Ana dreamed of many things that night: the heat and pissy stink of the closet, her mother’s twisted triumphant face receding in dark water, her bloody fingers closing around a cheap painted doubloon with Foxy’s smiling/snarling face stamped on the side. At the end, there was only her, running room to room in this nightmare house, only to look up and see the moon had numbers and she was trapped inside a giant grandfather’s clock. The pendulum swung, sharp as Poe’s blade, counting out all the time she had left. She looked back and saw him lurching out of the shadows, Springtrap Bonnie, rat-eaten ears swaying ridiculously with each lumbering stride. The light from the moon-face of the clock showed her all his peeling layers, from molding gold satin to rusted metal to tattered purple cotton to dried yellowed bone.
There was nowhere left to run. She could only stand and watch him come, step by shuddering step. She could hear the creaking of his joints, the laboring wheeze of his cooling system, the…the violins of Coldplay’s Viva la Vida?
No amount of terror could wake her, but confusion did it easily, pulling her slowly up through tarry inertia and depositing her none-too-gently in her own body. She could still hear the footsteps, only now she knew them for the muffled throb inside her own skull. She could still see the light, because the security camera was on and shining ten thousand microbeams of death through the fibers of the curtain. And she could still hear Coldplay, which meant either that she’d died and gone to the Hell of Overplayed Pop Songs or that her phone’s alarm had gone off. She hadn’t reset it to accommodate her new work hours, so if that was case, it was five a in the freaking m.
The temptation to shut off the alarm and go back to sleep was strong, but she knew she couldn’t. She didn’t have to go to work for another four hours, but it might take that long to hike back up Coldslip to get her truck and she’d need a shower when she got there, so she’d better get her ass in gear and the first step of that was to shut off the fucking alarm.
Ana let her arm drop off the bed so she could feel around the floor for her phone. When that failed to turn up anything, she managed to raise her head and look around. There was plenty of light coming through the curtain and even though it stained everything that deep purple hue, it was enough to see every inch of the party stage and her day pack was not there. Yet her phone was, clearly, and since she couldn’t see the light of its screen glowing anywhere, it was probably on the other side of the curtain somewhere and she’d better go get it, because the volume was going to dial up every thirty seconds until she shut the damn alarm off.
Pushing back the sheet that was her only covering in the sweltering Mammon summer, Ana dragged herself into a sitting position and took stock of herself. She couldn’t remember much of last night after turning on the movie, but she was pretty sure this was not the t-shirt she’d been wearing. Also, she had been wearing pants.
After further investigation, she saw yesterday’s clothes draped over the open door of the giant prop wardrobe that disguised the door to the Parts Room on the party stage. That meant she’d either gotten so blackout drunk that she’d changed half her clothes before passing out and falling across the stage into bed or that one of the animatronics had tucked her in. She tried to remember if it had been Bonnie or Chica (since Freddy would have folded her clothes and she couldn’t see Foxy doing it at all), but the only face that swam in out of the blur was the Puppet’s and she knew that was just one of the nightmares.
Ana peeled out of her sweaty tee and shuffled over to the dresser. She put on the first things her fingers touched, then made her way to the stage steps and swept the curtain back, her eyes shut against the blinding white of the camera’s light. She felt her way down, holding her head on with one hand, and when she reached the floor, she managed to squeeze her eyelids apart and look for her phone.
It wasn’t hard to find. It was in Freddy’s right hand.
They looked at each other for a little while, but since Ana really did not want to reach max volume on those fucking violins, it was a very little while. She pushed herself forward, holding his gaze just like she didn’t care that her eyes were probably bloodshot as hell. He had no business giving her the DARE-Bear Stare anyway. She was a grown-ass woman with the right to get drunk whenever she wanted. It wasn’t like she’d really blacked out, she’d just fallen asleep (probably), and she hadn’t trashed the place (hopefully) or done anything stupid like that (oh please, God, let her have been a quiet, well-behaved drunk for the first time in her life).
The camera whined with the whine of a thousand hangovers as Ana journeyed across the Party Room. She half-expected Freddy to play the won’t-let-go game with her phone when she finally reached him, but he handed it over just as soon as she was within reach. And then he made one of those magician’s flourishes and up between his first and second finger popped a folded square of paper.
The camera looked at it. So did Ana. She looked up at Freddy. The DARE-Bear Stare never wavered.
Pocketing her phone, Ana took the paper and laboriously unfolded it, clenching her jaws to suppress a wince at the ungodly flapping noise it made. She put her back to the camera so that its light fell on the paper and not into her eyes and read.
