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Children of Mammon

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CHAPTER EIGHT

A lifetime of temporary living situations had made it so that Ana rarely found it difficult to fall asleep, no matter where she was. And she was by nature a deep sleeper, even sober; with a beer or two in her, she usually slept like a snoring stone. If it was true that the infrequent shriek/bang of fireworks and Freddy’s regular stopovers kept her from really achieving that perfect black-out state of suspended animation, at least it was also true that she couldn’t get too upset either, not with Bonnie’s arms around her and the steady rhythms of his systems thrumming under his skin.

However, even if the constant disturbances to her sleep did not upset her, they were still disorientating. She dreamed and woke, dreamed and woke, until a dozen dreams seemed to seamlessly meld with her beer-blurred recollections of the night before to create an uninterrupted and entirely false memory, one in which she talked about the Independence Day spirit and how Freddy didn’t like her and he talked about the girl who’d broken his face in with a bat and that the Bunny Patch bunnies were all named after real rabbit breeds. And while she was pretty sure all of this had actually happened, sprinkled throughout were nuggets of pure nonsense, like the false fact that at one point, there had been deer grazing on the show stage, or that David had run through the room trying to write his name in the air with a sparkler, or that Bonnie had talked about watching the fireworks in the parking lot at Circle Drive when he was no older than this building.

She felt no real urge to sort out fact from fiction. As far as she was concerned, it could all be a dream as long as this part—the part where she woke in the night and heard Bonnie ‘breathing’—was real. And it was, so fuck the rest.

As the night wore on, the fireworks petered out, but Freddy’s patrols remained as consistent as ever. She woke each time he passed through, if only long enough to identify the slow scrape-thud of his footfalls before letting Bonnie’s presence lull her back to sleep. So when yet another fragment of dream blew unexpectedly apart, she did not startle up in alarm. She listened and sure enough, plastic crinkled as Freddy came into the dining area.

Bonnie didn’t move as the footsteps drew nearer, but Ana heard the distinctive sound of his eyes turning and focusing, watching Freddy come.

Freddy’s footsteps stopped right in front of them. A pause. Then, with a smile he could not make but which Ana could all but see: “IT’S. NOT. WHAT. IT. LOOKS. LIKE. RIGHT.”

“I wish,” said Bonnie, as quietly as he could. His jaw didn’t move. Trying not to wake her. “You’re an ass, by the way. Remind me to t-t-tell you why.”

Freddy grunted affably and mechanisms whirred as he made some unseen gesture. “IS. SHE. SLEEPING.”

“Yeah.”

“No, I’m not,” Ana mumbled. “What time is it?”

“ALMOST. SIX.”

“Christ, I slept in.”

“You d-d-don’t have to get up yet.”

“Yeah, I do,” she sighed. “Not enough hours, my man. Every one of them counts.” Ana stirred, drawing in her legs and stretching them out again, opening her eyes. She saw a field of pale, dingy purple first—Bonnie, lit up by Freddy’s eyes—and then her arm, which had slipped sometime in the night from resting on his chest to cupping the Ken-doll-smooth front of his groin.

Ana looked at that for a while, sleepily amused, then raised her head to find Bonnie looking back at her.

“Looks like I want to start the day with a bang,” she said in her fresh-from-sleep throaty purr. “You up for it, my man?”

His ears snapped up. “Really? I mean, yeah! YOU BET! D-D-Damn it. Freddy, sc-scram. I mean, are you serious? B-B-Because if you’re not, that’s c-c-cool, but if you are, um, we may need-d-d to work a few th-things out first. Freddy, for real, get-t-t lost.”

Freddy rolled his eyes. “COME. ON. WE. DON’T. HAVE. TIME. FOR. THIS.”

Bonnie shooed a hand at him, waggling his ears at Ana. “I g-g-got twelve and a half m-m-minutes. Get out-t-t of here!”

“Hey, if he doesn’t want to leave,” she said, wrapping her arms around his fuzzy neck, “then let the bear watch.”

Bonnie’s hoot became a groan of resignation as Freddy bent and wedged his huge hand between them. Laughing, Ana rolled away and let the two of them wrangle Bonnie off the floor and onto his feet.

“S-Spoils-s-sport,” Bonnie grumbled.

“It’s okay,” she told him. “Twelve and a half minutes is not enough time for me, but just wait until after the weekend. If I can actually pull this off, I’m going to put on a celebration show you will never forget. You and me, my man, center-stage, all night long.”

“GUESTS ARE NOT ALLOWED ONSTAGE,” Freddy corrected, folding his arms with an impressive glower. “KEEP. THAT. NONSENSE. OUT. OF. THE. DINING. ROOM. IN. FACT. KEEP. IT. OUT. OF. THE. WHOLE. BUILDING.”

“Prude.” Ana stood up and pulled Bonnie’s head down, positioning his muzzle for a nose-rub and a good morning kiss. “What do you say, my man? If I get the roof on, are you going to show me the stars?”

“Sure, but…” Bonnie looked up, then at her. “If the roof’s on, we won’t-t-t be able to see them.”

She stared at him, one eyebrow raised as she waited for him to catch on. Funnier, Freddy stared at him too, and in exactly the same way.

Bonnie looked back and forth between them, his ears folding self-consciously forward. “What-t?”

“Those aren’t the stars I mean, Bon,” she said pointedly.

The mechanisms behind Bonnie’s long-gone eyebrows scratched away inside his head as he tried to furrow them with thought. She knew when he finally caught on when his ears snapped straight up.

“I. DON’T. KNOW. WHAT. SHE. SEES. IN. YOU,” Freddy said, shaking his head as he turned around. “AN-N-A. GET. SOMETHING. TO. EAT. BEFORE. YOU. START. WORKING. AND. C-C-COFFEE. DOESN’T. COUNT.”

“Number one, don’t tell me what to do,” Ana replied, running her gaze critically down his back as he walked away. He did look funny—that bare stripe of ‘skin’ running down his spine, like he’d been shaved by the last batch of vandals to break in—but there were no new cracks and, as he’d said yesterday, there were worse things than looking silly. “Number two, I’ve got to go to Gallifrey’s to pay off the garbage guy, remember? So breakfast is taken care of. Number three, coffee always counts. And last but not least, don’t tell me what to do, bear!”

“MY. NAME. MAY. NOT. BE. ON. THE. BUILDING. ANY. MORE. BUT. THIS. IS. STILL. MY. HOUSE,” he told her, limping up the stage steps. “AND. IN. MY. HOUSE. YOU. OBEY. MY. RULES.”

“Oh my God, Freddy, you did not just say that.”

