Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Pumpkins Know All the Secrets l 2 - Afterlife

There was a fleeting moment of eternal blackness in a void filled with an ancient and endless nothing...and then for the second time that day, Linden found himself staring up into the face of a total stranger.

“NORA!” the face shrieked at the top of its lungs. It was a mask of all consuming terror, red and flustered and streaked with twin deltas of tears that cascaded down her cheeks like swollen waterfalls. “SHE’S WAKING UP. WAIT.”

Linden had been mentally prepared to shake the hand of Saint Peter following his encounter with Meredith, and to say he was taken aback was an understatement. Flinching hard enough to elicit an angry twinge of protest from his lower back, he literally fell over as he attempted to scramble away from this new threat to his sanity and went sprawling across the tiled floor. He thought his heart might burst out of sheer fright. What the hell just happened?

The only warning he had of his next trial was a faint tickle at the back of his throat; moments later, Linden found himself uncontrollably coughing and spluttering as he vomited up gallon after gallon of what looked to be nothing more than plain water all over the floor and the petrified lady beside him. For a brief second, he thought he might suffocate in the process, and his terror reached new heights. Wouldn't that be the most bitter of ironies - to survive a monster car crash only to drown literally seconds later? 

"Rose?" A new voice called from somewhere distant. "What's happening?" 

"Get in here!" the hysterical lady shrieked without elaboration.  

His lungs seemed bottomless, and it was a long, frightening few seconds before he realised the amount of water he was spewing with each outburst was gradually diminishing. It finally tapered off to nothing more than dry retching, and too stunned to do anything else, Linden simply lay on his back and analysed the scene. What else could he do?

Before he had moved, he’d apparently been lying flat on the floor with his head in the lap of his traumatised companion, who was still sitting cross legged on the floor of what looked like a bathroom. She was fair skinned with a luscious mane of brunette hair that gave her the distinct appearance of a teddy bear, something that was complimented by the chubbiness of both her gut and face. She was clad in paint-stained overalls. Fluorescent lights hung from a ceiling that appeared impossibly far away, illuminating a basin and mirror to his left and a bathtub immediately before him. A naked, olive-skinned boy who couldn't be any older than four was peering over the lip of the bath with huge, fearful eyes. Linden noted without much interest that his small flop of hair was still slick with shampoo.

It was, by all appearances, a standard family bathroom. What it wasn't was enlightening. Was this Heaven? Hell? He'd even settle for limbo right now, if it was an answer. He looked around with slack-jawed wonder as he tried to piece together the pieces of the puzzle he'd been presented with. There was something eerily normal about this situation that seemed to imply it was none of the above. It was just too...well, normal.

Was that a good thing?

It took him a moment longer to notice the sheer scale of everything. The basin was miles above his head and the bath would probably be about level with him too, if he was standing. The crying woman was just as enormous, to the point where he was sure that he'd be lucky to stand eye-to-knee with her. Was everyone in the afterlife monstrously tall? Was that the way this worked?

“Sweetie, stay still!” the lady in question gasped. There was definitely relief in that voice, but nonetheless she was still frazzled beyond frazzlement. Enormous hands gripped him by the forearm and dragged him back into her lap, leaving his head exactly where it had started. “Stay right there, ok?”

She was waiting for an answer, but Linden wasn’t paying attention. Her hands. Her hands. Holy mother of God, her hands were enormous. How was that…

The answer is to shove Person B into Person A’s body, the voice of Meredith Grim cackled distantly from the recesses of his memory. That way, Fate is perfectly happy. Hopefully. In theory.

“Holly? Answer me! Holly!”


No. No way.

He looked down at himself and saw a dark-skinned child as young and naked as the boy in the tub...and not only that, this child was distinctly female. That most certainly was not his best friend there between his legs.

Never one for in depth or overly articulate conversation, Linden’s immediate reaction consisted of just one short word.


Realisation finally exploded from there: Meredith had put him in someone else’s body. 

A little girl's, to be precise.

I didn’t imagine it, his inner voice exploded incredulously.  Meredith Grim was there, holy fucking Christ, she was really there and she really did…what did she call it? Move me along?

It was all crystal clear. This little girl was never meant to die, but Meredith had moved her along by mistake. He was filling the void where this little girl’s soul was meant to be with his own.