Good Morning, Ana (it began),
I have written this note because I am aware that you will be feeling delicate this morning and I am equally aware that my voice, even at its lowest setting, sounds like two sousaphones trying to fight their way out of a kettle drum. I do not wish to make what is bound to be a difficult morning any more unpleasant than it has to be. That does not mean we are not going to talk about last night, and if you roll your eyes at that, I will be happy to get into it with you, in detail, out loud, right now.
Ana, who had indeed been about to roll them, blinked the impulse away and glanced up at Freddy.
His eyes narrowed. That was all.
For now, I am content to tell you, in writing, that I expect to see you tonight and you had best come prepared to do a lot of listening. I want to see you nod now.
Great. An intervention. She was going to spend her entire weekend listening to Freddy freaking Fazbear tell her all the ways her drinking was affecting his life.
Freddy’s huge hand moved into view and tapped at the last line.
Ana closed her eyes so rolling them couldn’t get her into trouble, opened them and nodded once.
Freddy nodded back at her and folded his arms, gesturing at her with a flick of one hand to keep reading.
As practice for all the agreeing you’re going to do later tonight, I want you to drink at least one bottle of water before you leave. You may have coffee afterwards if you want it, and I’d like to see you eat something, but I won’t insist upon it if you don’t think you can. Nod.
Ana shrugged and nodded. She’d have done that much anyway, but go ahead and let the bear think he was bossing her around. Food was a bit dicier, but she could remember Bonnie giving her a couple Easy Bake ginger cookies last night and if there were any left, she might manage to choke one down. That would help soak up some of this sour stomach and the sugar would fuel the hike up the mountain. She couldn’t remember if she had anything to eat at the house or not, but if all else failed, she’d stop on the way to the dealership site and get something greasy from the gas station’s disgusting deli counter while she was picking up the coconut water and Monster Rehabs that was her usual hangover cure.
‘I have a usual hangover cure,’ Ana thought. ‘I deserve a Fazbear Intervention.’
It was supposed to be a joke. It didn’t feel like one.
Assuming you haven’t rolled your eyes, that’s all I’m going to say for now. I’ll say the rest of it when I see you tonight. Be safe on the road, especially when you are walking.
He’d signed it, not with the balloony cursive signature that was on all the posters he’d allegedly ‘signed’, but with a simple F accompanied by a stamp of his smiling face from the inkpad in the office.
Ana refolded the paper and put it in her pocket with her phone. Freddy opened the door for her and out she went to greet this godforsaken day.
The security camera followed her into the hall and went ahead of her into the dining room, lighting up the show stage where Bonnie sat playing his guitar. Her day pack was next to him. He picked it up before she even asked and showed her the tablet inside before zipping it up—she could feel the sound inside her goddamn sinuses—and holding it out. She went to get it and even though the camera was aimed right the hell at him and she had a hell of a long walk on a hot desert road ahead of her, she sat down beside him. Closing her eyes against the camera’s painful stare, she let the weight of the world push her into Bonnie until her aching head came to rest on his shoulder.
“Sorry about last night,” she whispered, because she had to say it. That was the one thing that could not wait.
He nodded, servos whining like mosquitoes in her skull, and did his best to match her whisper, not very successfully. “You okay?”
“Hangover. I deserve it. I’ll live. But listen…listen…” Intensely aware of Freddy looming just off to one side, Ana carefully said, “I’m sorry for what I did…but I’m not sorry I came. You were just what I needed. Thanks for being here.”
“I kind of have to be here. I can’t leave.” His arm twitched and eased around her. “But for once, I’m glad I was. You coming back tonight?”
She nodded, managing a dry smile. “I have an appointment for Freddy to yell at me.”
Freddy vented his cooling system.
“I can’t stay, but I’ll be back this weekend and we can catch a movie then,” she concluded and gave her pack, and the tablet within it, a pat. “Hopefully a better movie. How did It Follows end?”
“As far as I know, it’s still following.”
“Yeah, I figured. Sorry I fell asleep on you.”
“Hey, don’t be sorry. If I could have, I would have too.”
Her hangover faded enough to allow a small, soundless laugh. “I guess I don’t have to ask what you thought of it.”
Bonnie shrugged. “I’m not cerebral enough, I guess. What’d you think of it?”
“I only saw the first bit, so maybe I’m missing something…but that was a physical entity, right? Like, that was the whole deal, that it doesn’t walk through walls or teleport, it has to physically come after you?”
“Right, but it’s a demon, so I don’t think it can be killed.”
“Yeah, okay, but you don’t have to kill it,” said Ana. “Just stop it.”
