Foxy was not having a good night.
Which was not to say he was having a bad night. Good nights in general were few and far between in this place, or in any of the restaurants they’d called home over the years. Most nights were neither good nor bad, they just were, and that was fine. That was the kind of night Foxy should be having right now, but he’d made the mistake of answering when Chica poked her pretty head into the Cove and called his name earlier that evening, so instead of spending another comfortable night sitting on the deck of his ship in the dark doing nothing, Foxy had to spend it in the arcade, pretending to have fun.
To make matters worse, the camera came on shortly after the match began and it must have been a dull night down below, because it didn’t switch off again. Apparently, the Purple Man had nothing better to do than to watch Foxy get his plastic ass beat at table tennis.
Knowing he had an audience did not improve Foxy’s mood or his co-ordination, which he could only assume made for a more amusing show for them down below. The camera stayed with him, blinking to mark each miss, every foul, and otherwise shining its bleeding light directly in Foxy’s eyes. Chica offered several times to move on to skeeball or ring toss or even scratch a grid into the floor and play checkers with old treasure tokens, but Foxy refused. Truth be told, Foxy would rather have the camera’s light in his eyes to blame for his poor score than no excuse at all.
His one consolation was that he didn’t have to suffer alone. Freddy had wandered haplessly through on one of his patrols. If Foxy had been the one asking him to stay and play, he’d have received a grunt and a glare and the sight of Fred’s cracked backside limping away, but Chica had them big pink eyes and the lilt of endless optimism in her voice, and Freddy let himself be snagged just as Foxy had.
They played doubles against Chica’s single self and she still stomped them. Her many enthusiastic calls of “Good shot!” and “Ooo! Almost got me!” were all the more aggravating for knowing she sincerely meant it.
After an hour of ping-pong punishment in the camera’s unblinking spotlight, Freddy started making excuses and fading toward the exit, but again Chica turned on the charm and suggested a different game. No ring toss or checkers this time, oh no, not for Freddy. She suggested a card game, because Chica might look all sweetness and innocence, but she sure wasn’t dumb.
Freddy did some grumbling, but ultimately proved unable to resist the siren call of a game he was guaranteed to win, seeing as he was the only one present with two functional hands, and therefore, the one who’d be dealing. So Game Night sailed on, dragging Foxy along with it like an anchor.
Eventually, Freddy had won enough hands to assuage the pride he’d wounded losing at table tennis and he again began to make noises about resuming his patrol. Chica offered to walk with him. Freddy initially demurred, but she kept trying and before Foxy could sneak out and escape to the safety of his cabin, Chica had managed to talk Freddy into another ‘family outing.’ Off they went to tell Bonnie the good news, with Chica behind them to make sure they couldn’t make a run for it, cheerfully nattering on about how great it was to finally be able to do things together.
“We could play Hide and Seek,” suggested Foxy. “I’ll be It.”
“Nice try,” said Chica with a huffy sniff. “You only want to be It so you can sneak off and do nothing while we hide all night.”
“Is that true?” Freddy asked, glancing at him.
“Well, that’s not going to happen,” Freddy said sternly, then grunted and added, “If anyone gets to be It and sneak off, it’s me.”
“Freddy!” Chica wailed.
From the not-too-distant dining room came Bonnie’s voice, pitched just loud enough to carry to them: “Guys, keep it down.”
“Oh, are we interrupting yer musical flow, maestro?” Foxy asked loudly. “Oi, it’s Family Fun Night! Time for another of Chica’s nature walks! Exercise yer rusty pins, mate! Exploration and adventure and all that feel-good shit.”
“Come on, Bonnie,” said Freddy, limping around the corner of the stage wall. “We’re going for a walk. And if I can’t get out of it, neither can…What is she doing here?”
There was only one she.
Foxy darted around the corner and there on the stage was Bonnie, almost exactly where he’d been the last time Foxy had seen him, except that instead of a guitar, he was holding Ana’s tablet in the crook of one arm. Oh, and Ana herself in the other, deep asleep.
Although she’d probably started out sitting at Bonnie’s side, once she’d fallen asleep, she’d wiggled herself around in that slippery way she had until she’d made herself child-small in the cradle of his arms. Her skin was flushed, glowing in the light from her tablet; an animatronic’s heart ran hot, too hot for human comfort in the summertime, but Ana held on regardless. Not the heat, not the smell, not even the rough bald feel of old Bon’s casing could put her off. She slept with her back to the room and her face pressed to his chest, one arm limply slung around his neck and the other curled like a kitten’s paw under her own chin. Her brows were pinched in restless sleep, full of dark dreams.
The sight stabbed in, hooking up memory. She’d slept like that with him once. Just the one night and a few short hours after dawn, sleeping off a bad trip in the last quiet moments before Mason and his whole happy crew turned up to hunt her down. He wondered if she remembered that. She remembered waking up on the floor of the Cove and she must have some memory of being tied up in his cabin for safe-keeping, because she’d tried to throw it in his laughing face once, but did she remember sleeping with him just like this? Her hand on his chest like she was feeling at his heartbeat, like he had a heart to feel. Sleeping in his arms, so still…so trusting…
“You seriously going to stand there and act like you weren’t listening in?” Bonnie was saying.
