Nothing seems to be following you as you duck under a thick rope meant to keep people out, though you do have your eyes scanning about, hunting for any signs of moving shadows or sudden monsters. It’s thanks to that alertness that you notice a sign for the Occult section and quickly steer Sheryl and yourself into this new area of the library. The place is musty and the tomes are large, perhaps out of a desire to create ambiance or maybe because people don’t peruse this section all that much. And why would they? Everyone knows magic, like all things supernatural, isn’t real. Or at least, it isn’t supposed to be.
“Slow down for a second, I need to get my bearings if you want me to try and figure out where the exit might be.” Sheryl sets her feet, halting the both of you, and starts looking around the room. “Help me out here, check for any halls that make sharp turns to the south. Those are going to be our best bet.”
You comply, because it’s not like you’ve got any better ideas at the moment. Granted, your version of searching involves more frantic, darting glances to the ceilings and walls in case anything tries to sneak up on you, but you’re also looking for halls in the process. It’s not a hall that catches your attention, however, nor is it another monster. No, it’s a book on a nearby shelf, pulled out just the slightest bit from its brethren so it stands out. On it’s spine there is no title or author, only a single image etched into the leather.
The image of a Jack-o-lantern.
Before you even realize your hand is moving, you’ve snatched the book off the shelf and dropped into a nearby chair. You don’t even know what you’re hoping for, which is sort of a theme of your life when you get down to it, but your fingers are a blur as you turn page after page, waiting for something to leap out at you. And holy shit, do you ever find it.
“The Lady of Autumn.” You don’t mean to say the words out loud, they just sort of slip out. Sheryl walks over from the other side of the room to stare down over your shoulder. On the page is an illustration of a woman cloaked in shadow, wide hat and billowing gown hiding all but the barest glint of a dangerous smile. She’s surrounded by pumpkins… make that jack-o-lanterns, now that you look more closely. The moon above her is full and bright as her outstretched hand seems to beckon you into the page.
“Damn. I was not expecting your buddy to have based that webcomic on lore this obscure.” Sheryl leans in closer, studying the page. “I’m a big Halloween fan, and I’ve never heard of any of this stuff before. Halloween has High Families, and people with titles? After we get you to the hospital, I’m coming back and checking this book out.”
While Sheryl is rattling off facts that are somehow both foreign and familiar to you, your eyes keep scouring the page for something specific. There was a part of Jim’s comic that didn’t add up, even Sheryl noticed it and she doesn’t know the guy. A word he used, way beyond his altered mind’s vocabulary. It’s a straw, you know that as you grasp for it, but a straw is still something solid enough to put your hand on. Then, you see it. Down near the bottom of the page.
“It is said that the Lady of Autumn’s power is at its greatest on All Hallows Eve, and reaches its true zenith at midnight.” You start to reach for your busted phone out of habit, but Sheryl is quicker on the draw.
“Right now is about ten past eleven,” she tells you, reading from the bright screen. “Is Jim going to release a new comic when the time arrives or something? I have to admit, that’s some pretty clever marketing if so. Hiding a hiatus in a plot thread centering on lore almost nobody knows. That’s some Gravity Falls shit right there.”
“Jim doesn’t plan anything that far ahead. Jim can barely plan which shoe to put on next while already wearing one. This isn’t him.” No, it’s not is it? Save for scoring illegal substances, at which your old roommate was a damn wunderkind, Jim rarely put this much planning or forethought into anything. But someone did. One of you was crafty. Almost never fearful or panicked, always ten steps ahead, gliding over problems like she knew they couldn’t touch her. Your eyes are nearly burrowing into the picture on the page. Maybe you’re imagining it, or losing your mind, but the shadows don’t seem to be obscuring the Lady of Autumn’s face quite so well as they did before. And there’s something familiar to that grin.
Carefully, you hand the book over to Sheryl, taking a few steps away to get your bearings. The last bits of your screaming episode have begun to fade; you’re starting to think more clearly again. And the most obvious realization is that whatever is going on, you might not be able to get out of it. You tried that, you got decades away from this, only to be pulled back here. So if you can’t get out, then perhaps you’re better off going through.
“Sheryl, I’m not going to the hospital.” You sound uncharacteristically resolute in the declaration, good for you! Unfortunately, her eyes narrow as she looks up from the book, instantly weakening your resolve.
“Really? Because I just watched you suffer a migraine so awful you couldn’t stop screaming, so the hospital sure seems like where we need to be going.”
“It won’t help. Whatever is going on with me, I can’t keep running from it. I need to hit it head on. Until I get my memories back, I don’t think this is getting any better,” you tell her.
“That’s what we came here to do. But then the computer crashed and you had your freak-out, so unless you’ve got any fresh ideas I’m all out. We don’t know how to trigger your memories.”
Walking over to a desk lamp on one of the library’s tables, you flick a switch on, then off, several times. “Not true. We do know one way that has jogged my memories already.”
Credit where it’s due, Sheryl doesn’t need any more explanation than that. “Are you out of your fucking mind? You want to electrocute yourself again?”
“You don’t have to stay for this.”
“Oh eat a dick, like I’m going to let someone fry themselves and just go drink at a bar.” She takes a deep breath and steadies herself. “Look, why don’t we keep looking through these books. We’ve literally read a single page of this one and gotten good information. Or, if you insist on trying to roast yourself, at least let me hang around to cut the power if it looks like you’re in trouble.”
You’ve seen a determined stance like hers before (but where?) so you know she’s not going anywhere. Research or electrocution seem like your best options at the moment, which says a lot about how shitty this situation really is, but the clock to midnight is ticking down. No time to waste.