He looked again. His body was only just beginning to lose the last traces of baby fat, and as such there were still traces of pudge lining his tummy, arms and legs – and on top of that, it was all a glistening shade of ebony, although the shininess could be attributed to the fact that he was apparently dripping wet. It was a stupid thing to be mesmerised by (you would think the inversion of his unspeakables would be more noteworthy, wouldn’t you?), but as a native resident of the Australian west coast, seeing his skin so much darker was like seeing the negative of a well-loved photograph. The inversion of his best friend would dawn on him later; right now, it was the darkening of his flesh that captivated him. He was beautiful...and yet, this wasn’t him.

“I think she’s in shock.”

Really? I’m black, I'm a chick, I'm a little kid...and you think I might be in shock?

The voice cut through his internal monologue, though, and he (she? Was he a she now?) was abruptly jolted back to reality. Overall Lady was stroking his cheek, watching him intently; she still looked concerned, but the waterworks had stopped and her breathing had stabilised to something resembling normal. Beside her, another woman had materialised from nowhere – this one was thin where the first was plump and calm where the other was falling apart at the seams. She was a narrow, bony woman dressed in a boring business suit with smoky, raven-hue hair pulled up into a tidy bun. Her face was white and bloodless except for two spots burning high up on her even-higher cheekbones.

Linden’s first impression was that she looked like an absolute bitch and an incredibly weird choice of companion for someone who looked like a kindergarten teacher, but even with the miles between her face and the floor, Linden could see that this lady was as stressed about his apparent lack of wellbeing as the first.

Business Lady knelt down so she was only inches from his face. He stared, not sure what to say. He’d calmed down immediately after realising exactly what was going on (what else could he do, after all?), and he was now considering the best way to tell a total stranger that their daughter was dead. How did one go about doing that? I’m sorry, but your daughter is dead…funny story about that! I’m actually a Commerce student, in my twenties, and if I could I'd love to introduce you to my best friend. Surprise!

“Holly, answer us,” Business Lady said softly. Worried. Her voice was soft, but an undercurrent fear run beneath it, only barely hidden by the educated, delicate lilt of the surface. “Please. Are you ok?”

“We should call an ambulance anyway,” Overall Lady moaned miserably. “We almost lost her, Nora, I’m sure of it. Her pulse just vanished, it stopped. She was so cold and…and...”

Tears began to leak down her rosy cheeks yet again.

Enough was enough; it was time to put an end to this ridiculously over-dramatic scene. Holly may have had a near death experience (which for the actual Holly ended up being a little closer than just ‘near’), but here in her body it was just that. Near. He felt fine enough, although he was beginning to notice a throbbing pain on his forehead, and had Meredith not messed up as badly as she had, Holly would probably more or less fine too. In that moment, he decided that the time to tell them that he wasn’t actually their daughter was almost definitely not right now. He thought Overall Lady might have an aneurysm if he brought the afterlife and body swapping and Meredith Grim into it.

This couldn’t go on, though.

“I’m fine,” he squeaked, and yes, it was quite literally a squeak. His voice was as feminine as his body suggested; cute and innocent and unbelievably youthful. He barely stopped himself flinching at the sound. Shaking it off, he said, “I’m fine. You don’t need to call an ambulance!”

The reaction was instant and almost comical –Business Lady let out a dramatic sigh of relief that she probably hadn’t realised she was withholding, and Overall Lady abruptly burst into tears and pulled him into to her chest. Her grip was so tight he feared he might end up dying after all.

How in the hell are you going to tell them their daughter really is dead, he grimly thought to himself. His world went black as he was crushed inside her meaty embrace. It’s bad enough telling them you’re alive. You’re going to break their heart telling them she’s dead.

Business Lady waved her extended index finger in front of Linden’s face. “Follow my finger. Focus on it.”

He did.

“What’s your name? What day is it?”

What did they call her before? “Holly, and it’s...Saturday...?”

“I don’t think she has a concussion,” Business Lady sighed. She eyed his face carefully and then mystified Linden by fixing her gaze on his hairline. Something there was apparently intriguing to look at. “Not that I’m a doctor, but other than the obvious, she looks ok...”

“We should call an ambulance anyway,” Overall Lady said. She unclenched her death-grip on her 'daughter' and sat him down in her lap, looping her arms around his waist. She hugged ‘Holly’ against her as if she may very well drop dead yet again if she didn’t. Linden shifted uncomfortably. He was still naked, after all. It had been easy enough to ignore whilst he was puzzling things out, but now that that was out of the way, he could dedicate some brain power to the fact he was sitting naked in a stranger's lap. Not particularly pleasant. “Or go to the ER, at the very least.”