“Wasn’t that the point? That even if you have sex with someone else, it’ll eventually get them and come back for you?” Bonnie must have caught a reaction from Freddy, because he glanced over and added, “Yeah, that was literally the movie. And it won awards.” To Ana, he asked, “How do you stop something that can’t die? Just lock it in the basement?”
Freddy grunted sharply.
“No,” said Ana. “That’s how you get sequels, Bon. Some doped-up dumbass always opens the door. So what you do is, you dig a hole, put an open oil drum at the bottom, cover it over with a towel or some shit, then stand there and be bait until the stupid thing walks over the top of it and falls in. You drop the lid on the oil drum, clamp it down, drill a few holes in the lid, and fill the thing with concrete. That shit will set up even underwater and it only gets stronger with age. At this point, you can bury it or you can drop it in a lake or whatever you want to do with it, and as long as no one sees you and gets curious about what you’re dumping, odds are good that thing is going to stay lost.”
“But the demon isn’t going to die.”
“It isn’t going to get out, either. By the time the barrel rusts out, that concrete will be set so hard, Superman with a jackhammer couldn’t break it apart. And even if he could, everyone alive when that demon was last moseying around will be dead. It’s got nobody to follow. It can sit down there until the end of time thinking about all the teenagers having sweaty teenaged sex without him. Problem fucking solved.”
The camera made a small noise, adjusting its focus.
Bonnie looked at it, then looked at Ana and said, “What if it doesn’t fit in an oil drum?”
Freddy grunted again, his most severe knock-it-off grunt.
“Everybody fits in an oil drum,” said Ana, climbing to her feet and dragging her pack onto her shoulder. “I could fit two people in an oil drum. Hell, I could fit you in an oil drum, if I’ve got the time and a few power tools handy.”
“Nice example,” said Bonnie with a crooked smile.
“Sorry. But I bet I could. I got to get walking,” she said as the camera focused in on her some more. “See you tonight.”
“Yeah. See you.”
Freddy said nothing. She thought she felt the DARE-Bear Stare burning on her back as she went, but when she peeked back through the tray return window as she crossed the kitchen, she saw him staring up at the camera instead.
* * *
Foxy passed the day in his cabin, but he started getting that restless itch around the start of the five o’clock set, so he took himself a walk. First to the arcade, where he expertly interrogated Chica on the subject of Ana while pretending to get his plastic tail handed to him in a game of skee-ball. Once he learned that Freddy had ordered, ha, Ana to come back and meekly receive a stern talking-to, Foxy wriggled out of a rematch and escaped to the dining room. There, he found Bonnie practicing his playing with his ears turned in opposite directions so he could listen to the front doors and the loading dock at the same time.
Foxy sat on the other end of the stage under the camera and made himself comfortable making Bonnie uncomfortable.
An hour passed.
Freddy’s regular patrols grew more and more irregular until he walked into the gym and didn’t come out again. Chica peeked in at him a few times, then went to the kitchen and over-decorated the leftover sweets in the cooler. Bonnie played his guitar and ignored Foxy.
Another hour passed.
Damn near at the strike of seven, if there were a striking clock anywhere in this building, Freddy slammed out of the gym and headed for the loading dock.
“Must mean she’s here,” Foxy remarked, watching him go.
Bonnie nodded, still playing, making no move to get up. Giving them privacy, like the sympathetic and respectful gentleman that he was. No bloody wonder he hadn’t got the girl.
Well, damned if Foxy would sit out here and miss the show. He went to the kitchen, found a leaning spot in the doorway and waited.
Bang went the loading dock door in the store room, and then came Freddy’s voice, speaking calmly and too politely, the way he did when he was in a right fine fume: “Hello. It’s good of you to finally join us.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know I’m late,” Ana said in a kind of sighing annoyance, which was not the way to respond to Freddy when he had his ears at that angle. “I had to make a trip to a real town to get your phone and I was not expecting it to take this long. The jackwit at the Walmart wanted everything but a pint of blood and my firstborn child before he’d give it to me. Here. I put my contact info in it already and got you a case and a screen protector. And a nib, which everyone else in the world calls a stylus, by the way. Manual’s in the box. If you need any help with the settings or whatever, let me know.”
Freddy grunted, not yet appeased, but acknowledging that it had been a good start. “Let me carry that.”
“I got it,” said Ana, still sounding testy. In a few moments, she appeared, carrying a largish cardboard box which she set with a heavy thump on the first patch of counter wide enough to hold it. She unhitched her pack and let it drop, nudging it out of the narrow aisle between the prep area and the oven. Catching Chica’s attention, she gestured to the box as she massaged her shoulder, saying, “Your books. I don’t know what you’re into, so I just tried to get a variety. Enjoy.”