“I wasn’t,” said Freddy, leaning over to brush Ana’s hair back from her flushed cheek. “I didn’t even know she was here.”
“Sure, you didn’t. A mouse farts in this place and you know it.”
“I’ve been in the arcade.” Freddy shot Chica an undeservedly hard stare. “I told you I needed to keep watch. I told you anything could be happening.”
“Oh stop. It’s not like I chained you to the wall. Besides, it’s only Ana.” Chica waddled a little closer, head cocked in concern. “Is she okay? She looks a little sick.”
“She’s drunk,” Freddy declared, frowning. “Drunker than I’ve ever seen her and I have seen this child drink.”
“Something to celebrate, maybe,” said Foxy, watching the fog of Ana’s breath grow and recede on the bare surface of Bonnie’s casing. His own chest itched; he scratched it. “Ye get back together?”
“No,” said Bonnie and made a visible effort to keep his ears from flattening, with only partial success. “She had a bad day. She wanted to relax.”
On the tablet’s little screen, a blonde woman let out a gagging scream and a gurgle.
Bonnie looked at it and set it aside, careful not to jostle her. “So Ana relaxes in weird ways. I don’t care what she wants to do, as long as it makes her feel better.”
Freddy grunted. “Did she tell you?”
Bonnie’s left ear twitched. “Tell me what?”
“Whatever ‘it’ was. Whatever brought her here this late and this—” Freddy reached into the shadows of the stage behind the bunched curtain and unerringly came up with a beer bottle and a disapproving frown. “—upset.”
“That’s mine,” Bonnie snapped, grabbing it back and giving it a hard shake in front of Freddy’s face. “And I haven’t even opened it!”
“Gonna drink it someday,” Ana mumbled, scowling without opening her eyes. “So quit shaking it.”
Her words were slurred, hard letters softened or erased entirely in a most particular manner that did not come from sleep. Freddy heard it and gave Bonnie a hard stare.
“Yeah, she’s been drinking,” Bonnie muttered, thumping the bottle down on the padded stage beside him, out of Freddy’s reach. “But she only had one beer since she got here and she didn’t keep it down. I don’t know why she’s still so drunk.”
Before Freddy could answer, the camera over the stage snapped on. The cone of light it cast swept right over Ana at first as the camera looked the rest of them over, then came abruptly back to her and zoomed in.
Ana made a sleepy sound of protest when the light hit her, wiggling around to press herself more fully against Bonnie’s chest. “Turn your eyes off,” she moaned. “Too bright!”
Bonnie put a shielding hand over her face. It was the best they could do, short of lifting Chica up for another lesson in summer safety, and wouldn’t that be a fun thing to try and explain when it woke Ana all the way up? The Purple Man wanted a good, long look and there was nothing any of them could do—
The camera shut itself off.
Foxy looked up. They all looked up.
The camera over the stage stayed dark. The one in the East Hall came on, close enough to listen in, but not shining in her face.
“Thanks,” Ana murmured, curling herself up smaller as she sank back into sleep.
Foxy sent Freddy an uneasy glance. Although the Purple Man seemed content to play the part of an automated security system most of the time, his interest in Ana had always been obvious, and no mystery there. Even if it weren’t for the bloody tie that bound them, she was still a beautiful woman unaware of danger. He couldn’t touch her, so he made up for it by leering at her whenever he had the chance. Annoying, but expected. So now, when she was passed out drunk in easy viewing reach, something as simple as not staring at her was odd enough to rouse suspicion, and Foxy could see Freddy had noticed.
Technically, Ana broke the silence first, snoring, but Chica was the first to speak: “Our walk is cancelled, isn’t it?”
Freddy nodded, dividing his stare between the dark camera over the stage and the lit one out in the hall.
“Yeah, um, speaking of walks…” Bonnie shifted, gathering Ana up like an armload of warm raw pizza dough, and managed to stand without either dropping her or waking her—two minor miracles. “I’m putting her to bed,” he announced, heading for the Party Room. “But stick around. I want to talk to you guys. Chica, can you get the doors for me?”
Chica could and did, and soon Foxy was alone with Freddy, which, seeing as Freddy was still brooding at the camera, was as good as being entirely alone. Funny. Here Foxy had been pining for quiet all night, and now that he had it, it was digging in under his skin like needles.
“What’s crawled up Bon’s tailpipe now, do ye reckon?” he asked, when the silence got too heavy to hold.
“Someone Ana works with has been giving her trouble,” Freddy growled, moving over to peer into the spotlight in the East Hall. The camera there promptly shut off and didn’t come on again anywhere obvious.
“What kind o’ trouble?”
“Bad enough that she told me about it.” Freddy grunted, now heading for the West Hall door. “Not bad enough to do anything about it. Not then, anyway, but it would seem he has since stepped up his game…He’s in the Party Room. He’s watching her.”
“Ye surprised?” Foxy asked, overwhelmingly unconcerned. “Pretty girl, more’n half-insensible. Just his type.”