She paused, but Business Lady didn’t answer. Overall Lady shook her head dramatically. “She died, Nora. She died. I know it.”

But Business Lady – Nora – was shaking her own. “Rose, she’s awake, and getting an ambulance out here isn’t cheap,” she said in a soft, strained voice. She didn’t sound certain of herself. “We’d be waiting for hours if we go to the ER just to get turned away by some witch doctor telling us she’s fine. Look at her! She hit her head and took in a bit of water, but she’s awake now, isn’t she?”

“I am!” Linden chirped up. He looked around and put on his best I’m-the-cutest-fucking-thing-on-the-face-of-the-planet-and-you’re-going-to-buy-me-my-newest-dollie smile. “I’m fine! Look!”

He wriggled free of Overall Lady’s (what had the other woman called her? Rose?) arms and jumped to his feet, eliciting a startled gasp from her and a small smile from Nora. “See!”

Nora began to laugh. “I see you, pumpkin,” she said with some amusement. “Mama sees.” She turned her attention back to Rose. “Calm down, she’s ok. Could a dead girl do that?”

“Well. No,” was the response, followed by a blush. That, in turn, was followed by the surprisingly annoyed retort of “Mama might see this, but Mommy saw a…a not-so-ripe pumpkin, ok?”

She gave Nora a rather pointed glare, and although the point may have sailed right over Holly’s head, Linden got it just fine. Mind your words, use you fucking head, and don’t scare her with stupid, careless comments!

Which was actually hilarious when you stopped and considered that she’d been the one ranting about how her daughter was dead only a moment ago. He also caught the interplay with the ‘Mama’ and ‘Mommy’ terminology and suddenly realised that these two were a couple – and not only that,  parents too. Adoptive parents of twins, by the looks of it. 

“You weren’t here,” Rose muttered darkly. “You weren’t here, but I was, and I saw it. I saw it.”

Her partner wasn't hearing a word of it. "I really don’t think an ambulance is necessary,” Nora insisted wearily. She began to rub her temples, all the while giving the small girl in front of her a reassuring smile. He gave her a shit-eating one right back. She was going to win. He could tell. “If we get up tomorrow morning and she’s taken a turn for the worse, we’ll get her straight to the ER, ok? Look at her! She’s fine!”

“Nora, she almost fucking drowned,” Rose snapped, her previous warning forgotten already. Linden watched with some amusement. This lady cared, by God did she care, but she was also the mother of all hypocrites. She pulled Linden back into her arms and smothered him yet again. “She almost cracked her skull open on the side of the fucking bath and she almost drowned. She could have a concussion, you're right, you're not a doctor. We need to get someone here right fucking now or Nora, I swear – ”

What she was about to or not about to swear would forever remain a mystery, because at that moment the little boy in the bath, who everyone had forgotten about in the heat of the moment, began to wail. He’d seen his twin sister slip and crack her head on the side of the bath, and that had been traumatising enough. Now his parents were going to start screaming at each other? It was the final straw for the poor child, and his wailing reached its peak instantly and mercilessly stayed right there. He began to shriek and bawl like he’d seen death itself (and in a way, Linden thought, he kind of had), and had he screamed just slightly higher and hit that high C instead of the high Ab, the windows above the bath would have surely shattered. He began to kick and scream and go absolutely ballistic before any of the others could so much as blink.

“Later,” Nora said through pursed lips, wincing at the sudden noise. She gave Linden one last look before hurrying over to her son. “Dry her off, get her ready for bed, and then damn it Rose put her to bed.”

“Nora, I swear to fucking God – ”

Her lover was pulling the boy out of the bath, and totally unmindful of the fact he was dripping wet, hugged him tight against her chest while patting his back and bouncing him up and down a little in an attempt to calm him. “If she’s not well tomorrow, we’ll get someone to look at her,” she repeated. “She’s up and dancing, for Christ’s sake. Not one tear. How long was she out? A minute? Rose, I love you to death, but you’re stress is going to kill the both of us sooner than later. Get her an icepack for the head, put her to bed, and calm the fuck down. You’re over reacting.”

