“Look at the way this ‘Family Man’ poses his victims, Vieve . . . just like that pretentious, Avant Garde monster. If there were anyone who could improve your understanding of the ‘witch,’ it would be my dear, deluded Donald.” Wicked’s eyes were wilder than I’d ever seen them. He clearly didn’t like this Donald character, or, he respected the guy in a way only a seasoned killer could appreciate. I wasn’t quite sure which. At any rate, I was more than willing to take up the case of the mysterious Family Man. But before I agreed to the ‘quest,’ I decided to poke at my new friend, just a little, for fun.
“You sure it’s a good idea to go after this guy? I thought you said he took you every time you two faced off.” Wicked earned his horrible reputation with the look he gave me, which wasn’t even human, more like a plastic Halloween mask sporting an impossibly evil smile.
“Dear, dear Genevieve, you really are a monster in the raw, aren’t you? But you should be more careful who you show yourself to, as they might not find you as wonderful as I do. But you’re quite right, Donald is quite the monster, so—” A deep voice rolled over Wicked’s words. It was Baron, of course.
“—So, it’s a good thing you’ve brought with you an even bigger monster.” The giant killer emerged from the darkness at the other side of the cellar. He’d been there the entire time.
“Ha ha ha! Oh, Baron, you dramatic goose, you! I can wait to see what fantastic tricks you play on that pompous popinjay! Why, I only hope that he lives long enough to appreciate your masterful machinations. Oh, but he must survive, mustn’t he? Veeve needs to question him, after all. What a job we have ahead of us, my fine, fine fellows!”
When the two killers weren’t looking, I was drawn into the computer screen, where the details of the Family Man’s exploits glowed. I felt something inside me grin—a mother’s pride, it seemed, was gushing out of me. I was afraid—terrified, even—that this next adventure, like the many before it, might be scripted. But some part of me (I hoped) wanted to flirt with chance, just to see if I could sidestep fate. It whispered into my ear, “Don’t you dare tattle, now. This could be fun.”
One night, we were all gathered around the table, candles ablaze. (I’d come to agree with Wicked and Baron, that candlelight made for a better mood, a cosmic mood, wherein you could almost feel the world spinning in the darkness of outer space.) We were plotting out our next move—finding the Family Man.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to his movements, just a rambling, mad cartoonist peddling his cheap art wherever the wind blows him,” Baron said, while screwing-up his face at a map of our quarry’s previous locations.
“Ha! Donald would be at your throat if he’d heard you say that, my giant, brilliant friend. However, the problem is, I think, that you’re looking for clues in the wrong universe. Donald has quite the disdain for the real world, you know? No, of course you don’t. How could you? You were never given the pleasure of his acquaintance. You see, Donald is a dreamer, through and through. He’d never fix his compass to magnetic north. No, he’d only take direction from his dreams, and nothing besides. We must know his dreams if we’re to find him. It’s the only way. I’m sure of it.” Wicked declared, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands into his lap, signaling the end to the first phase of our scheming.
“That’s all very wonderful and insightful, Dillan. But that gets us precisely nowhere. Where would you have us look to know his—ah, yes. I know precisely where we would look. But have you been there, my insane friend? Do you even know what could happen to us, to say nothing of what might befall the woman?” Baron and Wicked disappeared into the folds of a private conversation, but I wasn’t without my suspicions.
“You know my name, Baron, try using it, for once. And, if I don’t miss my guess, you two lunatics are talking about going into New Victoria, aren’t you?”
Wicked looked over at me, his signature grin in place. “Yup. Wanna come along?”
I think everyone wanted to believe the scientists and their silly explanations for what happened to New Victoria. Although, for the most part, nobody really talked about the place, not unless they wanted their faith in a solid universe thoroughly wrecked. The government shut the place up and just left it there to rot. No one goes in. No one in their right mind would ever want to, which is precisely why I knew Wicked was completely serious about going there.
“Fuck no, I don’t want to go there, and neither should you. He!!, I turned down one of the biggest gigs I’ve ever been offered just to stay away from that place. The newspaper wanted me to follow around a group of photographers while they snapped pictures of the outside of the city, just behind the barricades. They were going to pay out the nose for a piece written by someone who was actually near that crazy-ass city. And you want me to go inside, for free? I’d ask if you were crazy, but I already know the answer. But going in there, just the three of us? That’s not crazy, that’s just plain stupid.”
“Oh, Veeve, what good is a quest without dragons? And besides, you’ll have myself and Baron to protect you. You don’t think I’d let you wander about in there by yourself? And what about your big dog? I’m sure he’ll be there to help you out, should you need helping.” He brought up the dog like it was just a resource to be counted on, and not the walking, waking nightmare it was. But before I could offer up another refusal…
“Wonderful! You’ll want to pack light, Veeve, but strategically. Agility and ingenuity will be our greatest weapons.” Wicked left the shifting circle of candlelight, talking to himself as he melted into the darkness.
Baron looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Well, ’Veeve,’ I’ll ask you again…Did you think this was going to be easy?”
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