“Thanks.” Chica peeked into the top of the box as she lifted it. “Wow, you got a lot! Did…Did you get your Chinese food?”
Ana shook her head, helping herself to a bottle of water from the cooler. “There was a line and I was tired. I’ll scrape something up when I get home. Okay, bear.” She popped the lid off her drink, had a swig, and propped herself up against the freezer door. “Let me have it.”
Freddy had apparently gotten lost in his new toy on the way to the kitchen, but now he appeared in the store room doorway, snapping his wrist compartment shut and frowning. “Are you sure that’s how you want to start?”
“I don’t care how you start. Let’s just get it over with so I can go. It’s garbage day tomorrow and I still need to fill up the trailer.”
Fred’s ears moved back to that angle. “Ana, I want you to listen to me, not just nod along to whatever I say until I stop talking.”
“How’s it feel to want?” Ana asked blithely.
Freddy opened his mouth, then looked at Chica.
Chica gathered up her box of books and quietly toddled out.
Freddy looked at Foxy.
Foxy stayed where he was.
“Bear, I have had a long day at work, sweating out a hangover in the hot-ass Mammon sun, and I am tired,” said Ana. “I’m sorry if I’m not taking my come-uppance with the proper attitude of humility and contrition, but let’s be real here, that’s not going to happen, so if that’s how you thought this was going to end, you are shit out of luck. Say what you’re going to say and let’s get on with it.”
“I don’t appreciate the attitude, Ana.”
“Oh, you think this is the attitude? Well, now you got to the count of three to start the lecture or I’m leaving without one.”
“I am not going to talk to you until you can give me a more constructive—”
Freddy stared at her while Foxy rubbed the grin off his muzzle before anyone saw it.
“Two,” said Ana.
“Do you want to talk about this like an adult?” asked Freddy with deceptive calm. “Or do you want me to deal with you like a child?”
“Three,” said Ana. And with that, she hopped down from the counter and headed for the store room. “Good talk, bear. See you later.”
Freddy came around the other side of the oven and got to the doorway ahead of her, blocking it with the bulk of his body.
“And you think I’m the one acting like a child,” scoffed Ana.
“Why? Because I won’t play your stupid game? I told you, get mad. You want to yell at me? Yell at me. Hell, throw a punch. Whatever you think I deserve, lay it out, big bear, but do it and let me go home. I’m tired, I have a splitting headache, and I still got shit to do!”
“I’m not going to hit you,” he growled. “I’m not going to yell. I’m not angry with you.”
Ana huffed and stepped back so that she could give his ears an exaggerated looking-over. “Yeah, you are. Let it out, bear. It’s not healthy to bottle up your emotions. Right, Chica?” she called loudly.
From the dining room came the sound of a box of books being dropped by an eavesdropping animatronic, then hurriedly picked up again.
“Believe it or not, I am actually aware that I fucked up last night,” said Ana. “You want an apology for that?”
“You’re owed one,” she interrupted. “Sorry, that sounded like a bitchy rhetorical question, but it wasn’t. I wasn’t kidding about how tired I am and everything I say is coming with a side of salt, but seriously, I am sorry I showed up drunk on your doorstep last night. I didn’t plan to.”
Freddy took a deep breath and vented it, hard. “Ana—”
“So I’m sorry about that, but do not ask me to promise it’ll never happen again. Sober-Me is a clusterfuck of bad judgement at the best of times and we both know it. Drunk-Me makes that bitch look like a paragon of reason.”
Freddy vented his cooling system again and said, “Are you going to let me talk?”
Ana pinked up some, threw a flustered glance at Foxy, and backed off with a go-ahead wave, pacing restlessly around the oven.
“Will you sit down?” Freddy asked, watching her.
“I’m fine, just say it.”
Freddy looked at Foxy. “Do I need to order you out?”
“What, you don’t want an audience?” Ana asked with a short laugh. “Who are you putting on the act for, then?”
The March began to play—long, distorted notes that belied the lack of emotion on Freddy’s face. “This is not an act.”
“Sure it is. You’re acting like you’re not mad—” She flung out both hands, pointing simultaneously at the set of his ears and the center of his chest, reverberating with music. “—when you obviously are. And you’re acting like if you put on a good enough show, you’re going to squeeze more sorry out of me than I already gave you when, frankly, I’d rather you be mad than lie to me.”
“Ana, I’m not mad at you,” Freddy said. “I’m only…disappointed that you—”
Freddy broke off there, distracted by Foxy’s anticipatory wince, and into this short pause, Ana exploded.