“RULE NUMBER FORTY-TWO.” He turned with effort to face her and pointed for good measure. “EAT A HEALTHY BREAKFAST EVERY MORNING.”

“I’ll have you know coffee is a bean,” said Ana, collecting last night’s beer bottles and setting them on the table. “That means it’s practically a vegetable and vegetables are healthy.”

Freddy snorted and turned his head without taking his eyes off her. “CHICA. DID. YOU. HEAR. THAT.”

“Here we g-g-go,” muttered Bonnie.

From the hallway out of sight came an answering, “COFFEE DOESN’T REALLY COME FROM A BEAN. IT’S THE SEED OF A FRUIT TREE, CALLED A CHERRY! AND JUST LIKE THE CHERRIES YOU EAT, WHEN IT TURNS A DEEP RED, IT’S READY TO BE PICKED! AFTER THE SEED IS EXTRACTED, IT’S DRIED, ROASTED, GROUND AND BREWED TO MAKE THE COFFEE YOU KNOW!”

“As part of a healthy breakfast,” Ana prompted.

Bonnie glanced back at her as he picked up his guitar. “You just d-d-don’t learn, do you?”

“COFFEE HAS NO ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS,” Chica replied, waddling through the plastic sheets. “AND IT CONTAINS CAFFEINE, WHICH HAS BEEN LINKED TO SERIOUS HEALTH RISKS IN HIGH AMOUNTS.”

“Horseshit.” Ana checked the level of ice in the cooler and helped herself to a bottle of water, giving it a shake in Chica’s direction. “Water is dangerous if you drink enough of it.”

“ITS CULTIVATION HAS A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON DEFORESTATION AND WATER SUSTAINABILITY, PARTICULARLY IN AREAS ALREADY HEAVILY AFFECTED BY DROUGHT—”

“THANK YOU, CHICA,” said Freddy, taking his microphone out of its storing place in his abdomen.

“I’m still drinking it,” Ana declared.

“HEALTHY HABITS LAST A LIFETIME.”

“So do bad ones, you just don’t live as long.” Ignoring Freddy disapproving scowl, Ana went to her ‘room’ and picked through her laundry until she found a shirt that didn’t smell like beer, sweat and Bonnie. Her Mordor Fun-Run tee, perfectly acceptable to wear in public on a Mammon morning. Excellent. She turned her back to the stage and changed.

Freddy grunted behind her.

“I swear to God, I’m going to start shaking my naked tits in your face every morning until you get used to seeing them, you giant pantsless prude. Okay, I’m leaving,” she announced, counting out the bribe money and tucking it into an envelope that had once held her sanitation bill. “I should be back before you guys wake up, but if I’m not, just remember to watch your step. There’s lots of lumber and shit lying around. I need them where they are, so don’t touch anything. Got that?”

No response. When Ana looked back, she saw all three animatronics silent on stage, heads down and eyes shut, powered down to await the restaurant’s opening. She looked at her watch; three seconds after six.

“I’ll see you later,” she told them, but her voice fell flat, unheard. Whatever life she imagined she saw in them was gone now and she was once again a grown woman in an empty building talking to toys. Uncomfortable, she shouldered her day pack, averted her eyes from the stage, and left.

With the help of her truck’s mirror and a little bag of cosmetics she’d picked up in town yesterday, Ana cleaned herself up to pass a public inspection. It had been a long time since she’d felt the need to cover a bruise and she’d thought the knowledge was long dead and buried, but apparently, the grave wasn’t deep. When she was done, she brushed her hair out and hung it over that side of her face. Now she looked like a woman trying to cover up a massive puffy black eye, which meant she’d get a double-take from anyone who got a good look, but that was better than winces and stares from literally everyone who saw her.

At six-thirty on a Tuesday morning, Gallifrey’s was already busy, full of working men and women grabbing a bite to eat before rushing off to a job they were lucky to have in this dying small town. Ana parked in the mall lot, now just the empty lot, and walked in, stopping once to buy a newspaper and run a disinterested eye over the movies in the rental box. There were a few titles that looked interesting, but the only TV and DVD player she had at the moment were down in the secret basement playroom, and she didn’t want to watch anything bad enough to watch it there. Maybe once the job at Freddy’s was over and she could focus once more on her actual house, she’d take that room apart, strip it to the walls, paint it over…or just brick it up. Be done with it. In time, she might even forget about it.

Lucy did not greet her when the bell over the door rang out, although she must have seen her because she called out, “Timothy! Put the coffee on!” as she rushed by with half a dozen plates balanced from her wrists to her shoulders on the way to deliver breakfast to a waiting table.

Ana waited, pretending interest in the photographs framed on the wall behind the register so she had an excuse to keep her face turned. Old customers paid and left. New ones came, filling the small lobby area until finally Lucy rushed by with another armload of plates and hollered, “If you see an empty seat, take it. I’ll be with you as soon as I can!”

Ana took that blanket permission to include her and went to her booth in the furthest corner from the hubbub of the breakfast crowd. The table was not clean, but Ana just pushed the dirty dishes to the side and sat down. She lay out her newspaper, skimming articles as she folded the middle section into a fairly secure little pocket, then tucked her envelope inside and closed it all up again, pretending to read the front page. Apparently, there’d been a town meeting to discuss the upcoming renovations downtown and feelings were strong, but divisive. The girls’ softball team, the Mammon Minirinas, had soundly trounced the Warren Rabbits at last night’s game and their coach had promised a day at the water park in St. George if they also beat the Damsels next Tuesday. In other so-called news, excitement was building for the Fourth of July celebrations, as documented by a photograph of Wyborn, Slater and Shelly himself busily setting up booths at the fairgrounds.

If she hadn’t gotten fired, she’d probably be in that picture, too. Also, more booths would be up.

Ana put the paper aside and picked up the menu. She was hungry, but although her stomach was willing to take on any number of items, her sore jaw vetoed them all. When Lucy came by to wipe down the table and pour her coffee, Ana grudgingly settled on a bowl of hot cereal and maple sugar for now, but to feed the optimist in her later, asked if she could also get a Betty Burger to go.

“We don’t serve lunch until eleven,” Lucy told her, although her severity wavered as she got another good look at Ana’s face under the baffle of her hair. “But I’ll see what I can do for you.”

“Thanks.” Ana settled back with her coffee and tried to get comfortable. God, she hurt. The second day after any injury was always the worst. She’d loosen up once she was on the roof and working, but right now, resting here in this padded booth, she felt like one big throb. And her hair was a mess, she noticed. Already. Just sitting here!