Rose hesitated, but Linden could feel the tension sapping from her arms. It was over. “First thing, tomorrow morning,” she said flatly. Angrily. “If she so much as throws up, I’m going to hold you responsible. Got it?”

"Fine. Whatever."

And that was that.

A tense silence descended over the group from that point; both of the adults took a towel in hand and began to dry a child each. Rose fussed away over Linden, asking over and over if he felt dizzy or faint. He answered negative each and every time, suddenly finding his new body more engrossing now that the drama had been diffused. How could he possibly be so small? He felt positively tiny as she lifted his arms and ran an enormous towel over his ribs, then down his back and finally between his legs. He guessed that he should be embarrassed to have someone manhandle him like this with such little regard for his privacy, but he just couldn’t manage. It was the alienness of the body, he supposed. It didn’t feel like it belonged to him, like Rose was towelling him down. Who cared if some little girl suffered the indignity of having their parent dry them off after a bath? It was nothing of note whatsoever, and it wasn’t happening to his body.

They finished before Nora and the still-nameless little boy did, and before he could protest Rose had hoisted Linden into the air and set him down, still naked, on her hip. He gave a little squeal of fright as she left the room without a further word to her partner, winding her way down a short hallway to who knew where. God, he was so high up! He found himself peering down at the floor from what seemed a million miles up, like he was peering down at the streets below a city skyscraper. It was frightening – what if Rose dropped him?

Of course, she didn’t, and the ride came to an abrupt stop a moment later. She opened a tiny room, barely bigger than a broom closet, and adjusted her grip on her daughter in preparation to move her. Curious, Linden peered inside. It was the toilet, and the room was empty except for the porcelain throne itself. The seat was down, and beneath that was a toddler’s plastic training seat. The walls around it were decorated with cartoony sea-life prints, stretching from floor to ceiling.

With a small grunt of exertion, Rose lifted Linden off her hip and sat him down on the seat. “Can you go potty for me, sweetie?” she said wearily. She absently scratched at her face with one hand while reaching forward with the other to unroll and bunch a long strip of toilet paper. “Then we’ll get you to bed and that’s the day done.”

Wait, she…she wants me to…


And the day gets better and better!

He gaped up at the lady in overalls, who simply looked back expectantly. Rose looked exhausted and unquestionably over-stressed, but at the same time she clearly wasn’t about to take no for an answer. She couldn’t see anything wrong with this scenario, of course she couldn’t – this must be a daily thing in the life of Rose and Holly. To the adult in little Holly’s head though, this was horrific. He was not about to go potty in front of a total stranger, thank you very much!

He couldn’t. Could he?

Um. No. Excuse me, I most certainly can not.

But he most certainly could so…or at least, Holly could. He was getting ready to tell his new Mommy that she could shove that toilet paper where the sun don’t shine (which she’s clearly intending to do anyway, he lamented to himself), when he suddenly realised he was peeing. He hadn’t instigated it, but he was peeing. He wouldn’t have even realised if the gentle tinkling hadn’t alerted him. The crystalline noise seemed impossibly loud to him, reverberating around the room like it was an enormous cavern that wound deep into the bowels of the earth rather than a shoebox. He squeaked in surprise, in shame, feeling his cheeks go red, and he tried to squeeze his tiny legs together to stop it coming.

No luck.

He died a little inside.

Maybe I did die for real, he thought to himself. Maybe this is Hell. Humiliated for all eternity.  

Of course, he hadn’t. But here, suffering through the most shameful moment of his entire life, it certainly felt like it.

For someone who had apparently inhaled bath water like it was oxygen, he was done remarkably fast. As the sound trickled off to a dull ‘plink’ of individual droplets, he made to reach for the toilet roll beside him, knowing it was probably a pointless gesture. He was more embarrassed than he could ever remember being, and he refused to let it get even worse. Rose had already made it clear that she was going to make exactly that happen, and if he didn’t beat her to the toilet paper, he was going to -

Too late. There she was.

He sat back and tried to block out what was happening. It hadn’t felt like his body when he was being dried off before, but this was far more invasive. This was humiliating.

“Good girl!” Rose praised, apparently oblivious to her ‘daughter’s’ internal turmoil. She pulled Linden to his feet, lifted the seat, threw the soiled toilet paper into the bowel and flushed it all away along with his pride and dignity. Once again, she lifted him up till he was at face height and kissed him on the nose. “You went potty like a big girl! Didn’t you? Didn’t you!”

