Decision Time: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 25, 2023
Everyone stared at the now empty chair – everyone save Wayne. He looked around at all of the faces with their mix of shock and fear, and he said, “So what are we going to do?”
His wife looked up at him. “Do?”
“About the pucks, of course! How we going to stop them?”
Kevin paced over and gently touched the chair where Harvey had sat. “Who says it’s our job to do anything about them?”
Getting frustrated, Wayne said, “Well, somebody has to.”
“But why us?” Wanda asked. “We didn’t ask for any of this. How is this our problem?”
Wayne stared at her. “It became our problem when they tried to kill me. I would think you –”
“That’s the reason to stay out of this!” Wanda answered. “Maybe if we mind our own business, they’ll find someone else to torment.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Sean said. The pookas choose a victim, and they hector that person ‘til they’re bored with ‘im. Or until he’s insane.” He stared at Wayne. “Or dead.”
“I don’t see a reason to let that happen,” Wayne answered. “They’ve tried to kill your wife twice! Are you with me?”
“She was collateral damage the second time,” Kevin said. “They weren’t specifically after her.”
“Like hell they weren’t!” Sean answered. “They was after all of us, ready to burn us or blast us or cut us down.”
Paula broke her silence. “So what do we do about it? You know the old tales. How does one stop up puca?”
Sean shook his head. “You don’t, I’m tellin’ ye, not in the old tales. They just… There was something about being as stubborn and bullheaded as them, just outlastin’ ‘em. But that was uncommon rare. In tale after tale, the pookas always win.”
Carol once again huddled near the fire. “There’s a ray of sunshine, Hubs.”
“But this is different,” Sean continued. “Wayne’s right about that. We’ve got his cognitive whatsit. He can see through their disguises and their games.”
“I can, too, a little,” Paula said. She explained her theory of broken Idea Filters. “It’s like noticing things and following through on them, not just blowing them off.”
Wayne nodded. “That’s a part of Cognitive Logic: noticing what you notice.”
Carol asked, “Can you teach us this?”
Wayne shook his head. How to teach someone without the necessary foundations in math and logic… “Not in a short time like this. I think Paula has as much to teach as I can at this moment. Pay attention to the little things, the possibilities.” But he knew there was more to it than that. “But also don’t let the little things lead you astray. It’s a complicated balancing act.”
Paula nodded. “It’s a game of What If where we’re playing offense and defense at the same time.”
“Why, though?” Kevin asked. “Why shouldn’t we just stay here in this… this sanctuary until they give up and go find someone else to bedevil?”
“Because it might not be sanctuary anymore,” Sean answered. He pointed at the empty chair. “This pooka made it safe for us. With him gone, how long can his protection last?”
Wanda answered, “Well, while it lasts, I’d rather stay here. Get some rest, take our time. Maybe think of a better answer.”
“We have our better answer,” Wayne said. “It’s in that message from Emil: He left us weapons in his trunk.”
“What kind of weapons could that be?” Kevin asked, looking not at Wayne but at Sean.
Sean shrugged. “I’m not knowin’. When me Grandda told his stories, nobody told me I was supposed to be takin’ notes.”
“Does it matter what kind?” Wayne asked. “It has to be better than nothing, which is what we have now.”
“Not nothin’,” Sean said as he rushed to the door.
Wayne looked up just in time to see Sean reaching for the hilt of the black sword. “No! That’s not safe!” But his warning was too late, and he cringed. It had taken half an hour for the numbness to leave Wayne’s hands after he drew the sword. Who knew what would happen to Sean? And without Harvey around to treat the cold, the sword could put Sean out of commission.
Then Wayne’s eyes grew wide. Sean picked up the longsword, swung it in a circle over his head, and brought it down hard on the carved wooden stair post. A big chunk of wood flew out of the round post as Sean lifted the blade. “Sweet!” he said. Then he looked at Wayne. “You were sayin’ something?”
Wayne’s jaw dropped. Cognitive logic didn’t cover magic swords.
Or did it? Sean came from Ireland. He had some deeply buried beliefs that these legends were true, beliefs forged in a child’s rapt attention to his Grandda’s stories. Wayne tried to work the proofs in his head. Maybe that belief gave Sean power over the puck’s sword.
And if that was the case… “Never mind. You’re right, we’ve – you’ve got the sword. That could prove useful.” Better not to question the man’s beliefs. The Centipedes Dilemma was a perfect equation in Cognitive Logic, and he didn’t want to break Sean’s spell.
Instead Wayne turned back to the others. “So we’ve got two weapons: my mathematics, and Sean’s sword.”
“And my broken Idea Filter,” Paula added. “And probably Carol’s and Kevin’s.”
Kevin frowned. “I wish you could just leave me out of it.”
“Not a chance, Kevin,” Paula answered. “You’re important to us. You found Emil’s message.”
“Isn’t that enough?”
“There’s safety in numbers,” Wayne answered. “We need you.” He looked at his wife. “And you, Hon. For medical aid if for no other reason.”
Wanda scowled. “Great. I’m the healer.”
That drew a laugh. Apparently they were all gamers. It lightened the mood just a little bit, and Wayne decided to take advantage of that. “And one more thing: Harvey said that taking direct action would tire the pucks. That’s what the devil told me as well. Right now may be the only safe window we have to take action: to get to Emil’s Comet, find his weapons, and put them to use.” He looked around. Their faces had showed new concern, so he pressed forward before they could waver. “If we don’t go now, we may not get another chance.”