Her attention wandered out the window and through the town until she arrived at Freddy’s and was once again on the roof, taking it apart piece by piece and building it back again, until she was left with the problem of the solar panel. Even in her mind, she resisted the idea of cutting it apart and tossing them into the parking lot to shatter, but damned if she could think of a feasible alternative.

Deep in these thoughts, Ana did not see the man approach until he had physically plopped himself down in her booth.

“Hi there!” said Chad, picking up her newspaper. “That today’s—”

Ana, startled, slammed her hand down over the paper and yanked it closer to her edge of the table, but fortunately, Chad was too surprised by her black eye and split lip to wonder over her possessiveness.

“What the hell happened to you?” he asked, actually reaching as if to push her hair back so he could see more of it.

Ana jerked away as much as the confines of the booth allowed. “None of your business! What the hell? Keep your fucking hands to yourself!”

“Manners, Chad.”

And here, like the visage of Grim Death himself, came the grandfather, Mr. Faust. One half of the two minds behind the Fazbear Empire that ruled in Mammon and, if Mike Schmidt was to be believed, knowing accomplice to hundreds of murders. He was wearing his dark glasses again, even here indoors, but she could feel his eyes moving over her, missing nothing.

“It’s nothing,” said Ana, forestalling any questions she’d be more or less obligated to answer when they came from the self-possessed old man and not his grandson. “Work related incident, that’s all.”

“I thought you got fired.” Chad laughed when Ana threw him a hot glare. “Small town. Everybody knows the big guy gave you the boot. And then you gave the other guy the finger, so what’s that leave? Is there some secret underground cage-fighting circuit in this town I don’t know about, because that would be awesome.”

Ana scrolled mentally back through his words and highlighted the ones of interest. “Villart is actually talking that phone call around? What is he saying?”

“Chad, we do not discuss business at the table. May we join you?” Mr. Faust tipped his cane ever so slightly toward her, almost a gesture of apology. “You’re in our usual booth.”

And between the time Ana had walked into the diner and now, the few empty tables had indeed filled up. She supposed she could just tell him to wait his turn, but instead, she folded her paper and set it beside her on the seat, symbolically making room for him. Men like Faust didn’t wait for tables, and anyway, while the grandson could be a bit abrasive, she sort of liked the old man’s company, or had, prior to her ‘dinner date’ with Schmidt.

“You might want to think twice before you let yourself be seen with me,” she said as he sat down. “Apparently, my bad reputation is getting worse. It’ll rub off on you.”

“I have reputation in spades, Miss Stark. We can rub off on each other. Oh for goodness sakes,” he sighed as his grandson smothered a snicker. “Forgive me. I promise you my mind is not half so filthy as my mouth would have you think.”

“It’s fine,” said Ana, who was not blushing.

“I only meant to say that when one has money, notoriety soon follows, mostly unfounded. After all these years, I am thoroughly inoculated against its effects. But you are still young,” he remarked, frowning as if he were only just observing this fact. “I suppose for your sake, I ought to keep a better distance. Small towns have long memories and sometimes people do more than talk.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“Yes.” His shadowed gaze brushed across her cheek like fingers, but he still did not comment. “Well then. Armored as we both are against the slings and arrows of outrage, shall we watch the fireworks together this weekend? I’m obliged to preside. I could easily have another chair brought to the viewing booth.”

“Thanks anyway,” said Ana, “but I have plans this weekend.”

“Oh yeah?” Chad’s grin widened, showing off his white, even teeth. “What could possibly be more important than the Eleventy-first Annual Pissant Parade and Wienie Roast or whatever the fuck it is they do here?”

“I’m putting a roof up.”

Chad squinted like he was looking at her through a microscope. “Are you serious? Fourth of July Weekend is the closest thing this town has to Mardi Gras and you’re putting up a roof?”

“You seen one Pissant Parade, you seen ‘em all.”

“You think this is bad, just wait until Pioneer Day,” said another voice.

It was Tiny Tim, out of the kitchen for only the second time Ana had ever known and for the same reason; he brought her breakfast and the coffeepot.

“Thanks,” said Ana, holding out her cup to be filled. “I guess we were getting a little loud, huh?”

“No, no,” said Tim, plainly meaning yes.

“We’ll dial it down,” Ana promised, “and try to keep it family-friendly.”

“You’re fine,” said Tim. Translation: See that you do. After setting two more cups down and filling them all, he turned to Mr. Faust and said, “What can I get you, sir?”

“English muffin, please, toasted, unbuttered. Chad?”

“I don’t know.” Chad slumped back in the booth and plucked disinterestedly at the corner of the menu. “Steak and eggs again, I guess. Medium-rare, if you think you’ve finally figured that out.”

“Coming up.” Tim turned away, revealing a much smaller man who had been entirely invisible behind him. “Whoops, sorry. Need something?”

“No, um…No, I just, ah…” The man fidgeted closer, pointing at the newspaper which was itself entirely invisible from his position, tucked between Ana and the wall. “You done with that? I, uh…didn’t have exact change for the box.”

He said the last words with extra emphasis, noticeable enough that both Chad and his grandfather glanced around at him.

“No problem,” said Tiny Tim with a genial shrug. “Shelly usually leaves his. Go see if it’s over by the pie case—”

“I want hers!” the other man blurted and turned a deep brick-red. “I mean…you know, I’m already over here…”

“Sure,” said Ana, passing it over and stifling a sigh as she watched him casually bolt out the door.

Tiny Tim headed for the kitchen, shaking his head and muttering, “…jumpier than a cricket on a griddle…” under his breath.

“You wouldn’t let me read the paper,” remarked Chad while his grandfather turned in the booth to keep watching the other man jog across the lot to his car with the folded newspaper clutched in both hands to his chest.

“He asked,” said Ana. She gave her cereal a self-conscious stir, wondering if she should wait for the other two to get their food or whether it was all right to just eat. Hot cereal didn’t taste the same cold. That’s why they put hot right in the name. “You just tried to take it.”

“You act like I did it at gunpoint, lady. All I wanted was the sports page.” Chad picked up his cup and made a production out of inspecting it. “Someone put an extra scoop of bitch in the beans this morning or what?”

“Coffee’s not a bean,” said Ana. “It’s the seed of a fruit tree and it’s called a cherry.”

Mr. Faust looked at her.

“So, two scoops of bitch, then,” Chad said dryly.

“Mind your manners,” said his grandfather, still staring at Ana.

“Yeah, yeah. ‘Mind your manners,’” Chad said in a baritone sing-song impression of his grandfather. “Everybody else can do whatever, but everything I friggin’ do, he’s got to turn it into an object lesson on how to be a better boy scout.”