“Are you shitting me, bear?!” she demanded and slammed down her half-gone bottle of water hard enough to send a geyser up to damn near the ceiling. “‘I’m not mad, I’m disappointed?’ For real? It’s not enough that I’ve got to stand here and listen to you talk down to me like you give a damn, but at least come up with some original material! If that’s all the effort you’re going to put into this, I am walking on you!”
Freddy’s ears had set at practically the first word and the March began to play faster, but otherwise, he just stood there and took it. However, when Ana attempted to make good on her threat at the end, he put out one arm to block the door. “We’re not done talking,” he said, while she gazed introspectively at the fresh splinters peeling up around the new crater cupping Freddy’s fist. “I’ll let you know when you’re dismissed.”
The spidery sound of Bonnie’s fingers playing on his unplugged strings stopped, but the high-pitched whine of the camera filled the void it left. Shadows leapt and spun crazily as it switched from hall to store room to dining room, trying to find an angle that would allow him to see the scene in the kitchen. Neither Freddy nor Ana paid him the slightest attention.
At last, Ana finished calculating her chances of winning either a stare-down or a fist-fight and backed off. Freddy pulled his fist out of the door’s frame, flexed the fingers a bit (as much to make sure they all still worked as for intimidating purposes, thought Foxy), and lowered his arm. The Toreador March slowed and steadied and finally stopped.
“I am disappointed,” Freddy said and watched as Ana threw out her arms with a scoffing sound and paced around the oven. “But before I tell you why, I want to hear you guess.”
“Oh Ana, how art thou a fuck-up?” Ana intoned sarcastically. “Let me count the ways. One is for your raging alcoholism. Two is for bringing it uninvited into someone else’s house. Three is for getting drunk-slutty with the guy you broke up with.”
Foxy glanced back at Bonnie, waiting to see surprise lift those ears as he realized the girl who’d spent the night crying on his shoulder had actually been looking for more than a movie and a hug. He didn’t see it, and not even Bon was dumb enough to mistake her meaning now, which meant he had actually realized it last night and just hadn’t done anything about it. Long-eared git.
“Four is for making you babysit my drunk ass all night. How many do you want, bear? Five? Five is a nice number. Okay, five is for being able to pretty much guarantee I’m going to do it all again at some point. That do it for you? You hear what you want to hear?”
“No,” said Freddy.
“Yeah, well, I’m sure you could come up with a million more things for the list, but that’s all you’re getting from me. Come on, what are you trying to do here?” she demanded, coming back to thrust her defiant little chin up at Freddy (and God, that was David’s own angry gesture, and hadn’t they all seen it a hundred times? How could Freddy not recognize it?). “I already know I fucked up. The whole reason I went home in the first place was because I knew better than to bring it here.”
“That.” Freddy pointed at her, and as if he’d been using that hand to hold on to his temper, spilled out a few more notes of the Toreador March. “That’s it, right there.”
Ana blinked at him, some of her anger skewing sideways into chagrin. “I said I was sorry! I know I shouldn’t have come here—”
Half a bar of the March blasted out of Freddy, cut off by a blat of static. “I’m disappointed because you didn’t come here,” he said. “Because you should have come here first instead of going home to ‘medicate’.”
Ana huffed a little, dropping her eyes. “Yeah, I should have. I got better booze here. I fucking hate gin.”
“Is this where I’m supposed to get siderailed into talking about how you drink too much?” Freddy asked tersely. “I don’t approve of recreational intoxication, but you’re an adult and despite the phenomenal lapse of judgment that led you to drink that much and then walk here on an unlit road where you know people drive recklessly, I still trust you to know your limits. If you have concerns on that subject and you’d like to talk about them later, we certainly can, but right now, we’re still talking about how you chose to isolate yourself before you started drinking.” Freddy paused, then leaned a little closer and growled, “Although, since you bring it up, why were you drinking something if you didn’t like it?”
“The goal was not to have a good time, bear. The goal was to black out.”
After so many years on restricted speech protocols, Freddy’s silences could say a lot. This one said that was the wrong answer.
“Would you please explain?” Freddy asked, very quietly.
“What do you need clarified?”
“You intended to black out.”
“You started drinking with the express purpose of passing out.”
Ana muttered something Foxy’s mics couldn’t make out.
“I don’t care how it feels,” Freddy snapped. “You were alone! Do you have any idea how easily you could have—” He stopped there as the Toreador March started up and this time, he just let it play. He stepped out of the kitchen doorway, tinkling away, and pointed. “Go to your room.”
Ana looked at him for a moment, the very edge of an extremely unwise smile ticcing at the corner of her mouth, before shrugging. “Okay.” She turned toward the counter where she’d left her pack.