They gathered at the front door, Wanda in the lead. She was an experienced EMT driver, and could drive fast and recklessly without putting them all at risk. They would all go in the van,. Wayne’s talk had planted an unspoken assumption: they were all in this together, and it wasn’t wise to separate now.
Wayne stood right behind Wanda, ready to race to the van as fast as his crutches would take him. He had to ride shotgun because there was more room for his crutches there, and because it was the only seat he could easily climb into. Because it would take him more time to reach the van, they agreed that he should head out right behind Wanda.
Carol and Sean came behind him, with Carol still moving slowly, but improving. Sean wrapped his left arm around her shoulders, rubbing them for warmth, while he carried the black hilted sword in his right. Paula and Kevin took up the rear. Kevin looked around nervously.
Wayne stepped up beside Paula, grabbed the door handle, and looked around at the others. “Are we ready?”
“As we’ll ever be,” Kevin answered. Wayne could sense how fearful Kevin was, and he respected the man for showing bravado despite that.
Wayne gave a small twist to the latch, and it turned just enough that he was sure it would open without resistance. Then he gave it a full turn, pushed it open, and said, “Go, Wanda!”
But Wanda stood in the doorway, immobile. “I can’t, Wayne! We’ll drown!”
From in the back, Kevin made his way forward and looked out. “Yes, drown! Can’t you see? The whole world’s underwater out there!”
Wayne nudged Kevin aside, then looked out the door. He saw a gray, overcast October with streets full of orange and red leaves, as well as trees almost empty of them. He saw branches blowing in the wind; and he saw streetlights flickering, not quite ready to come on. But he saw no water.
So much for sanctuary… He said, “That’s not real. One of them is out there, throwing illusions. It’s not real. Look.” He let his crutches lean against the wall as he grabbed Wanda’s arm and Kevin’s and urged them to doorway. “There is no water there. Just wind and leaves in October. They’re lying to you. I’m telling you the truth. Look over there at the cars: the Chevy and the Rogue and the van. See them, just where we left them?”
“Yeah,” Kevin said.
“You see them clear clearly? No ripples of water?”
“I…” Wanda said.
Wayne changed his tactic. “All right, look down at our feet. There’s a doormat there. You see that?” They both nodded. “Do you see any ripples in that?”
“No, I don’t,” Wanda said.
“So right here, right in front of us, there’s no water. Now on the porch. No water. See it?”
“I…” Kevin said. “I see…”
Paula said, “Notice it, Kevin. They fooled you before with the slush. This is just like that. Don’t see what they want, see the porch.”
Kevin nodded. “I see… the porch…”
Wayne wasn’t sure if he could keep his feet, but he saw only one way forward. Taking stronger grips on Wanda’s and Kevin’s arms, he lurched forward and pulled them onto the porch with him. Neither expected this, so they both stumbled forward.
Wayne looked at Wanda’s face, then at Kevin’s. “Are we wet? Or is the porch? There’s no water here, right?”
“There’s…” Paula said, but then paused. Wayne suspected that her Idea Filter was trying to let her see the impossible.
“Notice, Paula,” Wayne said. “No water.”
“No water,” Paula said with growing confidence. She turned in place on the porch, then reached back to grab Wayne’s crutches and hand them to him. “No water.” She grinned.
Sean and Carol followed without coaxing. “I did see the water,” Carol said, “but I knew better. All of you persuaded me. You were safe, so we were.”
Sean looked around. “I’m sorry, Wubs, but I still see it. I’m only out here because you are, and I won’t leave your side. But still… None of you see the –”
“Stop!” Wayne said. “Whatever you’re seeing, don’t tell anybody else. Illusions can be contagious. That’s a big branch of the Mathematics of Influence, how you’re more likely to believe what others report. Especially when you trust them. So all of you, if you see anything odd, keep it to yourselves.”
“Or if you hear anything,” Carol added.
Wayne stopped himself before he could ask her what she was hearing. The look on her face told him she was struggling to fight off an auditory illusion.
“So let’s go,” Kevin said, “before I run back into the house.”
“We… We can’t,” Wanda said. I… don’t trust my senses. I don’t dare drive that van, knowing that at any minute, some… There are things out there, and I might see them.”
There were nods all around at that, Everyone but Wayne. He grimaced. “I haven’t driven since the accident, Hon.”
Wanda rubbed his shoulder. “We can’t trust any of the rest of us. It has to be you, Hon. I’ll trust your injured leg over our deluded brains.”
Wayne sighed. “‘If t has to be, it’s up to me.’” Then he grinned. “I never knew who said that, and I sure didn’t expect it to mean this.” He reached out his hand, and Wanda gave him the keys. He clutched them beside the grip of his right crutch as he hobbled his way to the van. Kevin rushed forward to open the door for him, and to hold his crutches while he climbed inside. The others scrambled in to available seats, and Kevin took shotgun.
“I’m glad it’s an automatic,” Wayne said as he tested his feet on the pedals. Satisfied that the pain was bearable, he inserted the key, turned on the ignition, and started forward. As they turned the corner off Resnick, he picked up speed. He could do this.
Then suddenly, Kevin shouted, “Watch out for that –” But he stopped.
Wayne spared a glance at Kevin and said, “Watch out for what?”
Kevin shrugged. “Oh, never mind…”
The good folks at Fyrecon have declared this to be Fyretober: a month of creative prompts, encouraging writers, poets, and artists to share their explorations. Today’s prompt: Graveyard pocket universe.
I should just stop pretending that the prompts have anything to do with the stories as I near the end. I think I know what will happen now (maybe); and any resemblance to the remaining prompts is purely coincidence.