“I appreciate the fact that you needn’t indulge me,” said Mr. Faust, stirring cream into his coffee with frowning concentration. “You have the advantage of a handsome face and full wallet, which is advantage enough to succeed at most things in life. For good or ill, our present kakistocracy has created a society ruled by and feeding from a culture of personality, and I confess you would be far better served to develop one of those rather than manners none of your chosen peers would recognize, let alone value.”

“Exactly,” Chad snorted, then blinked and looked around at him. “Wait, what?”

Mr. Faust raised an eyebrow. “Mm? Forgive me, Chad, woolgathering. Miss Stark, the fireworks don’t start until eleven. I’m sure you’ll be done with your shingling by that hour, so if you have nothing better to do, you might drop by. If not, so it goes, but I’ll keep a place reserved for you, on the off-chance.”

“If I can,” said Ana, knowing she wouldn’t.

And he knew it, too. His refusal to acknowledge the lie only made it stand out that much more.

“You needn’t wait for us,” he said, nodding toward her bowl. “Hot gruel is one of the finest fares on a cold winter’s morning. Cold gruel on a summer day is, however, execrable. Please, eat.”

Ana did, pushing her hair back to avoid bedazzling it with clumps of cereal, unavoidably exposing the full majesty that was her face.

Chad whistled, low and slow.

His grandfather looked once, then looked away and drank his coffee.

“Come clean, lady,” Chad said, smiling. “Someone break a barstool over your head or what?”

“Nope. Just took a hard fall.”

“Off a cliff?”

“Through a roof,” Ana said, caving slightly. “Hence the reason I’m missing the festivities.”

This was finally satisfactory for Chad, who said, “Sucks,” and took out his phone to pass the time until his food showed up, but now his grandfather was giving her a second look.

“I had been given to understand the house was in better condition than that.”

Ana started to ask just who had given him to understand that, then let it go with a laugh. Small town. The business with the lawyer strong-arming the house out from under the order to condemn had probably been good for at least a month’s chatter. “Mine is,” she said. “It’s not my roof. I’m doing it for a friend.”

“I see.” He studied her while she ate, then suddenly said, “Not we?”

“Excuse me?”

“You keep saying ‘I’ in reference to the roof. Not ‘we’.”

She could have asked him what business it was of his. She could have lied and told him she’d be in charge of a crew. Instead, she shrugged and nodded. “I can do it.”

“Alone?”

“The work itself is pretty straightforward, just time and labor intensive. I know what I’m doing.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” asked the seventy-year-old man in formal dress with a sincere little frown.

Ana laughed.

He did not seem to see the humor.

“Okay, look,” she said, still grinning. “No offense, but you were a working man once, right?”

“I was.”

“You built things. Maybe not buildings, but you put stuff together with your hands, right?”

“Yes.”

Ana looked him in the eye as best she could with those dark glasses in the way, and said, “What’s the best help you ever got?”

“For those who couldn’t, to stay out of my way,” he replied without hesitation, then immediately followed up with, “And for someone else to tell me what my limits were when I lost sight of them.”

“Yeah, well, I appreciate your concern, but I will be fine.” She started to eat, paused…laughed a little and ate some cereal.

“You thought of something.”

“No. It’s nothing. Wild hare, nothing to do with you.”

Mr. Faust gazed at her for a moment in stone-faced silence, then picked up his coffee cup and murmured, “It’s the lying I find most hurtful.”

Ana rolled her eyes. “Oh Jesus. Fine. You want to hear it?”

“Please.”

“If you happen to have a portable pneumatic arm lying around that I can borrow…?” said Ana, spreading her hands to frame the outrageousness of the request so they could all laugh at it and then pretend it had never happened.

“You know I do,” he said, with just a hint of bewilderment around the eyebrows. “Oh, I see. Yes, certainly you may borrow it. In fact, you can keep it.”

“What?” said Ana and Chad in unison.

“It’s of no practical use to me any longer. I haven’t touched it except to maintain it in over a decade. Besides, I’m old. I could slough off this mortal coil any minute, and I’ll sleep better knowing the boy won’t have to explain to a military court what a free-standing pneumatic manipulator arm developed by the U.S. Government strictly for its own use is doing in his basement after he’s caught trying to sell it on eBay.”

“Would they really arrest me?” Chad asked curiously.

“Dear boy, there’s a very good chance they’d shoot you.”

“Are you sure?” Ana asked, stunned.

“Oh easily,” the old man replied with a dismissive wave. “The military doesn’t think anything’s worth having if it doesn’t cost six figures or more. And that was in the fifties. You can imagine what they’d pay for it now. I stole it from a classified project, which is treason as well as theft, and if I had the bad luck to lift it at any time while this country was engaged in any kind of military action, then it’s war profiteering on top of everything else. They’ll shoot him, reload and shoot him again.” Mr. Faust raised his cup in salute to his grandson’s execution and drank, adding pleasantly, “They’ll probably dig me up and shoot me for good measure.”

“No, I mean, are you sure I can have it?”

“Certainly,” he said again. “It has been a good tool to me for many years. I regret I have not put it to good use. If you think you can, come and be welcome to it. I trust you to dispose of it discreetly.”

She should have refused. Failing that, she should have said thank you or at least made some half-assed offer of grossly insufficient payment. Funny, how she could never seem to say the things she should say to this man, and yet still end up saying too much.

“Why would you do this?” she asked without planning to. “You don’t even know me.”

He looked at her, faceless as only a man in dark glasses can be. After a long, unquiet silence, he said, “I would like to know you. For all the good that wishing does, I wish that were appropriate. It is not. There can be no interaction between us innocent enough to deflect rumor. I am old and wealthy. You are young and pretty. Small minds will always leap to the basest conclusion.”

Chad made a sarcastic observation with his eyebrows alone and continued playing with his phone.

“I assure you my interest is not prurient. I am merely an old builder in a position to help a young one.”

“I’m not suggesting anything hinky. It’s just…no offense, but a lot of the time, ‘free’ is just a euphemism for ‘now I own you’.”

“Do I strike you as that sort of man?”

“Well, I really want that arm, so I’m going to say no, but we both know I don’t mean it, right? You own the rest of this town. Why shouldn’t you want me, if only to complete the set?”

“It’s a pity I will never know you better, Miss Stark,” he said with a smile. “I think we understand each other. Very well. As neither one of us is entirely comfortable with a gift, shall we negotiate extortion? Accept it now or I’ll bequeath it to you in my will. That will leave Chad to explain its existence and you to explain my motives, and neither one of you will get to keep the arm.”

