Emil’s Last Words: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 29, 2023
Wayne peered out at Myra from under the table. “You haven’t… seen my crutches?”
Myra shook her head. “Nope. Were they part of your costume? A mummy on crutches?”
Wayne shook his head, grabbed the table top, and slid out from under the table. “No, just…” He looked around. “Just a bad joke. On me.” He pulled himself to his feet, the only pain being twinges in his shoulder.
He’d been so confident in his Cognitive Logic and his ability to see through any illusion. Confident? Hell, arrogant! The pucks had mastered Cognitive Logic and the Mathematics of Influence centuries before his birth. He could see through obvious frauds, but he been tripped up by us a pedestrian illusion. It made sense that he would need crutches, so he needed them. He tried to remember back to when that happened. In the sanctuary? Probably. And none of his companions had noticed the deception, either.
Wayne tested his legs. They were strong and stable, even if a small voice in his head kept screaming that he was going to fall. Shut up, small voice. He muttered a reinforcing proof, and the voice was stilled.
“Thanks, Myra. I owe you one.”
But he didn’t have time to explain. With growing confidence, he cut his weight through the crowd to the dining room and toward the back door.
His foes stood in front of the hallway, pointing at him and laughing. As he drew close, they crossed their arms and blocked the hall. “You’re not getting through, human,” the red puck said.
“Who’s going to stop me?” Wayne asked. “You?” Before the red devil could open his mouth to answer, Wayne continued, “You can’t. You’re still too weak for direct action. If that weren’t the case, you would’ve already killed me.”
“You know not what you speak of,” said the black king, his lips and rotted teeth barely visible in the shadows.
“I know exactly what I speak of,” Wayne said. Muttering a lemma and then gritting his teeth, Wayne marched right through the spirits as if they weren’t even there. There was a hint of cold from the black king, a hint of fire from the red devil, and just a touch of sick from the golden creature; but Wayne shrugged each off as he entered the narrow hallway to the back.
He didn’t turn around, didn’t even pause as the devil shouted behind him, “We’ll get you soon enough. Samhain comes to its peak in a few hours, and then as you’ll be as dead as the rest of them out there.”
It took a supreme act of will for Wayne to ignore that last line and keep going. He couldn’t show weakness, couldn’t show fear, or the pucks would find another avenue of attack upon his consciousness. This was just another lie, and he wouldn’t let it trap him.
But as he pushed through the back door and out into the blacktop beyond, then he stumbled. The words the devil had spoken manifested right before his eyes in the parking lot. His five companions lay strewn upon the ground, dead.
No. Wayne began chanting an algorithm to let him see the truth. His friends might all be dead there, or they might be illusions to keep Wayne from his goal. The algorithm would show him which.
But they were neither: not illusions, but not dead. With new clarity, Wayne saw that they were alive, writhing and moaning in the grip of puck-induced nightmares. He crouched down – with no sign of pain in his legs at all – and felt for Wanda’s pulse. He listened to her chest. Her breath was labored, her heartbeat fast as if she toiled at some horrible task within her nightmare. “Wanda!” he shook her, and she muttered his name before once more falling into the deep depths of troubled sleep.
Wayne shook his head, and he stood back up. This was one more trick of the pucks. If Wayne wouldn’t be stopped by his own nightmares, they would stop in with his wife’s, and his friends’. As much as Wayne hated to see Wanda suffering as she so clearly was, he had a more important mission: something to save her, save all of them. Maybe save the world.
Walking away from his wife and their friends in the midst of their torture was a heart far harder thing task than anything Wayne had faced in physical therapy. Maybe the hardest thing he ever did.
He had Carol’s instructions on how to find the Comet, but he hardly needed them. His vision was so clear. There were more stars in the sky that he had ever seen before, and they lit the way for him as brightly as the full moon ever could. Wayne truly saw the world as he never had before.
And as hew walked up to it, Wayne saw what a piece of junk the Comet was. Emil had loved this old car, his classic he had called it, constantly scrounging parts and making repairs to keep the thing running. It was nearly as old as them, yet without a lot of collector value. Still, Emil had poured his heart, his soul, and is writing income into it.
Now Wayne could see that had always been a lost cause. He had never noticed before, because Emil’s confidence and faith had been almost their own form of puck illusion. Emil wanted the car to be special, and he had been Wayne’s best friend, so the Comet was special to Wayne.
Now he really saw it: a Bondo-ed rust bucket with side panels that didn’t quite match. Emil had long talked about getting the whole Comet a new paint job; but the money never seemed to be there, and there were always new parts needing repair, new panels rusting out and not worth painting. The undercarriage was barely functional, the shocks nearly gone. Riding with Emil in recent years had been like riding a carnival roller coaster with cars that were ready to fall off the track. The Comet’s headlights didn’t match, coming from two different manufacturing years. A red truck had kicked up a stone, striking the glass and leaving a divot. Emil had always planned to repair that before the crack could spread; but now, a short crack crawled up and to the left, and a longer down and to the left. A third crack spread to the right across half the window.
Rather than painting, Emil had covered the worst blemishes in the body with bumper stickers and other decorations from science fiction conventions that Emil and sometimes Wayne had attended through the years. The car was a rolling museum exhibit for their memories.
Then, at last, reality struck Wayne. He had been piercing illusions all day and all night, but he’d let himself be fooled by forgetting one truth that he could no longer escape. Tears flowed down his face. His best friend was dead.
“But not in vain,” he said.
He saw through the windows that the doors were locked. The old-fashioned knobs shaped like golf tees were down. In his youth, more than once Wayne had had to scrounge coat hangers to lift those knobs when Emil had accidentally locked the keys in the car. As bright as his friend was – had been, damn it! – Emil could still be forgetful.
But there was no time for coat hangers, and Wayne remembered that Emil had long since addressed the issue of keys locked in the car. He slid up to the left front wheel well, bent down, and reached under with his hand. Exactly where he remembered it was the magnetic key box. He pulled it out, then made his way to the rear of the car. Along the way he looked in and saw familiar sights: fast food wrappers, old newspapers, pop cans, and other detritus of a busy life. The Comet may have been Emil’s pride and joy, but he seldom took time to clean it, just like he seldom cleaned his house. He had always been too busy writing.
Wayne popped open the key box, took the key out, and stuck it into the trunk lock. He turned, but the lock was sticky. It rattled and ground a bit, just as Wayne remembered. He paused, took a breath to calm himself, and tried to turn the key again. The lock popped open, the trunk popped up, and Wayne looked in.
The trunk was much neater than the interior. Emil practically lived in the cab during long trips to conventions and other destinations; but he only used the trunk for cargo and emergency supplies. There was the spare tire, the jack, the tire iron, a first-aid kit, a socket set, flares, two gallon jugs of water, a blanket, and some trail rations. All part of Emil’s emergency road kit.
And in the middle, nestled on top of the spare, was a big, strong black plastic bag. Wayne lifted the bag, and it jangled loudly, metal on metal. He reached in and he pulled out a set of heavy iron spurs. Peering in, he saw two more.
Then he noticed that stapled to the bag was a bill of sale from Chaffee Ironworks, a local blacksmith that Emil had once mentioned. Black lines leaked through from the back of the paper, making it harder to read the bill of sale.
Wayne turned the paper over, and he read the hastily scrawled message, a single imperative sentence: Ride the puck out of them.
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 (which I won’t even pretend to have followed): Disguised terraforming.