“What do ye mean, ‘stepped up’?” Foxy asked, watching him from the corner of his so-casual eye. “Push n’ shove? Sticks n’ stones? Pitching a bloke in the quarry under cover o’ darkness?”
“One can only hope, but I doubt it. She’s afraid she’ll lose her job. Then again, she’s lost it before. Once she sobers up, she’ll take it in stride, but Bonnie will probably run hot the rest of the night, so no matter what he says when he comes back, you mind your manners and don’t make a bad situation worse.”
Foxy placed his good hand over the spot where humans kept their hearts, his eyes innocent-wide. “Ye wound me, man!”
“Don’t. It’s not funny.” Freddy shut the door and came back to the stage to pick up the bottle—Bon’s bottle. He grunted and carried it away to the kitchen, calling back, “Bonnie goes black too easily these days. With Ana out of the room, he won’t try as hard to control himself. He’s right on the edge already. Don’t push him.”
Foxy nodded like he was listening, although he couldn’t rightly see Ana being so tore up by losing her grass-cutting privileges as to come all the way out here to cry in her beer over it. Or cry on Bon’s shoulder. Not that she needed much of a reason to snuggle up on Bonnie in the past, but that was before the two of them had split, if they even had. Foxy had never been with a woman long enough to split from one, but even he knew that when one turns up after midnight to ‘watch a movie’ in a bloke’s lap, she was demonstrating a certain willingness to reconcile, if only for the night.
And what had he done about it, the long-eared git? Nothing, that’s what. Hell, if she’d boldly asked him for a screw, old Bon would have gone politely off to fetch one from her toolbox. Idiot.
Freddy appeared sternly in the kitchen doorway. “I said don’t push him.”
“I heard ye. I’ll be on me best behavior, I promise.” Foxy walked over to the stage and picked up Ana’s tablet, still spitting colors and noise. He’d asked her that night, the night she may or may not remember, what might have been if only she’d met him before Bonnie. Well, doubtless there’d be many differences, but one thing was for damn sure: she wouldn’t have spent the night watching movies if she’d come knocking on Foxy’s cabin door.
The camera over the stage came on again. A second later, the West Hall door scraped open and Bonnie limped in with Chica close behind him. Bon’s eyes went first to the camera, then to the tablet in Foxy’s hand. His ears, already low, snapped down flat.
“Don’t get yer knickers in a knot,” Foxy said before the bitching could begin. “I were just looking.”
“Well, don’t,” Bonnie snapped. “You’ll scratch the screen.”
“I ain’t even touching the screen, ye big blouse. What are ye watching?”
“What’s it to you?”
“Bonnie,” sighed Freddy.
Chica, ever the peace-maker, waddled over and took the tablet. She opened her abdominal casing and felt around inside herself distractedly while keeping one eye on the tablet, pulling a face at whatever it was she saw. “Oh gross. What on Earth are you watching?”
“What’s it to ye?” Foxy asked politely and heard the heavy scrape of Freddy rubbing his muzzle and grumbling without words.
“Ana likes horror movies,” Bonnie muttered. “They’re all she ever watches. And these ones aren’t that bad.”
Chica winced at the screen again, actually covering one eye and peeking through her fingers. “They’re not?”
“Trust me, these are practically cartoons compared to the ones she usually watches. She said the one before this one, The Follower or whatever she called it, actually won all kinds of awards for…what?” he asked himself, looking first at the tablet and then up at the ceiling. “‘Setting a new standard for cerebral horror.’”
“What the hell does that mean?” Foxy asked with a laugh. “Splitting a bloke’s head with a book rather’n an axe?”
“No, dumbass, it means not relying on jumpscares and gore to hold the audience’s interest.”
“Like ye knew that,” Foxy scoffed.
“I did! I mean I do!”
Foxy settled himself against the wall, shaking his head. “Ye do after Ana told ye, ye mean.”
“Can you two give it a rest for one night?” Freddy demanded.
Someone on the tablet screamed.
“Awards,” Chica echoed, closing one eye in an exaggerated wince. “This won awards. For being cerebral.”
“Not this one, the other one. I don’t remember what this one’s called. She was asleep by then and it started up automatically and I couldn’t turn it off—” Bonnie fixed Foxy with an accusing stare. “—without scratching the screen.”
Chica took the hint and found the broken feather she’d used as a nib the last time one had been needed and kept because of course she kept it. Never knew when you’d need a broken plastic fuzzy feather. A thousand and one uses, that.
“It’s called Drag Me To Hell,” Chica read, then shook her head and tapped at the screen until it went dark. “Sounds cerebral all right. Are they any good?”
Bonnie snorted. “No. The first one was boring and that one’s just gross. She says they’re full of symbolism and shit, but I must be too stupid to see it. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but give me jumpscares and gore.”
“Leaving aside Ana’s questionable taste in video entertainment,” Freddy said loudly, taking the tablet out of Chica’s hands and setting it firmly on the stage out of everyone’s reach, face-down. “What is she doing here? What happened?”
“You remember the other day when she came home early?” Bonnie’s eyes let in a little more black. “That guy at her work who was leaning on her?”