Ana considered him over her coffee cup. “I believe you’d actually do that.”

“Oh, I’ve done far worse with better intentions,” he agreed.

She pretended to think about it, but in her mind, she was already out of the diner and down the road, first to Lowes to pick up some scaffolding, and then to Freddy’s, using her new arm to easily pass stacks of lumber from the dock to the scaffold and from the scaffold to the roof, doing in minutes what would take the rest of the day on her own. The problem of the solar panel, solved. She might even be able to use it to pry the security doors open. Hell, she was tempted to find out where Shelly was working today and drive by with the thing extended out the back of her truck, giving him the fuck-you finger. If he was missing her roombuilder app and laser-point measuring tape already, he’d shit a brick over losing access to a goddamn portable pneumatic arm.

And really, wasn’t that the best reason to get one?

“Can I pick it up today?” she asked.

“As soon as you like,” he replied with half a shrug.

“I hope you’re not just saying that to be polite,” Ana warned. “Because if you had plans to go anywhere after breakfast, I’m about to change ‘em.”

“For as much as I have labored in my life to express myself well and encourage mannerly habits in others, Miss Stark, I never say anything ‘just’ to be polite,” Mr. Faust said gravely. “If you like, I’ll have our breakfasts boxed and we’ll leave immediately.”

She was enough of a bitch to be tempted, not quite enough to do it.

“After you eat is soon enough for me,” she said.

He offered a handshake to seal the deal, and Chad actually looked up from his phone to watch, this little ritual outside of time being more interesting than whatever his friend was texting. Ana took his hand carefully. It was age-thin and well-cared for, but the calluses he’d built in his youth were still discernable.

‘These are the hands that built Bonnie,’ she thought and found that she believed it. Uneasily, she thought, ‘These are the hands that built Bonnie to kill,’ but that one just bounced around for a while, an echo in an unlit basement, all scary noise that could only sound as big as it was because the room was dark and empty.

She shook with him and let go.

Tiny Tim was coming back with plates in hand. “Got your burger on the grill,” he told Ana, setting them down. “I’ll have it boxed and waiting by the register whenever you’re ready. How many checks today, folks?”

“Just one,” said Ana, digging out her wallet. “And I got it.”

“Yeah, that’s fair,” murmured Chad without looking up from his phone. “I’m the stupid one for theoretically trying to sell it on eBay, which I wouldn’t do, but she thinks she’s going to buy it for the price of an overcooked steak and eggs at this dump.”

Ana shrugged, passing a couple bills over to a stone-faced Tiny Tim. “Two checks,” she amended. “He’s paying for himself.”

Now Chad looked up, first at Ana with an irritated little smile, than at his grandfather, who merely sipped his coffee and looked back at him. “Come on,” he said.

“Mm?”

“You’re going to get this, right?”

“I certainly could, but I don’t think I will.”

“Come on,” Chad said again, tersely now. “I didn’t bring any money. You’ve got to.”

“I’m sure the proprietor will allow you to wash dishes or something similar until the debt is expunged. They seem to be rather short of help this morning,” Mr. Faust added, glancing around the crowded diner. “Mr. Gallifrey?”

“I’d allow it,” said Tiny Tim, although his tone and expression suggested he was allowing it under duress. “Two hours ought to about cover it.”

Chad stared a moment, actually open-mouthed. He tried laughing, then threw up his hands and said, “Come on! You cannot be serious with this shit! Lady,” he laughed, turning to Ana. “Pay my fucking check!”

“Wow. No. And also, you want to watch it, because they will throw your shiny behind out of here for cussing too loud. There are kids present.”

“Well, then I’m not eating it!” Chad announced, pushing the plate away. “You can’t make me pay for something I didn’t eat!”

“I’ll take it,” Ana added, bringing out a few more bills. “Box that up for me.”

“Will do,” said Tiny Tim, taking back the plate.

“Oh, come on!”

“There’s a lesson to be learned in this,” said Mr. Faust, taking up knife and fork and taking the first precise cut into his English muffin. “If you can’t pay your way in the world, it behooves you to be charming. Therefore, manners matter.”

Chad looked at him—I plan to be rich, those eyes said—then at Ana—she couldn’t read that stare as easily—and then picked up his phone and began the first of many angry texts in silence.

***

Bonnie was still onstage and waiting for the restaurant to open when Ana came back. She was in a good mood, talking to herself and to them as she carried things through the building, and after some banging around outside off the loading dock, she climbed up to the roof and there, she pretty much stayed. Oh, she came down every now and then. At least, there were times he could hear her boots or the rattling wheels of her handcart, but she never came into the dining room.

The roof fell away, room by room, under Ana’s expert control. By the end of the noon set, it was gone everywhere that Bonnie was pathed to go, although it was still up over the north end of the building, mainly Pirate Cove. And by the start of the two o’clock show she had finished clearing the mess out and started framing the new roof in.

It was quiet work, eerily so. The quiet room, where she did her cutting, reduced the roar of her generator and the shrill of the saw to a white-noise hum he couldn’t hear at all if he wasn’t standing right outside the door with his ears aimed at it. Up on the roof, she installed the new beams with just a few purrs of a drill. All day, Bonnie listened to the endless distracted one-sided conversations she carried on with her tools, the lumber, the job itself, the wind, and whatever else blew across her brain. He even heard her singing distractedly along with a few songs as she worked, but she never called out to him, not once. Ana at work was Ana in her own world, and she never looked down to notice him looking up.

So the day passed, maddeningly uneventful, until the middle of the five o’clock set, when Ana’s drill shut itself off—that alone was not strange—followed by a fierce, “Fuck,”—also not unusual—and then followed by the sound of an engine, still far away but perfectly clear, with no roof to mute the sound.

Freddy stopped singing and took a step toward the stairs, only to stop and look up, tracking Ana as she darted across the bare beams in careless defiance of a fall, to hunker down at the very edge of perception behind the ruins of the Fazbear sign.

Another engine. And another. And maybe another, although by then, the first one was roaring by and the sounds were all blurring together. It didn’t turn in…but it didn’t turn around either.

“Jesus crumpet-eating Christ!” Ana spat and as soon as the last car was past, she was running back across the beams, jumping onto the crawlway and climbing it down to the roof of the parts room, and from there, dropping onto the stage behind Freddy. “I know, I know, rule whatever! Get off the stage!” she said, already running for the kitchen.

Bonnie, helplessly playing guitar for a song Freddy wasn’t even singing anymore, could only listen as Ana rattled around outside and brought the loading dock door banging down. Then she was off and running down the East Hall.

Freddy waited with the rest of them, frustration in every twitch of his ear and restless flexing of his fingers on his microphone.

