Hubby vs. Wifey vs. Cousin vs. Friend Post #18: A Mysterious Figure in Dark Clothing
Updated: Mar 3
Tonight Jake and Ronnie joined us for a picture from Hubby's character board. Ronnie chose it this time.
This piece is very popular on Pinterest, but we can't trace it back to the artist. If you know who it is, get in touch so we can give them credit for their very cool artwork!
My name is Savirn.
This body was not chosen by me, but the other way around.
Choice is important to me. Decisions matter greatly in life because…well, how about I tell you a story instead of trying to explain.
Not a means to an end, but an end to a means. Not a way to escape, but an escape to the Way. The phrases littered my mind, backward and forward. How was one to take the end and use it to escape to the Way? They were hidden, maddeningly so, not only from the Machines but from common folk, like me, who were dying (literally) to join them.
I checked the hand on my pocketwatch out of morbid habit: the small hand pointed to the twelve, and the long hand to the eleven. It was five minutes to noon - or midnight, depending on your perspective. Perspective didn't truly matter because either way, it was the time of doom for me. My watch didn't measure time but life - the little bit of life left in my barely ticking body. I didn't sigh because I knew what I was going to see when I looked. The little black, metal hands had been stuck at 11:55 for months. Death was drawing closer, creeping its rusty claws toward one of the few original muscle organs left in my body: my heart. With the air quality the way it was after the Cataclysm, my lungs had been the first to go, replaced with silicone inflators. After that, my kidneys fell by the wayside, joined shortly after by my liver and pancreas and eventually my stomach. My brain still charged on, but that was hard to be grateful for at times. My imagination was still top-notch, leaving lots of room to envision my fate once the watch hands met at midnight.
That's why I'd been searching so hard for the Way.
It was whispered, rumored really, that they'd found a Pocket - a true Pocket! - somewhere. At night I lay in my hide hole, a mesh lid covering the inky sky where no stars shone, and I imagined lying instead in a Pocket: breathing clean air with no filter attached to my mouth, feeling green - actual green! - grass under bare feet that could finally heal from the sores that covered them now, and seeing stars. The thought of natural light coming from the sky took my breath away every time, but the rumors said it was true. The Way had found it. Most of the rumor-bearers spoke of it in hushed tones, looking this way and that for Machines in the normal fashion, but some of them had a fever in their eyes and a look that went beyond what was in front of them. I didn't have a mirror, but I had a feeling that if I were to speak of what I'd heard, that look would be in my eyes as well. In the eye I had left, anyway. The other was robotic, a "gift" from the Machine who replaced my original when it finally turned useless from the experiments. I was lucky to get a replacement. The Machine who had charge of me had studied humans for so long that I think it had developed a strange sense of kindness at times. I wonder if it lost that when I escaped.
The choice was always there in this life: to live long and broken under the Experiments with the Machines always watching and tinkering with you - or - to die shortly and free, looking over your shoulder for the Machines during whatever uncertain time you had left.
I chose to die free the day that Drekada underwent the Uniqueness Experiment.
I never looked over my shoulder for the Machines because I knew something most Freers didn't: the Machines didn't need the used and broken escapees, and the Machines didn't take what they didn't need.
I never liked being given only two choices.
So I kept looking: looking at my watch, looking for other escapees, looking for the rumor-bearers in hopes that one day, one hour, I'd find one who'd tell me where the trail to the Pocket began. And even if I never made it halfway down the trail, my ticker would die golden with purpose, and that's all I wanted - the freedom to own my purpose.
I'm not sure how long it was until I found Arkadon because my watch didn't measure solar time, just the time I had left. I do know that my boots had worn down again, exposing the old sores, and I'd had to scavenge new soles before I could continue. It was the day after my sores were covered once more that I found the shrewd-eyed man with the natural aquiline nose and the mechanized neck and hands. He introduced himself as Arkadon, and we talked for hours before he told me about the Entrance he'd found on the west side of the city. He was going to break into one of the Centers and get his son out, and then he was going to the Entrance himself. I hesitated at this, a long dormant human conscience pang in my ticker, but he shook his head, a smile in his eyes.
"Thank ye, but no. Two are more easily seen and caught than one, and coming out, there would be three of us. Go on, and I'll count on ye to welcome us when we meet again in the Pocket."
