably more than Nicky.
“So you’re telling me that you were kidnapped, but you have an internet connection,” Stephanie said, squinting a little. “And you haven’t like, tweeted for help or something?”
“I really need the internship credit,” said Caleb. “Also, after my stint with the TDS guy, Patrick made me sign an agreement that said I would carry out the three-month internship or else he had the right to murder me on the spot. Which I don’t doubt he’d do.”
“Well shit,” Stephanie said. “So what’s the plan then?”
“I mean, I don’t see any other way out than to kill Patrick,” Caleb said. “
Stephanie sighed a big sigh. She had put her killing days behind her.
“Maybe we could brainstorm other options?” Stephanie said.
“Every time I’ve tried to run away, I black out and I’m back in that stupid grotto. Frankly, I’m amazed that that hasn’t happened yet,” Caleb said. “I really don’t see a way where I get out of this forest unless I’m dead or he’s dead.”
“I mean, it’s just really late,” said Nicky, experiencing a sober moment after hearing the word ‘kill’. “And all of us are cold. Why don’t we save the killing until it’s a little bit warmer and everyone’s a little bit more sober, eh?”
“Plus, if you want to do it right, there’s no way we’d get it done out here. We don’t have the supplies, knowledge of the territory, alibis, an escape route. And might I mention that there are at least six more people wandering through this forest, completely unaccounted for, not including the other guests at this festival which is alarmingly quiet an empty,” Stephanie said.
“All we have to do is steal his magic books,” Caleb said.
Stephanie squinted even harder. He was back on the magic stuff, which the more he mentioned, the crazier it sounded, but also the more she wanted it to be true because that would be cool, but she also didn’t want it to be true because that would be frightening. She was of many minds. Cross fading did that too her. She really needed to break the habit.
“And then he’s dead?” Stephanie asked. “Because I am more than happy to help you steal a book. Let’s get right on that. Book stealing is my go-to activity. They used to call me the book thief in college before that stupid book came out in 2005 and redefined the common definition of that title in the public zeitgeist.”
Nicky was slightly more skeptical. She worried that Patrick just kept like, a lot of heavy hard cover books, and that Caleb wanted to whack Patrick over the head with one of the biggest ones like that one time Nicky was on a really bad date at a coffee shop with a bookshelf that wasn’t going so well, and she couldn’t think of a good excuse to get out of there.
“He’s always going back to those books,” Caleb said. “If we control the books, we control him.”
There is no way in hell you can verify that information, but if it doesn’t involve hiding a dead body, I support it, Stephanie thought. I really hope we don’t end up whacking someone in the head, Nicky thought. This better get me out of this god forsaken forest, Caleb thought.
And without speaking a word, the three left. The blanket laid in the clearing abandoned.
Well this won’t do, thought Robin. This won’t do at all.
“Do you think Patrick will still let us perform if we kill him?” Nicky chuckled, doubling over with giggles.
“Oh my god,” Stephanie replied, shocked. “We put in all that work, and we’re not gonna get to perform. And to think I’ve been method this whole time…”
Robin swooped down, waved their hands, and transformed Nicky’s head into a giant pumpkin. Not a regular sized pumpkin that one might carve for Halloween, and not ‘Cinderella’s carriage’ sized pumpkin, but still a really big pumpkin. A pumpkin that would definitely take more than one person to pick it up. Being Nicky’s head, however, it didn’t carry that same weight. Robin knew better than to kill Nicky. The pumpkin was the same weight as Nicky’s former head, which was now a very large pumpkin. It was also her face. Her eyes and mouth and nose and ears still remained like a Mr. Potato Head doll, except the were fitted into the body of the pumpkin like those body parts in a real person’s head, and not sitting slightly outside like that of the doll.
“Oh fuck,” Stephanie said, her eyes widening.
She said this as Nicky’s head transformed, it was not an immediate transformation. It was a slow burn over maybe a minute or so. Like Violet Beauregard, but just the head, and more orange.
Stephanie’s mind began racing back and forth between ‘I must have hit the blunt too hard’ and ‘But weed doesn’t make me hallucinate’ with occasional stops at ‘where did I get that blunt and did somebody cut it with something sketchy’. She resolved that no dealer in their right mind would cut her weed with free hallucinogens and came to the conclusion that Nicky’s head was indeed transforming into a pumpkin before their very eyes, which is when she started screaming.