Chica punched a fist into her cracked palm. “I knew it! What did he do this time?”
Chica’s growing indignation fizzled into confusion while Foxy and Freddy exchanged a glance. “He did?”
“Yeah. The same night after they had their little blow-up, somebody smeared him over most of his kitchen. And you’re being awfully quiet,” Bonnie added, managing somehow to address both Foxy and Freddy with one sidelong glare. “Something you’d like to say?”
The camera, silently watching all this play out, swiveled around to ‘look’ at Freddy.
Freddy ignored it, calmly returning Bonnie’s accusing stare. “What do you expect me to add? If she was planning to do something, she didn’t tell me. On the contrary, she specifically told me he wasn’t worth doing anything about.” Freddy paused, his ears tipping forward even as they angled wider apart, registering equal parts amusement and interest. “But you don’t want to know what I know. You want to know if I did it.”
The camera swiveled back around to look at Bonnie.
Chica immediately adopted her mediator’s posture and tone, saying, “Oh, I’m sure that’s not what he—”
“Did you?” Bonnie asked.
Freddy shook his head. “I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t occur to me, but no, I didn’t.”
One of Freddy’s eyebrows scraped slightly upward. “You mean did I kill a man and just forget?”
“Hey, the last time some asshat was giving her a hard time at work, you mentioned getting a name, checking a phone book and sending Foxy out for a stroll.”
The camera turned back to Freddy, who merely folded his arms.
“Did ye really?” Foxy asked, giving Freddy a crooked smile before turning his eyes and a careless shrug back on Bonnie. “I never even heard o’ the man before tonight. Hell, I still ain’t heard a name, so I don’t even know who to be gaffing. No, mate, it weren’t me.”
Bonnie just kept looking at them, his eyes moving back and forth from Foxy to Freddy, as if waiting for one of them to crack and confess, and the longer he waited, the angrier he got.
“What is this about?” Freddy asked. “Does Ana think we did it? Is that why she’s here?”
Bonnie backed up at once, ears jutting forward like horns, hands in fists. “No, nothing like that! Jesus, Freddy! When are you going to quit?”
“Bonnie, I can see that you’re very upset and I want to help if I can, but I’m telling you one time, just once, to calm yourself down or I will put you in the freezer.” Freddy gave that a moment to sink in (the camera whined, its lens focusing on Bonnie’s face), then quietly said, “I’m not going to hurt her. You should know that by now.”
Every inch of Bonnie’s body said Do I? but after a long, strained moment, his eyes dropped and then his ears.
“My concern,” Freddy went on, emphasizing the second word, “is that she’s not supposed to think we’re even capable of killing, not after all the work we’ve gone through to convince her otherwise. If she has evidence that we are, you need to tell me, now, before she ambushes me with it.”
“No,” said Bonnie, staring at the floor. His ears flattened as his eyes rolled. “I don’t mean no I won’t, I mean no, there isn’t. I don’t think the thought even occurred to her.”
“Then why is she here?” Freddy asked. “Based on the incident the other day, I can hardly believe she’s in mourning.”
“Yeah, you’d think that, huh?” Bonnie shot back, then took a few seconds to cool before saying, “She’s not. She just thought it was weird, how he died. And the more she said, the more I started thinking it was weird too. It’s not impossible for a human to have done it,” he added with a grudging sort of scowl. “It’s just that when she laid it all out like that, it sounded so damned unlikely. I mean…” Bonnie’s ears flattened, came up, flattened again, came up halfway. “You really didn’t do it?” he asked, his tone wavering, like his ears, between a question and an accusation.
Freddy glanced at Foxy. “Tell me the truth and that’s an order. Did you?”
Foxy shivered, throwing off the twitches his programmed obedience itched out of him, and shook his head. “Ain’t got me hook wet since Mason and his crew came knocking.”
“Chica?” Freddy put a stabilizing hand on her arm before dropping the magic words: “Tell me the truth, that’s an order.”
Chica’s spasms were much more violent, but she came out of it, like Foxy, shaking her head.
“And you’re just going to have to take my word for it,” concluded Freddy, still holding Chica while she cleared her error log and regained her balance. “But for what that’s worth, I give you my word it wasn’t me. All right?”
Bonnie stared at him, his ears twitching up and down with indecision before finally going flat. “Look, I don’t care that you did it,” he said in what he probably thought was a placating tone while Freddy groaned and clapped his hands to his muzzle. “I just want to know how! How’d you get in and out? How’d you even get all the way there and back? You’re always here!”
“Yes,” said Freddy, spreading his arms wide open. “I’m always here, Bonnie! It wasn’t me, I was here!”
“Then you sent Foxy! He’s never around!”
“I just told ye,” Foxy began mildly.
“Then you lied!” Bonnie burst out. “You lie all the goddamn time! It was you! Just admit it! I’m not mad, I just want to know how the hell you did it!”
Foxy ‘thumbed’ his hook in Freddy’s direction. “Did ye not hear him order me to tell the truth?”
Mere facts weren’t about to interfere with Bon’s logic. “He must have ordered you to lie earlier, in case someone asked.”