I hesitated a moment longer and grasped his hand in another instinctive gesture. Then we parted ways, me pulling down my rusted goggles to aid in trekking through the hazardous landscape that was life outside the Centers. It was a shock to see what had happened to the world when I first left the sterile, metal and silicone Center where I'd spent most of my life, but I'd adjusted quickly. I was lucky. The hardest part was finding water in the dried, dead land, but there was still caches stowed away in old homes and buildings. I checked the bottles hanging off my back as I headed toward what I hoped was the entry to a new life.
It took two days to reach the point of which Arkadon had spoken. Once there, I hardly knew what to look for, even with his instructions fresh in my memory. My ticker tocked wildly as I scanned the area, seeing nothing but the normal grey of abandoned buildings and the remains of a dried up deadly orange-green Virus-Plant that had caused the Machines to take over human kind - out of pity, the Machine who had charge of me had once said. I avoided the Plant and kept looking, but it wasn't until I lifted my goggles in frustration to rub my robotic eye (it ached every now and then from intense use) that I saw what only a human eye - without enhancements like my goggles - could see: the Entrance. It was through a brown tunnel, the remains of what had probably been one of those bright red plastic slides that children used to play on back before I was taken. When I squeezed through, a hole stared me in the face: a hole that led into an old, dead tree. The Virus only attacked living plants. I wiggled in without a moment's pause, my ticker beating irregularly in excitement and my breath coming in quiet gasps. I heard a faint "tick" and stopped briefly to check my watch, which now read 11:56.
After that, I didn't stop again until my legs and arms gave out from weariness of crawling through the dirt tunnel that must have led far out of the city.
It was when I woke up that I thought for the first time that simply being on the Path wouldn't be enough. I had to reach the end.
The determination drove out the rest of the aching tiredness in the thin muscles that stretched over my metal "bones."
Over the next few days - or weeks, I couldn't tell which - I crawled and walked (when the tunnel got larger) until my watch read 11:59 and my mind had reached a despair that I'd never known till then. A dark cloud descended over my usually active mind and dulled it; whispers haunted my thoughts, whispers of hopelessness, of never-ending journeys in darkness, of lack of sleep and water and food. I gasped for breath more often, and the whispers laughed cynically in my mind.
You'll never get there.
There is no there.
Such a fool.
Just stop and die in peace.
Just stop and rest at least.
At last, my over-stretched muscles stopped for me. With one last push, they wobbled to a halt, and I collapsed, finally giving in to the darkness in my mind. My hands gripped the wet dirt, and I sobbed out a final breath...
And saw a light, bobbing toward me.
A tall man in dark leathers strode across the dry, dead wastes just outside of Yuma. This sad town only existed as a stop for traders between California and Arizona, but that was enough to make men to gather. And where men gathered, problems followed. Where men gathered, there was work for an undertaker. The tall man passed a church and graveyard on his way into the town. He saw the preacher out on the front steps reading from his Bible. He tipped his hat toward the steeple as he passed, but the preacher kept his eyes on the page. A very thin, sun burnt man stood in the cemetery leaning against one of the gravestone. The tall man paused a moment and nodded. The other man stared a long time in silence. The tall man broke the silence, "Been a while, Billy." His voice was deep, but surprisingly thin. It had the sound like it was coming from a great distance away, but had the clarity of someone standing just beside you. Billy continued to stare a while before responding. "Staying long?" The his voice was hoarse. The tall man shook his head lazily and walked off toward the center of town. "Be seeing you, Sam." The tall man raised a hand and waved back over his shoulder. There wasn't much to Yuma. A short walk showed the tall man everything he needed to see. As was normal in towns like this, there was a general goods store, a sheriff's office, a saloon, an assortment of homes for living and - there it was - an undertaker. It was a hot day, so the front doors to most of the buildings were propped open. The brim of the man's unusually tall hat kept his face out of the day's particularly aggressive heat. The tall man bent low and entered the store. It was mostly empty. There were some coffins displayed on the sides along with other furniture. Some undertakers were doctors; looks like this one was a carpenter. There was a man behind a modest counter working a block of wood in his hand with a small tool. The man paused anxiously and looked up. The tall man gave a nod. The man behind the counter shivered despite the heat and went back to his work. His hand slipped and caught the edge of his thumb letting out a small trickle of blood. The man swore under his breath and looked back up to the door, but the tall