Ana came back through the West Hall, still running, bursting through the plastic sheets somewhat out of breath and out again through the other sheets into the lobby. She rattled at the drop-link barricade there, muttering to herself, then was in and out again, this time to the playground door to make sure it was shut. It was and soon she was back in the dining room, unbuckling her toolbelt and dropping it on the table, but taking back her utility knife for her boot, a screwdriver for the back of her belt, and a clawhead hammer which she kept in her hand. Lifting the curtain on her ‘bedroom’, she rummaged quickly through her cardboard cubbyholes until she found something—Bonnie couldn’t get a good look, just that it was small and black and possibly plastic—and then she ran back for the West Hall.

She stayed gone long enough that the act ended. Freed now to mingle with the guests in their own limited daytime way, nonetheless, none of them moved. Chica tapped her fingers a few times, stopped, started again. That little sound was all the noise they made and the wind was big enough to cover it.

Just before the five-minute warning went off in Bonnie’s internal countdown, Ana came back, walking now. That small black object she’d grabbed before running out was revealed, now that Bonnie could see it clearly, as binoculars. She glanced at them as she went to reclaim her toolbelt, but she was distracted, difficult to read. Bonnie looked at the hammer in her hand; clean, but it wasn’t that hard to clean a hammer, was it? Sand would take blood off metal pretty easily, as they all knew.

“Freddy, got a minute?” she said, removing the screwdriver and utility knife from their respective places and returning them to her toolbelt.

“YES,” said Freddy, visibly shaking off his own internal countdown and leaving the stage. “WHAT IS IT? WHAT ARE YOU UP TO?”

“I need your help.”

Bonnie triggered and blurted, “CAN I HELP?” just as Chica shivered out a cheerful, “I LOVE TO HELP MY FRIENDS! I CAN BAKE THE CUPCAKES!” of her own.

“There are a bunch of guys down in the quarry,” said Ana, ignoring them as she buckled her toolbelt on. “Looks like they’re just paintballing for now and that’s fine. I’m going to try and keep an eye on them, but I can’t afford to just take the rest of the day off to watch them, especially if it turns out they’re just going to fuck around at the quarry all afternoon. Now I know you like to poke your head outside from time to time and check to make sure no one’s loitering in the parking lot, so just…when you do, kind of look out for these guys and if they start looking like they’re making their way up here—”

“ARE WE GOING TO HAVE A PARTY?” Freddy asked.

“LET’S ROCK!” Bonnie agreed.

“Okay, here’s the thing. I know you like guests and all that, and I realize you think the restaurant is still open at the moment, but if those guys come knocking, do not open the doors. And if they get in anyway, do not go greet them. Just get my attention and let me handle them. Go to Pirate Cove and try not to let them see you at all. Got that?”

Freddy grunted. Bonnie, who knew him better than Ana, knew that particular tone didn’t mean agreement.

“Good,” said Ana and left.

The next set started. Freddy played along with the rest of them, but only until Ana was once again on the roof and hard at work. Then he climbed down from the stage and had a look for himself. He was gone a long time, but he must have agreed with Ana’s ultimate assessment because when he did come back, he got onstage and rejoined the show. All the rest of that day, he patrolled between sets—as Ana had said, keeping an eye out—but without breaking character.

And Ana wasn’t there to see how well Freddy could play the part of an animatronic anyway. With company so close, she was even quieter than before, but she must have found plenty to do in spite of her restrictions because she didn’t come down again until Bonnie powered down for closing. She still didn’t come inside, though. She banged around in the storeroom for a while and then nothing.

After only a few minutes of silence and stillness, Freddy woke himself up and went out to see what she was doing. Leaving Bonnie and Chica to wait it out, of course, because Freddy was a jerk.

So Bonnie waited.

At ten, Bonnie finally opened his eyes. He switched them on out of habit, then switched them off again. He didn’t really need their light yet. He might not need them at all tonight. Even though it was almost an hour after sundown, it still wasn’t full dark inside the roofless restaurant. The sky beyond Ana’s orderly grid of beams and the hectic metal coils of the crawlway was a deep jewel-blue smudged with traces of silver where the wind pushed clouds along. In another hour, if it stayed relatively clear, there would be stars. Another hour after that, and the moon would start its slow flyby. Plenty of light to find his way around a building he’d lived in this long. Certainly enough to see Ana not sitting over on the edge of her table waiting for him to wake up.

He went to look for her, starting with the store room, since that was where he’d last heard her moving around, and sure enough, while still making his way across the kitchen, he heard the low murmur of her voice out on the loading dock, answered by one of Freddy’s growling grunts. Bonnie walked a little faster, switching his eyes on just to make sure the way through the store room was clear, and instantly let out a startled spat of static as his eyelight reflected off a squat metal body and tall, hooked tail—a giant scorpion, lifeless but no less lethal, just waiting to strike. Fear—stupid, senseless, human instinct—fired through his circuits, but it wasn’t the fear of the unknown.

He knew what it was. He knew whose it was. It was the thing their creator had started out calling a freestanding Closian manipulator with wireless computer-aided controller back when his voice had still been that of a boy’s, high and cracking, desperately seeking validation through vocabulary. But he’d grown out of that, as boys usually do, and the name had changed over the years, relaxing as his narrow frame had filled out and his high voice deepened, until it was just ‘the scoop’.

His scoop.

Here.

“Holy sh-sh-sh—SURE IS A GREAT DAY FOR PIZZA!” he blurted, stumbling back out of the storeroom and banging into the oven. “What-t-t is that-t-t-t—”

What is that doing here? was what he was trying to say, but he got hung up on the t’s and by the time he’d broken out of the loop and could try again, Ana was already coming to get him, a little sunburned and a lot sweaty but smiling as she said, “Calm your tits, my man. It’s fine.”

Fine? Bonnie looked at the thing, and then at Ana, now with Freddy looming over her shoulder with a quizzical frown, like he, too, thought it was nothing.

“It’s called a pneumatic arm,” she was saying. “It’s for lifting. See that claw?”

“Yeah,” said Bonnie. And the last time he’d seen it—or one like it, anyway—it had been ripping his skin off while his head was clamped to the work-table, peeling him like a plastic banana, a thousand errors and exceptions going off at once, becoming pain, the only kind of pain Bonnie really knew.

“I use that wireless pad there to control it and I can make it grab stuff and move it around for me. I just got it. Sweet, huh?”