Foxy couldn’t help it; he laughed. “Yer giving me too much credit and him not enough, mate. If’n he told me to lie under orders to tell the truth, me neural net would’ve fried. Programming and paradox don’t mix.”
Bonnie’s hot, stubborn glare held for a second or two before dying to puzzled coals. “I don’t…” His ears trembled and folded slowly back. His stiff shoulders fell. “It wasn’t you?” he said, first as a question and then with broken resignation. “It wasn’t you.”
Silence, except for the draw and wheeze of their fans and the low whine of the camera as it adjusted its focus. Foxy tried to wait it out, but curiosity got the better of him. Ignoring Freddy’s censuring stare, he attracted Bonnie’s attention with a friendly shoulder-punch and said, “Don’t play coy, man, tell us how the bloke died!”
“What’s it matter?” Bonnie dropped onto the stage, slumped over his knees, and stared glumly at the ground as the camera moved to put him in a sympathetic spotlight. “I guess his wife really killed him. And I’m an asshole. Sorry, guys.”
Freddy dispensed forgiveness with an impatient wave. “You must have had a good reason to be this sure it was one of us. I want to hear it.”
Bonnie shook his head, but it was a little too late for that and after a bit more stalling, he gave up. “You got to hear Ana tell it to get the full effect, but according to her, this guy went home and gave his wife a slap, at which point the wife hulks out. Tipped the fridge over, stabbed him with spoons, you name it. She beats this man—this big man,” Bonnie stressed, “with everything she can get her hands on, up to and actually including the kitchen sink, but there’s not a drop on her. She died from a nice, clean heart attack in the next room.”
“The kind what comes from killing yer husband?” Foxy suggested.
Bonny glared at him. “Or the kind that comes from seeing something inhuman kill him in front of you. Ana heard there was some damage done to the wall when she fell into it. Well, I’ve seen a lot of humans stumble or even run into walls, but the only time the wall ever took damage was when the human got thrown.”
Chica hesitantly raised her hand. “Ana heard?” she echoed. “So…did she hear it from her boss’s cousin’s hairdresser’s boyfriend or from an actual reliable source?”
Bonnie rolled his eyes, nodding. “Sure, okay, there’s a few degrees of separation, but Ana seemed to think it was the real deal. She also said the cops pretty much consider it a closed case, but you know how it is.” Bonnie glared up at the camera. “The cops in this town close a lot of cases, but they don’t solve a lot of murders.”
The camera did not react, but Foxy couldn’t help imagining a certain smug shine in that dark glass eye.
“I mean, if the guy had just been stabbed or shot or hit with a frying pan, that would be one thing, but this guy was destroyed. Everything that could possibly be considered a weapon was used and I wasn’t kidding about that sink. Ana says the counter was broken apart by this guy’s head being driven through it.”
“Coo,” said Foxy, impressed in spite of himself.
“Coo is the word for it, all right. So yeah, I have trouble seeing how any human could be capable of something like that, but it occurred to me that I could do it pretty goddamn easy.”
“But would you?” Chica asked doubtfully.
“You’re goddamn right I would! If you knew half the shit this asshole has been saying—”
“No, I mean, would you kill him with a sink? Or a refrigerator. Or a spoon. I mean, I’ve seen you throw people around before, but your usual killing move is to crush the ribcage or break the spine.”
“Oh for—That’s not the point, Chica!”
“I think it is the point,” she said. “Listen, if it were me, I would have broken his neck. Or decapitated him. I don’t have much feeling in my hands anymore. It’s hard to break a neck without tearing the whole head off,” she said in an apologetic aside. “And Foxy would have used his sword or his hook.”
Foxy obligingly made a gutting motion.
“Freddy goes for the face,” Bonnie argued.
“Only once,” said Chica.
“Once is all it takes,” Freddy remarked, and demonstrated after a fashion by slamming his empty hands together. “I don’t need murder weapons. I am one. Chica’s right. The sheer amount of overkill here more or less proves it was a human.”
Bonnie shook his head in frustration. “You’re right and I know you’re right, but I can’t stop thinking whoever did this was way stronger than a human.”
“Whoever did this didn’t have to be strong, Bonnie. Just angry. And we can’t get that angry,” Freddy went on calmly. “We’d go black well before we did half the damage you’ve described, and once we did that, there wouldn’t be any doubt who’d have done it, because we wouldn’t have just beaten the man, we’d have bitten him.”
Bonnie’s ears went up fast and drooped down slow. “Yeah,” he said, looking at the floor with a frown. “Yeah, I guess we would.”
“Feel better?” Chica asked, ready as always to be sympathetic.
Bonnie raised his head and looked at her. “Better?” He blinked, uttered a short laugh, and sat all the way up straight. “Chica, you don’t seriously think I was pissed because I thought one of you killed that guy? You know, the guy that called Ana a bastard and a whore and got her sent home from work and has been trying to get her fired? That guy?”
“Um…when you put it that way…”
“Yeah.” Bonnie laughed again, even as his eyes narrowed (pupils growing big and black) and his ears lay down flat. “Yeah, but no. I was pissed because you went without me. The part where he was dead and you killed him by bashing his lying face in? Yeah, I was fine with that.”