man had left. The tall man had made his way to the middle of the main road through town. He reached up and plucked a pair of goggles from around his hat and peered through them. He scanned this way and that looking the town over for a few minutes. Finally he seemed to find what he was looking for. He pulled a long, coal black pistol from under his leather coat and drew an X in the dirt just off-center in the road. He put the goggles back and slowly wandered toward the saloon. That had to be the place. By the time he arrived it wasn't quite mid-day, but there was already plenty of ruckus. Men were drinking and playing cards. One man already full of whiskey was belting out some unrecognizable melody over by the out of tune piano with an equally intoxicated woman clutching his arm. the bartender was busy wiping, pouring, and serving glasses to the various patrons. The tall man simply stepped over to a table in the corner, took a seat, and waited. He waited a few minutes, drumming his fingers on the table, but no one approached or spoke to him. Finally out of a need for amusement, the tall man put his goggles back on. He looked from one man to another curiously watching the people in the saloon. No one else could see, but with the help of the goggles, the tall man could read a series of numbers floating above each person's head. With nothing else to do for the time being, he starting reading these numbers to himself. "22, 50, 473, 7. 21, 47, 218, 9. 14, 63, 712, 4." The tall man had a habit of mumbling to himself when there was no one else around to converse with. Someone at the card table shouted wildly and threw his drink across the room. The woman by the piano shouted theatrically as men stood to either avoid the impending fight or get a better look. The tall man casually glanced over as one man punched another in the face. The second retaliated by pulling a large knife out from his boot and putting it in the first man's gut. The first man fell to the floor howling as a group of other men jumped on the second and held him to the ground. They eventually subdued him and dragged him out the front door and toward the sheriff's office. Two men picked up the bleeding and screaming one and took him outside. The tall man sat up slightly to get a good look at the stabbed man as he was carried out the door. "43, 76, 512, 4. Oh, he's fine." The tall man waved a hand dismissively and chuckled to himself. Before long the saloon was back to the way it had been like nothing had happened. However, it was less than five minutes later when two more men seemed to have an issue. A man in a black hat stood up suddenly. "Well, you son of a..." A bald man with a thick mustache shouted back. "You watch your mouth, you piece of..." "Both you idiots shut it and take it outside." The barkeep's voice boomed over the rest. Everyone in the room fell dead silent. The tall man perked up and examined the man in the hat. "19, 34, 212, 6. Nope." He turned to the bald man. "25, 51, 357..." He paused, "1." The man with the black hat spoke first. "This don't concern you, Tom." He dared flash a quick glance at the barkeep. "This here's between me and..." "Before you boys do anything stupid, you best leave," the Tom cut in. The two men each had their hands on their six-shooters, but he had already shouldered a double barreled shotgun. "Ya'll can fill each other with as many holes as you want, but either of you so much as twitch and I guarantee I got shot here enough for the both of you. Now git!" It was clear the two men had it in for each other, but it was also clear they had some level of either respect or fear for Tom. "Outside?" the bald man asked the other. "Outside," the man in the hat growled back. They both slowly moved their hands away from their holsters and made their way to the main road. Half the men in the saloon followed them and the other half hid. The tall man waited for everyone else to leave before following outside. Without words, the two men stared each other down and took stances about twenty paces apart. They stared each other down for nearly a full minute. The only sound in the streets was the wind rasping dryly across the hard ground. "Last chance," the man in the hat called out. The bald man replied with a rather colorful retort. A woman somewhere nearby stifled a gasp. Near the other end of town the tall man could just make out the sound of the undertaker's shovel scraping dirt out of a fresh grave. The tall man walked up next to the bald man, goggles still on. He looked down at the ground just behind him. "Gonna be a quick one," he observed bluntly. He looked up to the bald man. "Shouldn't hurt much I'd reckon. So at least you've got that going for you." The bald man didn't respond. They never did. Not at this point anyway. The tall man walked over toward the man in the black hat replacing his goggles. He scuffed his boots and hummed a dark tune as he walked. The humming slowly turned to mumbled words. "Oh, I hear the ground calling, calling out for me." He again pulled the pistol out from inside his coat. "I can hear the ground calling, but who will I see?" He removed a single round from his belt and loaded it. "The devil down in hell? Could be God as well. He cocked the hammer back and leveled the sights on the bald man. "Either way