“Leave that. I’m not sending you to your room to play around on the internet. I want you—”
“To think about what I’ve done? Jeez, bear, did you get all your disciplinary protocols from Leave it to Beaver?”
Freddy’s hand flexed. “Not all of them. Go to your room, Ana. Not one more word.”
She looked at her pack, looked at Freddy…and put up her hands in angry surrender. “I’m only doing this because I love you,” she said tightly and stormed out.
“So am I!” he snapped as she pushed past him. He took his hat off, rubbed his brow and muttered, “So am I.”
Bonnie said something softly as Ana passed the stage, but Foxy didn’t turn his ears to catch it. The camera switched off in the store room, but Foxy didn’t look to see where it came on next. He watched Freddy’s eyes—blue and black, black and blue—waiting to see where they’d settle. Freddy vented a few breaths, then put his shoulders back, took off his hat and placed it on the nearest counter, and all the while, the Toreador March played.
“I’m going to take a moment,” Freddy said, briskly unknotting his tie. He folded it over and set it next to his hat. “Chica, would you get the door for me, please?”
Chica came at once and wordlessly opened the freezer.
“I’ll knock when I’m ready to come out,” Freddy said and walked inside.
Chica shut the door and made sure it latched securely.
Seventeen long seconds later, that latch shuddered as a fist hit the other side, making a first in a good number of years: Freddy had gone black.
“Sheesh,” breathed Bonnie, coming up behind him, and for a while, the three of them just listened. The freezer was supposedly soundproofed and maybe it was, against human noise, but it couldn’t silence an animatronic. The metallic screech and roar of a bear in the black wasn’t much out here, but they could all hear it.
“He probably won’t be too long,” Chica said, flinching a little with each suppressed shiver of the door. “But just in case…Bonnie, maybe you should wait in the West Hall.”
Bonnie’s head turned toward her, although his eyes didn’t follow right away. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I’ve been in the black for hours before. I am not going to keep her in her room all night just waiting for Freddy to calm down so he can finish chewing her out.”
“No, if she wants to come out, of course let her out. She’s not a child,” Chica said, giving the freezer a pained glance as Freddy raged. “Just try to make her understand why she shouldn’t leave. They need to come to some kind of healthy conclusion before she goes home.”
“Yeah, sure. Maybe he can ground her,” Bonnie suggested. “Send her to bed without dinner or something.”
“I know, I know,” Chica sighed. “I’ll try to talk to him, but it would help a lot if the first thing he heard from her was an apology or at least an acknowledgment of the danger she put herself in, preferably without more sarcasm.”
“Hey, she knows she did something stupid. Maybe Freddy shouldn’t be rubbing her nose in it and then expecting her to thank him for it!”
“She knows she did something stupid,” Chica agreed, sad-eyed. “Does she know she did something suicidal? Because if she doesn’t, then that’s bad enough, but if she does and that is still the attitude she has about it, than that’s a lot worse. Either way, she’s not going to want to listen to what he has to say, but she still needs to hear it.”
The freezer door thumped and shuddered.
Foxy shrugged himself off the wall and started walking.
“Where are you going?” Bonnie asked as he brushed by.
“Back to me cabin,” said Foxy. “Ain’t much of a show tonight.”
“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry we couldn’t entertain you!”
“Eh, a few more rehearsals, maybe work in a song…try again tomorrow, mate. Ye were just off yer game tonight.”
Foxy waved without looking around and walked on.
Down the twisting hall he went, past the animatronic pig waving from the chipped signpost, and onward to the Cove. He could hear hornpipes already, disharmoniously mingled with the generic electronica coming from the arcade and the instrumental version of the Fazbear theme song playing in the theater. In another half-hour or so, the restaurant would ‘close’ and the cheerful music piped through the hidden speakers would shut off. Even better, the few lights Ana hadn’t taken down when she’d torn off the roof would go dark. Foxy had nothing against light, had even missed it some after all those years shut up without it, but he’d grown used to the dark and had a feeling it had maybe grown used to him, too.
In his cabin, dark and quiet (well, dark anyway; wooden walls couldn’t do much to dampen the sound of those shanties blasting through the auditorium speakers, let alone the cackling of those bloody crows), Foxy settled himself on his narrow bunk and went back to his usual evening routine of nothing.