“Bonnie, you don’t mean that.”
“Oh.” Bonnie’s eyes opened up a little blacker. “Oh wow. Chica, I love you, but do not fucking tell me what I mean.”
Chica nodded, fingertips tapping, but didn’t back down. “I’m sorry, I should have found another way to say that, but please don’t. We don’t always have a choice and when we do…” Chica’s voice faltered. She looked at Freddy, who folded his arms and gazed unapologetically back at her. “…we don’t always make the right one,” she finished, quietly but with conviction. “I know it’s easy to say, oh, that he was a bad person, but that’s not all they are. That’s never all they are.”
Bonnie didn’t argue. He just looked at her—a hard, flat stare with eyes that were too narrow and pupils that were far too big—and whatever he was thinking, it sure didn’t look to be an internal monologue on the sanctity of human life.
Chica turned to Foxy, as if for help. It was hard not to laugh at her. Oh, he understood what she was saying and she was probably right, not that Foxy concerned himself overmuch with what this one or that one deserved. He could remember killing plenty of people who by no means ‘deserved’ to go out on the point of a hook and he had no doubt there were more he couldn’t remember. Foxy had never seen a scrap of evidence to support the existence of a Great Accountant keeping the book of each person’s life balanced, but if there were, the four of them were already deep in the red. Another killing more or less made no difference. Chica might like to say otherwise, but facts were facts and the fact was, they’d been made to kill. Programmed with ways and means, not to mention rules. It was a game. Games were meant to be played for fun, so why not enjoy it when you could?
He said none of this, but Chica saw it in him all the same. “They’re not all bad people,” she insisted, as much to him as to Bonnie. “They’re just people who do bad things…and good things, things we never see. They have flaws, but they also have families who love them. They made a mark on the world and they will leave a hole. Bonnie.” Chica put a hand on his shoulder and again when he shrugged it off. “Taking a life should never be easy,” she said softly. “It should never feel good. I’m sure Ana would tell you the same thing.”
Chica might as well have been reciting her favorite cupcake recipes for all the impression her words were making, but at that last bit, Bonnie’s ears hit the back of his head. “Ha,” he said with toxic humor. “You know what? You’re probably right. Hell, she sat there and told me all the ways he’s been harassing her and how him being dead didn’t suddenly make him a saint, and in the very next breath, she started making excuses for him.”
“Oh Bonnie.” Understanding flooded Chica’s eyes. “Is that what’s really bothering you?”
“You’re goddamn right it bothers me! Sorry,” Bonnie snapped at Freddy before he could be told to lower his voice. “I’m sorry, but he did everything he could to ruin her life and she’s sitting there telling me she can see his point. And you want me to be sorry he’s dead? I’m not! I’m glad! I am savagely fucking thrilled! The only thing I’m sorry about is I wasn’t there to see it!”
A touch of feedback came through Bon’s speaker on the last words. He didn’t seem to hear it, but Foxy sure did.
So did Freddy. He stepped forward, shielding Chica with his own broad body, and said, “That’s enough. You need to calm down.”
“I am calm!” Bonnie snarled, but shut his eyes and when he opened them again, the lenses had contracted to their normal size. “Okay, I’m not calm, but you didn’t hear her. He treated her like garbage and she felt sorry for him!”
Freddy acknowledged this with a grumble, but said, “I don’t think we’re qualified to judge others for how they cope with death.”
Chica edged out from behind him to add, “There’s such enormous social pressure to show sympathy for any kind of loss that we can hardly blame Ana for expressing it. I suspect her true feelings are…complicated. But the fact that Ana can forgive those who mistreat her is a good thing.”
“She didn’t forgive him,” Bonnie said. “She agreed with him. You see the difference?”
“Aye. Difference being, she were drunk,” Foxy said bluntly. “Ye ain’t been around enough drunken ijits or ye’d know a spell o’ self-loathing is just part o’ the process, somewhere betwixt dancing on tables and puking on yer shoes.”
Bonnie let out a sour sort of laugh. “You got that part right. But she believed it. Maybe the drinking made her see it or maybe it just helped her say it, but she already believed it. She had a whole list of reasons why this guy was right to hate her, and if you ask me, she’s been carrying that list around for a while.” He glanced at Freddy, then turned all the way around to face him. “If it wasn’t you, it should have been. It should have been me. It should have been someone who cared about her enough to stop the shit-talk before it got to the point where she believed it.”
Freddy frowned, but he didn’t argue.
“Well, it’s stopped now,” Foxy observed. “Don’t do her any good to dwell on it and it sure don’t do ye any better.”
“Stopped, huh? You haven’t seen her postcard collection, have you?” Bonnie stomped over to the stage and pulled Ana’s duffel bag to him. After rummaging through its compartments for a few seconds, he came up with a fan of colorful cards and threw them at Foxy.
He caught one and let the rest flutter to the stage floor at his feet. Canyon shot on the facing side, nothing special; on the letter side was written some kind of code, Amos 2:7, appended by the charming sentiment, WHORE’S BURN IN HELL.