He didn’t grace her with an answer. He glared at her, in fact. 

She didn’t seem to care, though, because without further comment he was placed on her hip yet again and whisked away further into the depths of the house. They emerged into what could only be the kids' bedroom. It was a small, rectangular room with a fluffy blue carpet and an impressive view over what must be the backyard. The far wall was dominated by an enormous window that overlooked an enormous swathe of shadowed garden, far below where they now stood. It told Linden two things; one, he was on the second floor of the house, and two, it was night. Apparently the body swap had also included jumping forward a few time zones.

On the left wall was a twin bunk bed, very clearly divided in half by gender expectations. The top bed reeked of little boyhood, complete with a blue racing-car print on the sheets and matching pillows, while the bottom was done in pink and purple, although this one was without any designs. The right wall was decorated with an elaborate art feature depicting a teddy bear, which held a cloud of balloons in his left hand and was waving with his right. Set between his legs was an enormous toy chest, overflowing with an assortment of toys and dolls and bears and everything a toddler could ever dream of.

It was an adorable room, and had Linden not been the one expected to live in it, he would have liked one of his own very much one day. A day after he found that perfect girl and had a child of his own.

God damn it, he wasn’t meant to be the child.

He glowered, and came incredibly close to telling the woman carrying him that he wasn’t her daughter. This was humiliating! She couldn’t expect him to actually sleep here, could she? It was one step removed from a nursery!

But he couldn’t bring himself to say a word. As frustrated and mortified as he was, it wouldn’t be fair.

Rose yet again failed to notice the growing frustration in her child. Linden chalked it up to still being frustrated with Nora, because he couldn’t see how it was possible for her to not see it. Her arm was stiff around his waist, and her lips were still as taut as a ship’s sails on a windy day. Her sing-song voice wasn’t fooling anyone. He found himself wondering if there were greater issues at play in this relationship than the one disagreement before. Surely she was over-reacting? 

“Time for beddy-bye, Holly-bear!” she intoned in that sickly sweet voice. There was enough sugar in that alone to give birth to the Powerpuff Girls ten times over. She flicked the lights on and carried him over to the bed, gently laying him on his back while keeping up a never ending murmur of all things sugar and spice and everything nice in his ear. 

“Now wait right here, pumpkin,” she said. “You know what time it is.”

She offered him one last, stiff smile and turned back to the door – beside it, Linden suddenly noticed a dresser, which his back had been to on the way in. She began to hum a nameless tune to herself as she rummaged through it, pulling out this and that and setting it all on the wooden top of the dresser. Mystified, he tried to catch a glimpse, but she was between him and whatever she was working with. What in the hell was she doing over there?

“Here we go!” Rose exclaimed in her falsely bright voice. She swept everything into her arms and turned around, and Linden immediately realised what she was holding and where this was going. He shrieked and crawled backwards in a vain retreat. She was NOT doing this to him. The Toilet Incident (which had already gained proper noun status in his mind) had been bad enough, but this…THIS.

Her facade of cheerfulness drooped a little. “Holly, we go through this every night,” she sighed. She placed her load on the bed beside Linden, who was trying to judge the distance between himself and the door. Could he get out before she caught him? He didn’t think so. “Rowan is a big boy and doesn’t need his protection anymore, but you still have trouble at night. When you manage to wake up dry for a week you can wear your big girl undies to bed, remember?”

She gestured over to the teddy bear on the far wall…no, to just beside the teddy bear. Horrified, Linden followed her arm, and saw she was pointing at what looked like a calendar hanging from the wall. The lighting wasn’t bright enough to see anything but shadowy smudges of darkness on its surface, but he didn’t need to see it know it was a potty training chart.

“You’ve gone three days without an accident,” Rose said. “Just a few more and you can wear your big girl undies all the time!”

“I’m not wearing those,” Linden moaned. He eyed the pile beside him. Why couldn’t Meredith have killed...well, someone who did get to wear their big girl undies to bed?

Rose sighed. “Holly, I know you’ve had a bad evening,” she said. “But so have I. I don’t have time for this, ok? Be a good girl for Mommy and let me get you ready for bed.”