“Not the word-d-d I’d use,” said Bonnie, trying to ease past the thing without actually touching it. He couldn’t do it. There was more equipment, things like tables stacked on top of each other and fastened together, filling up all the space she’d emptied of lumber and then some. It all looked new. The metal parts were shiny, unrusted. The plastic was clean, with a few fresh scuffmarks and dusty bootprints to show where she’d apparently been climbing on it. “What-t-t is all this?”

“Yeah, sorry, it’s kind of everywhere, isn’t it? Can you get through?” she asked, putting out her hand like that was any kind of a help.

He took it anyway. Damned if he’d pass up the chance to hold her hand.

“Well, that’s scaffolding,” she was saying, pointing at the table-things. “Think of it as kind of a big ladder. I wouldn’t bring it in except that leaving it up against an abandoned building on the literal edge of nowhere is a giant invitation for assholes to climb it, whereupon they either see all the work I’ve done and realize someone’s here or they don’t see it and fall straight through to crack their fool heads open. So yeah, I want to keep it out of sight.”

“Good call.”

“Behind that, we got a solar panel, which I’ll probably take back to my place next time I go, since someone took off with your invertor and it’s useless without one. And all that shit against the wall is for the underlayment. Felt and tar and decking and all that good stuff. I only got half the vent-work done, unfortunately, but all the beams are up, so I’m not that far behind. I can make it up tomorrow. You good?”

“Yeah, I got it from here.” Bonnie stepped out onto the dock beside Freddy, who gave him a little more room as he turned his attention back out into the desert. There was a fire out there, a big one, to judge by the distance.

“Yup, they’re still there,” said Ana, leaning on the rails and raising the binoculars back to her eyes. “No cooler and no tents…but they got a dead tree and someone had a lighter, so they’re settled in and watching the pretty, pretty fire. That’s fine as far as it goes, but I don’t know…I keep thinking I might grab something out of my party stash and head down there. You know, kind of passively-aggressively let them know someone’s watching, but if I roust them, they could just as easily come here as drive out to the old base. So, yeah. I better just leave them alone. They probably won’t get rowdy if I don’t give them a reason to puff up.”

When she lowered the binoculars, Freddy put out his hand. She gave him a look, but passed them and watched with a tired smile as he adjusted them to his wide-set eyes and looked for himself.

“What do you think?” she prompted.

Freddy grunted thoughtfully and said, “THEY’RE. YOUNG.”

“Yup. Old enough to drive, not old enough to drink. They’re drinking anyway,” she remarked, taking the binoculars as Freddy handed them back and offering them to Bonnie. As he fit them curiously to his cameras and saw the distant glow of fire leap huge and sprout people sitting around it, Ana went on to say, “But they’re being pretty chill about it. They’re just having a Boy’s Night Paintball Party because they had the paintballs and don’t have money for fireworks, is my guess.”

“GOOD. GUESS,” Freddy said.

“Which is still a concern, because this place is prime paintball real estate. Even if they aren’t tearing the place up, I don’t want ‘em in here. Sorry, Freddy. I know you put on a hell of a show, but I am breaking pretty much all the laws except those of nature and gravity and until I’m out of here, I don’t want anyone else coming in. God, I’m tired,” she muttered, taking the binoculars from Bonnie and wincing when she put them to her swollen eye.

“GO. TO. SLEEP,” said Freddy.

“Not until I know they’re gone.”

“I’LL. WATCH. THEM.”

She shook her head, but then did seem to consider it, looking up at him from the corner of her eye. “Promise you’ll come get me if they come up here?”

Freddy shrugged one shoulder. “SURE.”

She thought it over some more, then straightened up and offered the binoculars. “Okay. I’m trusting you. If I get raped and murdered in my sleep and this whole building burns down, you and I are going to have a long talk.”

Freddy sent her off with a grunt and a wave and went back to watching the fire in the distance.

Bonnie followed Ana back through the store room, suppressing a shiver when the scoop unavoidably scraped against his arm squeezing past it. But in the kitchen, Ana took the long way around the oven, stopping by the cupboard where she kept her vitamins and other bottles. Bonnie waited, unsure where to look or what he was supposed to say as she opened a zippered baggie and rolled herself a joint.

“I’m just going to say hi to Foxy,” she said, tucking it behind her ear and moving next to the cooler for a bottle of water and a bottle of beer. “Haven’t seen him in a while. Want to come?”

“Um…”

She waited, smiling at him with eyes that knew the honest answer had the wrong reason and the right answer was a lie.

“Me and Chica will p-pr-probably go to the arcade then,” he said finally. “She said-d-d you left some of the g-g-games, right?”

“Anything to keep her from playing castanets with the pizza trays in the middle of the night.”

“If you g-g-guys want to meet us there, we can play some g-g-games.” There. Now Foxy could be the childish one for a change. “If you t-t-two want to stay in, that’s c-c—COOL JAMS—cool, too. As long as I get-t-t to tuck you in.”

She didn’t answer, but she came back to him and pressed her lips to his muzzle. “You,” she said and kissed him again. “Are the only man who ever has—” Kiss. “—or ever will—” Kiss. “—tuck me in.” One more kiss, a real one, filling up long-gone senses with feelings he couldn’t feel and then walking away while he stood, his mouth tingling and battery bleeding, saying, “See you in bit, my man.”

After a while—how long, he had no idea—Chica pushed the plastic sheets at the other end of the kitchen apart and looked in at him. “DO YOU WANT TO PLAY A GAME?” she asked shyly.

“Yeah, just…g-g-give me a minute,” said Bonnie.

Chica dropped her gaze, nodding, and wandered away into the dark.

Alone, Bonnie tried to hold on to those phantom sensations, but the moment was broken and the kiss was lost. “Damn it.”

“YOU. SHOULD. GO,” Freddy said from the loading dock. “I. THINK. CHICA’S. LONELY. YOU. USED. TO. SPEND. MORE. TIME. WITH. HER.”

“Then you should-d-d go,” Bonnie countered, raking a hand over the top of his head in front of his ears in a restless scratching gesture no one had programmed into him and which he could never quite lose. “You know how long-ong-ong it’s been since you’ve spent-t-t—ALL YOUR TOKENS IN THE ARCADE—any time at all with any one of us?”

“A. LONG. TIME,” Freddy agreed. “BUT. I. SAID. I’D. KEEP. WATCH.”

Bonnie took a step toward the hall, but turned around and shuffled back as far as the store room doorway. No further. He’d touched the damn scoop twice already and that was twice too many. From here, he could just see Freddy’s side, one arm, one leg, and one ear aimed outward. His arm was bent, holding the binoculars. If Ana thought she was getting those back in a hurry, she probably had a shock coming.

“ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?” Freddy asked without turning.