“That is not the proper use of an apostrophe,” Chica said, quickly adding, “Which is so not the point right now. Sorry.”
“Got to give the dead man his due,” Foxy remarked. “He said what he said to her face. Not like this cowardly carbuncle.”
“Carbuncles,” said Bonnie, stresses the S.
Foxy looked at him, picked up another postcard. Different picture, different code…different handwriting. Hmm. Another postcard, another author.
And heaven help him, Foxy had to laugh. He could see three…five…at least six different sets of handwriting here, so…what? Were they in a club? Holding meetings? And this was the best idea they came up with for how to bully the girl? “Coo, I feel sorry for the first bloke she catches slipping one o’ these under her windshield wiper,” he said with a grin. “She’ll pound her boot so far up’n his arse, he’ll spit shoelaces.”
“Yeah and until then, he’ll go on writing them. And so will everyone else who’s in on it!”
“Aye, well…what ye going to do?” Foxy gave his handful of postcards a toss and let them flutter down like the insignificant scraps of paper that they were. “This town be full of ignorant arse-heads. Can’t kill ‘em all.”
Bonnie scowled. “Why not?”
“Because I said so,” said Freddy, folding his arms.
“Because it’s wrong,” Chica added.
“Because ye don’t know who they are,” said Foxy reasonably. “What are ye going to do? Go door to door? Kill everyone just to get the few what’s writing nasty notes?”
“I don’t think I have a problem with that.”
“Cold-blooded bunny that ye are,” Foxy said scornfully.
“Maybe I am,” said Bonnie and the words came in clear, untouched by static. The camera on the stage wall hummed, zooming in close, but Bonnie’s eyes stayed green. He wasn’t going black, not even on the edge of it. He was killing mad, but he was in his own mind. “Maybe it only took fifty fucking years for me to figure out that the only people that matter are the ones that matter to you. And maybe the next time she drops a name when somebody calls her a whore, I’ll take a goddamn walk myself, with or without your permission. I’ve killed better people for worse reasons.”
It was then, with this cheerful thought still hanging in the air, that the West Hall door scraped open. There stood Ana, weaving on her feet and holding onto the door with both hands, wearing naught but a t-shirt with a skull on the chest, a pair of panties riding high on the hip, and the stamp of her father’s features all over her face. Foxy looked sharply at Freddy, pneumatics wheezing and joints creaking as muscles he didn’t have tensed, waiting for the thunderbolt of delayed recognition…
But, “Ana, for heaven’s sake, put some clothes on,” was all Freddy said, already picking up postcards.
Bonnie raked a hand over the top of his head a few times as if physically pushing the anger back under his skin, and when it was all hid away again, he turned around, smiling, and said, “Go back to bed, baby. You’ve got work in the morning.”
Ana shook her tousled head. “There’s a monster in my room,” she whispered, her voice scarcely audible, breathy as a child’s.
Freddy blinked and turned all the way around to face her. “What? What monster?”
The question seemed a bit too complicated for Ana’s fuzzy sensors to follow. She stumbled further into the room, pointing vaguely at the gift shop. “There’s a monster in my closet. Look. It’s still there.”
Bonnie caught her before she could fall, holding her rather stiff-like at arm’s end while she gripped his wrists and swayed on her pegs. “You were dreaming, baby. You’re walking in your sleep.”
Ana turned her wide, wounded eyes up at him. “No, I’m not. I’m awake! The monster woke me up.”
“Okay. What was it doing?” Bonnie asked.
“It tucked me in.”
Bonnie nodded, managing a wan sort of smile for her that he carried mostly in his ears. “That was me, baby girl. You’re dreaming.”
Ana shook her head, still doll-eyed and shivering. “No, I’m not! The monster came when you went away. It was waiting. In the closet.” She pointed again at the gift shop, wailing, “Don’t you see it?”
Foxy looked, but all he could see in the cleaned-out shop was blobs of white plaster where she’d patched holes in the walls, seeming to float in the darkness. “Ye ain’t going to squeeze reason out o’ her, mate,” he said. “She’s three sheets and sailing.”
“Take her back to her room,” said Freddy. “And make sure she stays there.”
“Someone should sit with her,” Bonnie said, holding Ana steady as she hung off his arm. “But it probably shouldn’t be me. Not yet.”
Freddy looked him over, then dropped the postcards in Ana’s open duffel bag and went to collect her. Bonnie gave her up without a fight and Freddy had only to pull Ana’s arm around his neck and tuck a hand under her legs and she just fell up and into his arms. He lifted her with a grumble, wanting everyone to know he had other things to do with his night, but set her gently against his shoulder and held her close as a promise until her little struggles waned. “Hush now. Be calm. I have you.”
“Aye, ye have her, and ye might want to have a chum bucket handy if ye mean to keep a hold of her,” Foxy remarked. “She looks a mite green around the gills yet.”
“We’ll be all right,” Freddy said and gave Bonnie a frowning, sidelong stare, silently asking Will you?
At Chica’s first step toward him, Bonnie said, “Not in the mood,” but she toddled over anyway and sat herself beside him, legs sticking stiffly out in an ungainly sprawl.