the ground is calling, calling out for me." The tall man pulled the trigger. At the same instant the man in the black hat and the bald man whipped out their pistols and fired at each other. The bald man's shot went wide and disappeared. The man in the hat's shot hit the bald man square in the face. His head jolted back and his body fell limp directly onto the mark the tall man had made. The tall man lowered his pistol and eyed the man in the hat beside him. "Looks like today wasn't your day then." He took a breath but stopped short. Just behind the man's ear, hidden in the shadow of his hat, was a tattoo of a double cross over a sideways figure eight. "Well look what we have here," the tall man muttered to himself. The man in the hat simply walked back into the saloon without another word. Four men walked up to the bald man's body. They pulled off their hats out of respect and paused silently. Eventually each one grabbed one of the bald man's limbs and carried him off toward the other end of town. The tall man stood a moment watching the man in the hat before accompanying the four men and the corpse. They all reached the fresh grave the undertaker had prepared. The preacher had seen them coming and was standing ready beside the grave. He said a few words and nodded to the other four who tossed the bald man's body into the hole. Billy was standing a few graves away and watched the whole event. The four men dispersed as the undertaker started filling up the hole with the loose dirt. About halfway through the process the bald man lept up out of the dirt. He went to shake off the soil, but none had stuck to him as he had expected. He approached the undertaker half confused, half annoyed. "Hey," he shouted, "I ain't dead, ya hear? Shot, but not dead." The undertaker continued his shoveling. "You gone deaf? I says I ain't..." his rant stopped abruptly as he went to take hold of the undertaker and fell through him instead. Billy cackled. "Takes getting used to," he sympathized. He turned to the tall man and grew somber. "You done here?" "For today." The tall man started off toward the desert wastes. He stopped after a few steps and glanced back. "Watch the one in the black hat," he added. "Don't know what to make of him." He took one last look at the steeple and tipped his hat again. He turned again to leave. "Be seeing you, Billy."
“Come one! Come all! To Doctor Fracille’s Cart of Curiosities!” The man’s voice echoed across the walls of the buildings and down the street, catching the ears of the roving bands of people. “Come see magical antiquities unlike those ever hawked on these streets before!” The voices in the crowd whispered over to one another in doubt.
“You think he really believes that?” A more familiar voice rang in Sienna’s ears; one of her traveling companions, Delthas, a sarcastic half-elf talented in stealth and quick strikes. “You ‘ear the same talking points from any mystical peddlers on the Effervescent Coast,” he mocked.
“Maybe this one will have something different.” Abrax droned lazily. The dwarven man was languidly skimming through his tome of wizardry, the loose sleeves of his coat coiled around his elbows as he laid on a nearby crate. Delthas sat on another crate, one leg bent with his knee under his chin while the other hung just barely not touching the ground. Next to him, stood Tiradis, a towering woman with a face more akin to a lizard’s and shiny copper scales that ran down all up and down her body, leaned against the crate, her plate armor shining in the midday sun.
“One should never trust a man whose face you can’t even see.” She stated, and she was right. The wide brim of his hat and tall collar of his coat drowned his face in shadows. Based on his height, he likely wasn’t a dwarf or halfling, Sienna deduced. Likely not an elf either, those ears would’ve popped right out in the area between the hat and collar, but maybe he was one of those elves from the human capitals who would cut their ears down to better fit in. Probably not a dragonkin, those scales would’ve been noticeable even within the hat’s shadow. The man was peculiar without a doubt, but not something totally uncommon or unquestionable in this city.
A small group of passersby walked up to his him; his cart still covered by a white cloth.
“Ah, I see someone is interested!” He spoke specifically to a human woman that seemed to take the front of the group. “Miss, perhaps you’d like to learn your future and get a show at the same time!” He jumped back to his cart, stuck his hand—gloved Sienna noted—under the cloth, pulling out a deck of cards. He drew the top card and showed it to the woman. Delthas’ keen eyes and ears saw a stylized picture of a human woman in a white gown, scepter in hand. The top of the card read ‘III’ and the “The Empress.”
“Ah, tarot readings. Is that his trick? Seems a bit simple for his talk.” Abrax hummed in response to Delthas’ recounting of what he saw. Then, suddenly Delthas saw the empresses’ picture move, turning her head towards the human woman and speaking.
“Beauty, femininity, abundance, nurturing. That is-” Before the empress could finish, the man returned her card to the deck.
“Huh. Animated tarot cards, that’s a bit new,” Abrax said.
“Seems like a bit of a waste of magic if you ask me,” Delthas piped in.