Stephanie screamed a deep guttural scream. A wild, uninhibited, ‘repeated every time she exhaled’ scream that would have seriously concerned other festival goers had there been any in earshot or any to begin with.
“Pumpkin!” she screamed, stepping back. “Pumpkin! Ah! Pumpkin!”
Caleb too was going through it, but in a different way. This was a sight of validation. He was not crazy. He was inebriated, but he was not wrong in what he had seen Patrick and Robin and Maria doing. There was indeed magic in this forest. It was still horrific to see somebody’s head balloon up—correction, pumpkin up—into a giant pumpkin, so he too began screaming, though his screams were a bit more tired than Stephanie’s.
“Pumpkin head!” Caleb screamed. “Pumpkin head!”
It should be noted that while Nicky’s head grew three fold, the features of her face did not shift drastically, so she was unaware of any transformation happening. She was, however, aware that Stephanie and Caleb had started to scream bout pumpkins, which was not something in the real of expectation. The screams were sobering enough to strike fear in Nicky, but not sobering enough for her to come to terms with the fact that her head had turned into a giant pumpkin. She screamed sympathetically back at the two, which only frightened them more, because the sight of a giant pumpkin head screaming at you is even more terrifying than just seeing a giant pumpkin head.
Stephanie grabbed Caleb’s hand; Caleb grabbed Stephanie’s hand, and the two booked it. They absolutely sprinted. They didn’t zoom as fast as Robin had zoomed earlier, but they were definitely zooming at high speeds for humans. Not like, record high speeds of a human in competition, neither of them were at Usain Bolt levels of zoom, but like, top speed for both of their athletic abilities. They continued their screams of pumpkins as they ran.
Nicky tried to continue after them, another horrifying sight to be seen, but was physically unable. The section of the forest that they had disappeared into had very tight tree coverage, which is to say, was not pumpkin-head-accessible. As she slammed into the trees, Nicky winced. Her pumpkin head was a pumpkin, but it still felt pain. The pain, was surreal to Nicky. It felt much, much further away from her body than any pain she had felt in the past. She slowly reached up and touched the rind of her now giant pumpkin head. It was cold. It was orange. And it was pumpkiny.
Then it was Nicky’s turn to scream. Nicky screamed the scream one screams when one’s head has been turned into a giant pumpkin. Nicky screamed the scream one screams when one has been abandoned by one’s friends after one’s head has been turned into a pumpkin. Nicky screamed the screams of someone cold, afraid, alone, and apumpkin.
All the while, Robin floated above, chuckling with glee at their doings. This was their first pumpkin transfiguration, so they were excited that it had executed properly. There was also much joy to be had when watching distressed humans. Oh those humans, always so dumb, and so very distressed. The screaming also provided a wonderful layer of audio cover, allowing Robin to laugh and laugh and laugh without any restraint.
Once Robin had finished their laugh, they looked down at Nicky, still screaming. Quieter though. The scream of someone who has been screaming for at least 2 minutes, and is definitely still terrified, but too exhausted to scream at a true ten out of ten. Maybe a six out of ten, and dropping quickly.
They’ve got to be a good distance away now, Robin thought, and they waved their hands once more. Nicky’s head transformed back into a human head in an instant.
Nicky grasped her head with frightened hands, feeling her cold, but thankfully not pumpkiny skin. She pinched it. She felt pain from the pinch, but she felt pleasure in feeling the skin fold over itself in a pinchable way, something one wouldn’t have been able to accomplish with a pumpkin of a great size. You try pinching a pumpkin; it doesn’t really work.
She let her breath slow down until it returned to something adjacent to normal. They had been hiking, so she couldn’t say that her breath was at a truly normal pace, but it wasn’t ‘head is a pumpkin and I’m screaming’ pace.
Screaming, pumpkin, and darkness aside, Nicky had still picked up on the fact that Stephanie and Caleb had run away. She didn’t entirely blame them. What had just happened was super spooky. It did mean, however, that she now had to add ‘find Stephanie and Caleb’ onto her list of things to do that night, which already had ‘find Al and Heidi and the kids’ and most recently ‘maybe steal a book?’ on it.
Understanding her limitations in sight, Nicky closed her eyes and listened. She listened, she smelled, and she did not taste, because that’s not the greatest tracking sense. She smelled for smoke, but was obscured by her own stench. She listened for the sound of screaming in the distance, but it had subsided. But she did hear the sounds of splashing water relatively near, so she pursued.