“We don’t have to talk,” she said as Bonnie’s ears flattened. “I just don’t think you should be alone right now.”
Bonnie shook his head, fingers twitching moodily over the strings of his guitar, but he didn’t tell her to push on.
A little quiet fell, filling up the space without settling. Neither of them looked at him, but Foxy felt their awareness of him anyway—the wrench in their gears, the anchor under their oars.
“Reckon I’ll take a walk,” Foxy announced, strolling toward the South Hall. “Someone ought to keep a weather eye out while Fred’s otherwise occupied. Lock up when I go, but leave an ear open for me, aye?”
Chica shot him a grateful glance as Bonnie shrugged a careless sort of agreement, and even before he had the playground door shut behind him, he could hear Chica’s soft voice. Bonnie wasn’t talking yet, but he would. Chica was damned good at drawing out what ailed a man, no matter how many layers of sulk he’d buried it under.
Good on her. Good on both of ‘em.
He’d rather be alone anyway.
Foxy crossed the playground under a moonless sky, picked his way over the fallen fence, and headed out across the parking lot. There were stars enough to see by, at least until he came to the sparse treeline. There, he switched his eyes on and dropped his patch, dimming the light he made as he walked the uneven trail down to the bottom of the bluff and around to the little heap of red earth and stone that marked the place where Mangle lay.
The night breathed around him, full of life. And death, aye, that too. Stones stood where they had stood uncounted ages. Plants grew, pushing their way screaming out of the hard, hostile soil. Insects called. Animals fed, fought and fucked. The wind blew and up above the covering clouds, the universe spun, and none of it took any notice of him. He was a flea on the skin of the world, unseen, unfelt.
Foxy scratched at his chest. The sound was harsh and dull, both at once, different from all the shrilling and scraping and chatter of the desert. Different from all the natural sounds.
“Ye awake?” he asked.
A little static and mechanical groaning muttered from under the ground.
“Hello, me pretty girl. Been a time since I visited, eh? Ye miss me?”
Foxy sang awhile. She made some noise now and then; he chose to believe she was trying to sing along. At the sky’s first lightening, he picked himself up and went back to the restaurant. And when he knocked, he had no doubt Freddy would let him in, once more on patrol. Chica would be in the arcade, beating her own high score at solitaire table tennis. Bonnie would be in the Party Room, tucked up behind the curtain with his sleeping girl and holding her hand to keep monsters at bay. Things had a way of sorting themselves out when he wasn’t there. Always had.
At the bottom of the bluff, the night breathed on without him just the same as when he’d been there. For a while.
Static sounded in rhythmic pulses. Foxy would have recognized The Ballad of the Flying Fox, if he had been there to hear it. Anyone else would have thought it was an insect, if they’d noticed it at all. It was not a loud sound, buried as it was in this grave.
This shallow grave.
One of the stones on the small, loosely-packed heap that both marked and weighted the place where Mangle lay suddenly moved, disturbed by some imperceptible vibration. A smaller one fell, tap-tap-rattling away to the ground.
A moment of stillness, but not silence. Metal scraped on wood; something heavy turned and scratched. Then the whole pile shifted as the ground heaved, straining up a quarter of an inch at a time until it appeared to reach its limit. It trembled there as static spat and snarled, and then, with a great muffled crack, the cairn fell apart. The stones settled, somewhat lower than before.
Mangle sang softly to herself for a few minutes, then slipped again into the black. Her body lashed mindlessly at its confinement—metal claws tearing at the boards, metal jaws devouring old wood and nails and sand and stone—until, as suddenly as the rage overtook her, it was gone.
Static crackled, hummed, then managed a soft, distorted word: “Foxy?”
The only answer was the chirping of a cricket. It was answer enough.
“I’m bleeding,” said Mangle. Her hand scratched up the side of the crate and into the space between two broken boards. She pried a small stone free of the packed earth, rolled it questingly between her finger-bones, then forced it into her empty left socket. “Bleeding out my eyes,” she whispered, feeling at the fit. “Out…both…my eyes.”
Her head lowered and came to rest, pillowed on the battered parrot attached to her shoulder. It twitched under her weight, trying to flap wings it no longer had, but the grinding of its little gears no longer disturbed Mangle. Her shattered mind slipped out of the darkness of her earthly prison, but not as deep as the black. She drifted in thoughts like static, interrupted occasionally by half-formed ghosts of memory: the sound of music and laughter, the smell of pizza, the hot little thrill in her chest when he kissed her for the first time…the taste of blood in her mouth when he kissed her for the last time.
Foxanne moaned. Mangle bit. Her teeth closed on a jutting bit of board and pulled it free. A little shower of sand and pebbles fell over her as she chewed it to splinters, and then there was light, thin as a golden thread draped across her face, glinting on the points of her teeth. She didn’t see it (her right eye’s lens was cracked and blind; her other eye was stone), but perhaps she had one working temperature sensor left that felt it, because when the blood-dream faded, she dreamed next of the warmth of the sun on her skin. Good dreams, as they so rarely were. She clung to them and for so long as the sun shone, Mangle was quiet and Foxanne was at peace.