“Peace and stability are overrated.” You lift the pumpkin up, for the briefest moment considering dashing it on the ground. “But I think I’d like to carry what happened in here with me. It’s raised some questions I may never remember to ask otherwise.” Puckering your lips, you let out a quick gust of air. The candle inside the pumpkin dances briefly before sputtering out entirely.
Instantly, the sounds of flaming jack-o-lanterns doing battle with the hordes of shadows ceases. The shadows, along with most of the scenery, have grown murky and indistinct. The whole world is fading away. Or maybe you’re just fading from it. You like that second version better, it doesn’t come packaged with guilt over what’s happening to Sheryl and your bosses and coworkers, an entire world’s worth of people, based on your decision.
“Questions, you say?” Victoria has a quizzical look in her eyes, meanwhile Jim is trying to… huh, it’s hard to tell. He’s running along the ground, near where the fight was, sniffing… oh for heaven’s sake he’s trying to snort the shadows. This is why we pay more attention to Victoria, who is starting to speak again. “What sorts of questions?”
“It’s hard to put into words, everything is still jumbled up and half-fried with electricity. If I had to pick one though… Victoria, do you have the power to undo someone’s death? Not just raise them, but make it as if they never died in the first place?”
Victoria shakes her head slowly and solemnly. “I can cross between the veil of those who have departed and those who remain, and I can even bring a soul back with me when properly equipped, but what you are describing far transcends my ability. Even the head of the Willowbrook family would be unable to manage such a feat. Moving souls, repackaging them, that is the work of the arcane. What you’re describing demands the power to fracture the very nature of reality itself.”
“Great, so maybe I am crazy after all.”
“I never said that, and I never will.” Victoria reaches out and puts a gentle hand on your shoulder. “You misunderstand me, Merlin. I did not mean to imply that what you’ve described is impossible, only that the beings with the power to do it are much older and stronger than people like me. You’ve seen much, and unlike Jim you don’t run from the weight of what you’ve witnessed in mind-altering substances. Trust your judgement, if it says something is real, then believe that to be true.”
“Thanks,” you tell her. “But you’re wrong about Jim. He was like this before we started getting mixed up in crazy situations. The first day I met him he was setting up a hybrid growhouse/moonshine distillery.”
“How did that work out?”
“Well, there’s a reason we weren’t in the dorms when you met us,” you reply. Jim has given up on snorting shadows, not that there are really any to snort left. Everything around you looks like a painting that just had water tossed on before it was dry. Colors running together, bits and splotches are swirled about. Sometimes you’ll catch sight of something familiar, like your old apartments, or the break room at work. None of it should be there, but none of it should be in the first place. The wish is unraveling, and as it does you say a silent goodbye to the life you had here. For someone else, someone wiser, or more cautious, it would have been a good fit. But you’re unwilling to trade glimpses of the miraculous for a life free of unexpected peril. You can still remember bits of such a life with Sheryl, though they’re fading fast, and while you have to admit it was a good life, that doesn’t make it your life. No, you got mixed up with a human hurricane of drugs and chaos and formed a crush on a living avatar of Halloween. You’re not the kind of person who expects, or maybe even wants, to go out peacefully after a long life.
The colors have all blended together now, and as they do the world falls away to white, glaring emptiness. It’s so stark it hurts your eyes so you blink, and suddenly you’re back home. It looks a little different, though thankfully it seems Wilbur hasn’t let Jim completely destroy the place, but there’s no mistaking the familiar setting of your apartment living room. And there, sitting on the coffee table, is your jack-o-lantern, the last wisps of smoke already rising and fading from its candle.
“And we’re home.” Victoria lets out a big sigh before falling onto the couch with more grace than anyone really ought to be able to manage.
“Ahem… I believe that means it’s time to return something else to it’s rightful place.” Jim sticks out his hand, and seemingly from nowhere Victoria produces a plastic pumpkin-shaped pail. Only there’s no candy inside. What you can make out from the baggies on the top makes you realize the DEA and probably NASA would kill to bust the owner of such a stash, which Jim gleefully grabs before bolting to his room. “Be back in a jiffy!”
“What are the odds he remembers how to work a doorknob when he’s done?” You ask Victoria, taking a seat near, but not quite next to, her on the couch.
“Higher than they should be, the man has a talent for that, if such a thing can really be called a talent.” She pauses, paying you a careful glance. “How are you feeling, Merlin? The world we just left was a false one, but you still spent months there. I’d be surprised if there was nothing in it that you missed.”
“I’ll need a little time to sort out how much was real and how much was delusion, but being back where I belong helps. I already feel better.”
“Well, take as much time as you like, so long as it doesn’t exceed a single year,” Victoria says. “You’ll need to be in top form to repay your debt next Halloween.”
You don’t even have a chance to ask her what she means, the confusion on your face is so evident she explains without prompting.
“Did you think breaking into and disrupting another’s magic was easy? It took a great deal of effort and resources, ones which my family will expect to be compensated for. Don’t worry, there’s never a shortage of ways to earn your keep, especially with a family like the Willowbrooks.
Well, that’s going to be a big old sword hanging overhead for the next twelve months, but it’s not like you’re really surprised. You know what Victoria is, sort of, and how her world operates, and you still chose to come back with her. And honestly, she was probably going to get you mixed up in something anyway, so this doesn’t change much. For now, you’re home with your friends again, and you don’t have to do any shitty office work tomorrow. That’s not a bad outcome, all things considered.
“Happy Halloween, Victoria,” you tell her.
“Happy Halloween to you as well. For what it’s worth, I am glad you chose to return. This place wasn’t the same without you.”
Seeing as she’s probably about to follow that up with something creepy, we’ll cut it off right there, leaving with a nice moment for…