It was difficult to shake off his thoughts, even more difficult to sort out exactly what those thoughts actually were. Worried about Freddy, he supposed. The last time he’d seen the bear go black had been…had been…well, hell, it had been the night that girl had broke in and gone after old Bon with the bat. Foxy hadn’t seen that; Fred had come to get him as soon as she and her boyfriend had busted through the loading dock, but they hadn’t wasted any time exploring or trophy hunting. No, they went straight for the kill. In the short time it had taken Foxy to run down the hall, it was already done. Seeing Bon on his back onstage, still trying to tell jokes while the girl gleefully went at him, laughing as she swung and swung and swung…it was the first time in a long time Foxy had felt anger connected with Bon that hadn’t been directed at him, but he hadn’t even properly gotten his fire stoked before Fred’s roar damn near broke his mics. No time to be angry after that, he’d had to quick grab Chica and Bon and get them the hell away before Freddy saw them. In the black, it didn’t matter who was friend and who was enemy; in the black, everything was the same.
The invaders had run, giving Foxy precious seconds to put Chica on his shoulder and gaff Bonnie through his conveniently exposed jawbone (had he been the one to pull it loose? Foxy didn’t think the spring had snapped that night, although he supposed the rough handling sure hadn’t done it any favors) and drag him from the room at a run. He didn’t dare look back, but the sounds followed him: scream, crunch, gurgle, splat, and through all of it, Fred roaring.
He’d been a good three hours coming out of it that day. Three hours hiding down in the maze, chasing after Chica and Bonnie because they kept trying to path back to the stage, knowing at any time, his own showtime protocols could reset and force him back to his own stage, abandoning the others to their fate. Three hours listening to the screech and bellow as Fred stalked through the halls, just waiting for him to wander into the Treasure Cave, because he could, at any bloody moment. Even in the black, there were rules, but Freddy wasn’t bound by them. He could go anywhere.
Fred had come out of it that day, as they all came out of it whenever they went black…although Mangle was living proof that ‘always had’ didn’t mean ‘always would’.
It was a bad thought to get lost in and get lost he did. The Parts Room had been built as strong as the freezer, but it was not soundproofed. He’d always been able to hear Foxanne coming and going on her restless nights. All the same, Foxy never knew Ana was there until the door hidden on the back wall scraped open.
It startled him, which was annoying, although not so much that he let out a yelp or somesuch. So she didn’t know he was there either as she picked her way out of the mess backstage and into his cabin. He listened to her fumble and swear across the tiny room, bumping every damn thing there was to bump at least twice, and when she put her hand on the latch of his cabin door, he switched on his eyes.
That startled her, which appeared to annoy her more than she already was, but she didn’t let out a yelp neither.
She tried to stare him down, having not yet learned that most particular lesson that animatronics didn’t, strictly speaking, have to blink. When that failed to score her any points, she released the latch and faced him straight on. “You going to tell on me to the bear?” she demanded.
“They made me a fox, luv, not a rat.”
“Then what do you want?”
“What do I want? Ye came to me room, not t’other way around. Which raises the question…” He winked his eyepatch at her. “What do ye want?”
She was not amused and all at once, he wasn’t much in the mood for telling jokes.
“Come here,” Foxy ordered, shifting around on the small bunk to get his feet on the floor. “Sit on me lap.”
“Eh, worth a shot. Sit on the table then,” he said, waving his hook at it.
“Why should I?”
“Because if’n ye don’t, I’ll put ye where I bloody well wants ye,” he replied amiably. “And do what I bloody well feels like doing once I does, like as not, so if’n ye wants merely to sit and chat, this here’s yer one chance.”
Ana looked at the cabin door.
Foxy snorted through his speaker. “Ye better be faster than I am, luv. And ye ain’t. Sit. Or don’t,” he said with a shrug. “Yer choice.”
She swung herself sullenly around and stomped all of one step to the table. There, she tried to slap the prop bottle out of her way, not realizing that it, like the map and the spyglass and the little heap of coins also cluttering up the tabletop, was solidly affixed to keep little fingers from making off with souvenirs. Foxy waited for the swearing and hand waving to stop, then opened up the cupboard above his bunk and brought out a real bottle, one of those fancy ones she’d bought for him along with the pirating outfit he hadn’t yet bothered himself to wear. He scraped the wax off, hooked out the cork and had a swig, then offered the bottle.
“No thanks,” she said, tight-jawed. “I’m driving.”
“Suit yerself. Bon’s waiting for ye in the West Hall, so ye should sneak out t’other side o’ the Cove and up the back way to the emergency exit by the arcade. I know yer thinking ye’ll bump into Freddy on the way, but never ye fear, lass. He’s in the freezer.”
After a moment, she thought to scoff, but she frowned first and the frown never entirely left her eyes. “What, he get so horny to give someone a time-out that he gave it to himself?”
“One in eight million three hundred forty two thousand, roughly calculated,” Foxy said and had another drink.
“What’s that?” Ana asked finally.