“Or how about…” the man stuck the hand holding the deck of tarot cards back under the cloth before the woman could respond and pulled out a long broom.
“A broom?” Tiradis looked as if she was raising an eyebrow, but Sienna knew she didn’t have any.
“A moment if you will,” The man continued. He reached his hand under, pulling out a small jar, seemingly filled with just dust and dirt. He unscrewed the top and poured the dust and dirt in a pile on the street.
“That seems a bit rude,” Tiradis snarled.
“Clippo!” The merchant yelled. The broom seemed to animate itself, its handle bending slightly as it stood just about upright and instantly flying over to the man’s other side and sweeping the dirt pile up, evaporating it in thin air.
“Huh.” Sienna said simply.
“Clippo!” the broom flew to the merchant’s hand and unanimated itself, turning back to a simple household broom. “Dust and dirt are a thing of the past with this magical sweeper!” The man flourished the broom, striking a pose as if he were a hero in one of the Calvris theatre company’s epics. “Or maybe,” he dropped the pose. “You’re more about going out into action and adventure!” he swapped the broom and a pulled out a small, ornate cage, within it the exoskeleton of an insect lay dead within. “Come a little closer for this one,” he beckoned the woman closer and she hesitantly complied.
Her face was right next to the cage when exoskeleton suddenly became animated. The woman screamed suddenly in response and jumped back several paces.
The merchant chuckled at her response. “No need to worry! This little guy won’t hurt anyone, but it may be the key to keeping your safe! You see, this little bugger starts chirping at the detection of necromancy!” The crowd began murmuring at the mention of the word “But don’t worry everyone, I shan’t be setting that evil upon you just to make a point, I’m not that kind of soul,” he placed his hand upon his chest, where his heart would be. If he has one, Sienna thought.
Delthas noticed Tiradis’ eyes narrowing at the merchant and her one of her hands clenching around the hilt of her blade. “This man took joy in the fear in others, proceeds to blatantly lie about his own necromantic creation and tries to play as if he’s the saint in the situation?” Tiradis growled.
“Calm down, big gal. A crook like him isn’t worth ya strength,” Delthas tried to calm the large dragonkin. Sienna looked on with a bit of worry. What she had thought would be a quiet day of amusingly watching the merchants try—and likely fail—to hawk their wares into a dangerous game of tension if this guy didn’t know better.
The merchant pulled the caged insect back under the cloth and pulled out another white cloth.
“Is anyone here a tailor? For I may have just the things for you!” He placed the end of the cloth over his arm. “Coprendo!” he exclaimed and over the next few seconds, the white cloth faded steadily over to match the color and texture of his coat. “This enchanted fabric can be whatever you want it to be! Perfect for the use of a tailor.”
“See? Completely harmless.” Delthas comforted Tiradis who has seemed to have calmed.
Tiradis grunted, “I’m done listening to this malai,” She cursed the last word in draconic and began stomping away, her spined tail whipping angrily behind her. The others followed soon after, growing tired of the merchant’s overabundance of animation. The merchant’s voice faded as they began talks of their next voyage.
Trudy stood in her living room trembling with excitement as she anxiously awaited the arrival of her friends. The day of her party had finally arrived and she couldn’t wait to play games and eat cake and open presents. She’d worn her favorite dress to suit the occasion: a white dress with pink polka dots all over it. Her blond hair was pulled back in curly pigtails and tied with pink bows. Her feet danced with eagerness as she stared through the window at the street, searching for the vehicles that carried her friends to her.
“Toody,” came a small voice from behind her and she turned to see her baby sister, Lizzie, running up to her carrying a dripping paintbrush in her small paint-stained hands.
“Go away, Lizzie, I’m waiting for my friends.” Trudy said as she turned back to the window. Trudy loved Lizzie, but life had become so different since she was born. Mommy and Daddy didn’t have as much time for her anymore. But today was going to be different. Today was going to be about her and not her baby sister, for once. Today was Trudy’s birthday party. Today was her day.
“Toody, come see!” Lizzie said smiling. She grabbed Trudy’s dress to pull her to the kitchen where her artwork lay leaving splotches of the colorful goop all over it.
“Lizzie!” Trudy yelled. Angrily, she ripped her dress from her small sister’s hands, causing Lizzie to fall hard onto the ground. Instantly, Lizzie was crying. Trudy looked down at her favorite dress and began to cry. Where she had grabbed the dress, Lizzie had left behind a handprint. Her perfect day was ruined.