“I guess so. It’s this thing-ing-ing,” he decided, knocking on the scoop’s hooked head. Even the sound of it getting hit was unpleasant. “I thought-t-t it was the scoop.”

“IT’S. TOO. SMALL.” Freddy glanced back at it and grunted. “AND. THE. WRONG. COLOR.”

It looked plenty big to Bonnie and he had a feeling it would look even bigger if he were clamped in place and that claw coming at him, but he didn’t say so. He also had a faint memory of the man who’d created them painting the scoop, that it had in fact been some dark greenish color once upon a time, but he didn’t say that either. Foxy was the only one of them with the software to save memories to a file and recall them absolutely; Bonnie’s own memories were all too mortal and this one was decades old. If Freddy said it was a different color, it probably was.

Still. Faulty as Bonnie knew his memory was, this thing looked just like the fucking scoop he remembered. This thing…and now anyone could get one. Like Ana’s touch-screen tablet or the tiny toy of a phone she carried in her pocket or God knew what else.

“Is this what-t-t you thought the future would look like?” Bonnie asked out of nowhere, surprising even himself.

“WHAT?”

“The future. You know. B-B-Back when we were new. It’s been, what? The sign in the lobby said Fifty Years With Freddy Fazbear and I sure believe it. I feel it.”

Freddy grunted sympathetically.

“And I can remember thinking-ing-ing, you know, ‘Wow! The year 2000!’ like it was something out-t-t of the movies, something I couldn’t e-e-e—eeeeeee—” He gave his speaker a thump, cleared it with static and went on, “—even imagine living to see,” without really being aware of the interruption. “I don’t know. I j-j-just thought it would look different. Flying c-c-cars and building-ing-ings shaped like melted p-p-popsicles. I don’t know. Nothing’s changed-d-d but the way they talk and dress.”

Freddy grunted and turned his head enough to run a cursory eye over the scoop…the pneumatic arm. “IT’S. PROBABLY. CHANGED. MORE. THAN. WE. KNOW. IT’S. JUST. THAT. WE. WERE. LIVING. WITH. HIM. AND. HE. WAS. ALWAYS. LIVING. IN. THE.” He clicked a few times, shrugged and said, “IT. JUST. TOOK. FIFTY. YEARS. FOR. THE. WORLD. TO. CATCH. UP. TO. HIM.”

Without thinking, Bonnie said, “You want to hear something funny?” and instantly wished he could take it back, but Freddy said, “SURE,” so he couldn’t. He tried anyway. “I mean, it’s not funny-ny-ny, exactly. It’s not a joke. You know what, it’s nothing-ing,” he said, walking away. “Forget it.”

“WHAT IS IT, BONNIE?”

After a little fidgeting and without turning back—he didn’t want to have to look at Freddy when he said this, or see Freddy looking at him—Bonnie lowered his ears and said, “I miss him sometimes. Not him…not that there’s much d-d-d—DIFFERENCES MAKE US SPECIAL!—difference, I guess. I mean, they were friends, but he didn’t know what he was d-d-doing…until he did. I mean…I don’t know what-t-t I mean.”

“I. DO.” The wind blew in through the open roof and swept the confession away. In the distance, a car’s engine started up, then another, and another. On the loading dock, Freddy sighed and said, “I. MISS. HIM. TOO.”

“Really?”

“LATELY. MORE. THAN. I. USED. TO.” The cars were leaving, driving right past the access road one by one, and when the last of them was gone, Freddy came in. The loading dock door rattled down and was secured with the old table leg and a few careful taps from an even older paw. “AN-N-A,” he said, then clicked to himself and settled on, “REWINDS. ME. OF. HIM. I DON’T KNOW. MAYBE. ANY. ONE. WOULD. IF. THEY. TALKED. TO. US. LIKE. SHE. DOES.” He was quiet a moment. “HE. USED. TO. TALK. TO. ME. LIKE. THAT.”

“Heh.” Bonnie dredged up a smile from somewhere sad inside him. “You always were Dad’s favorite.”

“I KNOW.” Freddy made his way across the cluttered store room, putting a hand easily on the pneumatic arm’s head to push it aside when he passed it, and then putting that same hand on Bonnie’s shoulder in a companionable pat as he passed him, too. “IT’S. OKAY. TO. MISS. HIM. WE. WERE. MADE. FOR. A. GOOD. REASON. NO. MATTER. HOW. WE. WERE. USED. IT’S. OKAY. TO. REMEMBER. THE. GOOD. TIMES.”

Bonnie followed him out of the kitchen and into the East Hall. “You think-k-k he’s still alive?”

“I DON’T KNOW. HE. DIDN’T. LOOK. GOOD. THE. LAST. TIME. AND. THAT. WAS. YEARS. AGO.”

“I keep thinking-ing-ing, if he was alive, he’d come. Not to t-t-take us home, but just to look around-d-d—THE MULBERRY BUSH! To check on things. On us. D-D-Don’t you think?”

Freddy grunted and kept walking.

“I know he won’t take us home again,” Bonnie admitted. It hurt. “I know that-t-t. He needs us to k-k-keep watch, right?”

Freddy glanced at him, but didn’t answer.

“Because he’s old-d-d and…and people die, but we d-d-don’t. I know why he left us here, I just…sometimes I wish we c-c-could just go home.”

“WE. ARE. HOME. BONNIE.”

There really wasn’t anything more to say that didn’t hurt, so Bonnie said what hurt the most, what he’d never in his life said out loud or even really put into words in his own head: “Do you think-k-k he ever loved us?”

“YES.”

He wasn’t sure what answer he’d been expecting, but if he’d had the time to prepare a list of possibilities, that would have been at the bottom, if he thought to include it at all. Bonnie’s feet rooted in shock, but Freddy just kept walking. “You c-c-can’t mean that,” he said.

Freddy didn’t answer.

“If he loves us, why d-d-doesn’t he want to see us?”

“LOVED.”

“What?”

“I. SAID. I. THINK. HE. LOVED. US,” said Freddy. He reached the crossroads where the fake pig stood and waved forever under the signpost directing guests to one of the many fun event rooms in the restaurant that bore his name, and there, Freddy finally turned around and faced Bonnie. “HE. STOPPED,” he said. “HE. FOUND. OUT. WHAT. WE. REALLY. ARE. AND. HE. STOPPED.”

He didn’t go on to say what that meant. He didn’t so much as say Ana’s name. He didn’t have to.

They looked at each other beneath an open roof, a starry sky. Eventually, Freddy turned around again and kept walking, on patrol. Bonnie went to the arcade to play skee-ball with Chica and wait for Ana.