“But – ”

“The only butt is yours in this diaper,” she said firmly. She unfolded the disposable diaper she'd retrieved, and lo and behold, it was everything he feared it would be. Crinkling plastic. A demented, grinning picture of Elmo. Infancy incarnate. She placed it flat on the bed and gave him a pointed stare. “Come on. Now.”

What choice did he have? If he wasn’t going to tell her that Holly was dead, how could he refuse to wear this?

Besides, Rose had already flushed his pride down the toilet. What did he have left to lose?

It was over pretty quickly. He reluctantly crawled over, and she did her thing. He tried not to think about the feeling of her hands between his legs, even when she rubbed the powder into his newly-acquired unspeakable, and by the time he’d counted the twenty fifth sheep disappearing through the front door of the slaughterhouse he was diapered for the first time since he really had been a baby. He looked down at the padded undergarment, studying it in all of its horrific glory. Elmo stared right back.

“There we go,” Rose said. A look of intense sadness caressed her face. “There. You smell all cute and lovable now, pumpkin.”

And he did. He smelt like baby powder.

Rose grabbed a few more things from her pile, and for the first time Linden realised she’d grabbed proper pyjamas while she’d been at the dresser along with the diapering materials. He’d been too preoccupied with the diaper to notice the purple nightie until it was being pulled over his head. He shuddered as his vision went frilly and mauve; he felt like crying when it cleared and he could actually see what he was wearing. Jesus. He was a grown man.

“And now you look cute and lovable, too,” Rose said gently. She pulled back the covers of the bed, waiting for Linden to crawl under them (which he did reluctantly after a moment’s hesitation, crinkling all the while), then tucked him and kissed his cheek.

“I’ll be right back,” she said. “Don’t move, ok? I’ll go get you an icepack for that egg on your head.”

He nodded listlessly, but the light bulb went on above his head. At least he now knew what had fascinated Nora before now. Holly hadn’t escaped unscathed after all.

She disappeared for only minute, returning with the pack far faster than he’d expected. She placed it against his forehead, and he hissed through clenched teeth as she did so. That was cold.

“I want you to leave it there, ok?” Rose said gently. “When you’re ready to sleep, just throw it on the floor and I’ll collect it in the morning.”

He nodded yet again.

“If you need anything at all during the night,” she continued. “Anything. Even if you feel just a little dizzy, come and get Mama or me, ok pumpkin? No matter what time it is.”

She hesitated. “I still think we should take you to the ER,” she reluctantly admitted. She began to stroke her daughter’s hair, not noticing the look of sheer awkwardness that crossed Linden’s face as she did so. “Are you sure you’re ok, honey? Absolutely positive? Because if you’re not, we can – ”

“I’m fine,” he interrupted with his chipmunk voice. He needed time alone to work out how to proceed. He didn’t need to be smothered while he did so. “I just want to sleep.”

Rose paused yet again, and for a frustratingly long moment he thought she was going to insist, no, she would dial triple zero…but at last she gave in. He could actually pinpoint the moment the internal struggle ceased.

“Ok,” Rose sighed. She gave him one last, hard look, before kissing him again. “Get some sleep, pumpkin,” she said. “And remember – come and see me if you need to.”

He nodded.

His newly-acquired mother smiled a wet smile. “Sleep well,” she said. “And don’t let the bed bugs bite!”

She tickled her daughter, earning an indignant squeal of automatic laughter, and then Linden was alone at last.

He lay in bed awake a long, long time after Nora put Rowan to bed above him and checked up on him one last time. She went through the same routine as Rose before vanishing and leaving him alone with the little boy above him. Thankfully, the kid had evidently exhausted all his energy screaming before. He’d been afraid the boy would try to talk to him, but he was out like a light by the time Nora had closed the curtains, flicked off the lights and shut the door.

What in the hell am I meant to do now? He thought restlessly. He was four years old, diapered, and God knows where on the face of the planet. He had absolutely no idea how to proceed from here, and really, who would? It was an absolutely ridiculous situation. Should I tell them everything and get them to help me?

And break their hearts in the process? Was the cynical retort from inside his head.

Is that my problem?

He had no idea, and he spent many, many hours tossing and turning while debating exactly that question. It wasn’t until the orange and pink rays of dawn began to creep under the curtains that he finally drifted off to a shallow, troubled sleep.

In his dreams, Meredith Grim stared down at him from where he lay in the middle of the intersection. She never actually said anything – she just laughed and laughed and laughed until his broken, real body began to scream.

And scream.

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