“What happened?” their mother said as she rushed into the room. She stepped over to Lizzie and began to console her, checking her for any serious injury.
“Lizzie, ruined my dress,” Trudy said between sobs.“Oh, Sweetie, it’s not ruined,” she said as she picked Lizzie up into her arms.
“It just needs to be washed and it will be as good as new. Now, why don’t you go change and come back out before your friends get here?”
“But I wanted to wear this dress for my party,” Trudy cried.“I know, Sweetie. But this one will have to be washed now. Why don’t you wear the blue dress with the pink flowers that your grandma bought you?”
That didn’t sound good to Trudy, but she no longer had a choice.Mother, with Lizzie still in her arms, walked Trudy to her room so that she could change. She took the dress down from Trudy’s closet and laid it on the bed, leaving Trudy alone for some privacy. Trudy stared gravely at the dress. It seemed as if the world was ending and she could do nothing but watch it end. Reluctantly, she changed into the blue dress and took a look at herself in the mirror. She did look nice, but not as perfect as she would have. There was nothing worse than not being able to wear her favorite dress on her birthday. And it was all Lizzie’s fault.Why did Lizzie have to be born at all?
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR TRUDY! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!
”It was later that afternoon. Trudy was surrounded by all of her friends at the table, each of them wearing pointed birthday hats, bouncing and giggling at the table. The flower-covered cake was set before Trudy with 7 candles burning on top.
“Make a wish and blow out your candles, Trudy,” Mother said as she took a picture of everyone.It didn’t take long for Trudy to think of what she wanted to wish for.
“I wish my sister would go away,” she thought. She took a breath and blew out every candle in one fell swoop.
The living room was overflowing with kids. Every couch and chair was occupied and Trudy sat at the center surrounded by colorfully wrapped gifts. Lizzie sat next to Trudy, tugging at ribbons and bows and trying to open the gifts.
“Noo, Lizzie, stop iiiiit,” Trudy whined pulling the gifts closer to her.
“I hepping,” Lizzie replied tugging them back.The girls pulled and tugged back and forth with the presents. Each time Trudy would recover one, Lizzie would go after another.
Stooooop!”“Ahhhh!”“Lizzieeeee!”A haunting laugh floated into the room bringing with it an icy chill. The room grew cold and quiet, as if the breath had been knocked right out of it. Trudy froze, trying to figure out where that voice was coming from, but it seemed to be coming from everywhere. And nowhere at all.
“Momma,” she whimpered. But her mother was nowhere to be seen and those who were in the room were frozen in place as if they had been turned to stone. All except Lizzie, who sat completely still looking toward the kitchen, her eyes wide with fear.There wasn’t a single voice to be heard except for the sinister laughter growing louder and louder.
Emerging from nowhere, a ragged brown leather waistcoat and top hat flew into the room engulfing it in the frantic, demented laughter. It flew unmanned above the heads of every frozen person, then stopped directly in front of Trudy. Trudy sat frozen in terror staring into the area that would have been a face if a person had been wearing the coat and hat. And though there was no person, she felt as though something was staring back, something dark and evil. She wanted to cry or to scream, but she could do nothing but stare. Lizzie began to cry.From behind the floating coat, a red wagon came rolling into the room on its own toward the girls. With terrifying speed, before Trudy had a chance to react, the coat and hat flew toward the sisters, grabbed Lizzie, placed her firmly into the wagon and rolled out of the room. Trudy could hear Lizzie’s fearful cries and the squeaky wheels of the wagon taking her away. To what fate, Trudy did not know. But she couldn’t let it happen to her baby sister.Trudy jumped up from her spot on the floor and chased after the unmanned kidnappers as fast as she could run.
Following the sounds of her sister’s cries, she met them in the kitchen. The wagon screeched to a halt at the center of the room; the coat and hat stood aloft facing away from Trudy. Trudy lunged for Lizzie. She grabbed her hand and took hold of it in hers, but, try as she might, she could not pull Lizzie out of the wagon. Trudy pulled and pulled, but Lizzie could not budge; she was trapped. The coat and hat turned toward Trudy as she labored, staring. Maniacal howling burst forth from it, reaffirming the futility of Trudy’s efforts. It seemed to be enjoying her struggle. Trudy became frantic, tugging and pulling, to no avail. Rising higher into the air, the coat flew methodically around her and the wagon that held her sister, drowning the room in laughter.