“The odds of instantly frying out yer neural net when ye go black. Or to put another way, the odds ye’ll never come out of it. Gambling odds for a fair goodish gamble. ‘Course, that was in the beginning-like, with proper maintenance and all systems green. Things wear down. Systems slow and programs get buggy. Still, them’s good odds. If’n ye had a one in eight million chance of…oh, say…choking on yer sick in a drunken stupor some night, why, I reckon ye’d jump at it and never think twice.” He had another drink and took a little time afterward to study the picture on the bottle. “What do ye reckon the actual odds o’ that are?”
Ana had a mind made for numbers. She thought about it, whether she wanted to or not.
She scowled. “You do know that I never actually got that drunk last night, right? Like, I was sober enough to walk all the way down the mountain without falling and I remember practically everything I did and said. I don’t even know why the hell Freddy’s making this big of a deal out of it, but damned if I’ll take it from you.”
“Ye want to?”
Ana’s anger skidded sideways again. She peered at him and hesitantly said, “Want to…what? Take it from you?”
“Coo, anytime, luv, but no. Want to know why Fred’s got his wires in a knot over last night?”
Ana’s shoulder twitched. “Because he thinks I’m too stupid to take of myself.”
He reached out and gave her a light tap to the noggin with the rounded side of his hook. “Don’t take it so personal. It ain’t so much that he thinks ye can’t. It ain’t ye at all, it’s him. We all gots our way of getting through all this—” Foxy indicated the tiny room around them with a wave of his bottle. “—and Fred’s way is family. No matter how bad it gets or how long we sits, so long as he’s got us all together and safe as he can make us, he’s okay.” He corked the bottle and put it up in the cupboard again. “He ain’t okay tonight. Venture a guess why?”
It felt like a good stab when he said it, but she parried it with an angry shrug.
“That’s not on me,” she said. “I don’t control how he feels.”
“Nor do I, but I know how he thinks, and I know that one in eight million ain’t the same as saying never, no matter how long the odds, so I does what I can to ease his mind. Because I know family be everything to him, even if it ain’t much more’n a word to me.”
He could tell that one cut, but it didn’t hit the bone. And he supposed it didn’t have to. Ana and Freddy were eggs, the pair of them—hard shells, gooey middles. Ana might flounce out of here and drive herself home in a huff, but she’d come skulking back tomorrow or the next day to scuff her toes and mumble her sorries, and Freddy would raise the paw that had punched the life out of a hundred people, many of whom had done no real crime, and pat her on her wee head in perfect forgiveness. He could send her on her way right now, knowing everything would be all right.
But on the other hand, there was an opportunity here. The fact that she hadn’t already whipped out a photograph of her little lost cousin, now that she knew they had all surely met him, meant she had some idea of the purple stain in David’s blood. And her own, maybe. Hard to know. Ana played it chary-close, but it was only a matter of time before she asked some telling questions. Better Foxy answer them now, because she’d ask her lovesick, long-eared eunuch and, rules or no rules, Bonnie would muck that up. If he lied, if found a loophole big enough to drop a clue, even if he said nothing at all. Bonnie was bloody useless at secret-keeping. At most things, really, but secret-keeping especially.
Foxy thought about it, not weighing risks so much as sussing out how best to start off, then said, “Ye lost someone once, ye’ve said.”
Ana did not answer, but her chin went up and there was David again, like a shadow under her skin.
“So did we,” Foxy said, looking at her—at both of them together in her. “I recollect telling ye there’s only ever been one other what Fred’s called family, eh? Knew him all his life, we did. Longer. Knew him when he weren’t but a bump on his mum’s belly and a gleam in his daddy’s eye. And we loved him anyway, in spite o’ them.”
The heat went out of Ana’s glare slowly and did not spark back. Her lips parted…closed. She waited, doing all she could to hide her thoughts, but they slipped out through the cracks in her armor and betrayed her just the same. “What…What do you mean, ‘in spite of them’?”
He had to go carefully now. Foxy was a damned fine liar, all false modesty aside, but this one had to be more than damned fine. She had to leave here so convinced, so crippled by belief, that she wouldn’t even want to look for proof, that she’d be afraid to find it. It had to haunt her. It had to hurt. And if she was going to swallow that line, he needed a shiny, shiny hook.
Trust. And how did a deceitful man go about gaining trust? By pretending to be vulnerable.
“Freddy wouldn’t want me to tell ye,” Foxy said, letting her see just enough reluctance for her to know she could convince him. “It’s over, for him. He wants it to stay buried.”
She leaned forward, just a hair, perhaps unaware she’d even done it. “Did he order you not to say anything?”
“No,” Foxy said slowly, giving her a frown. “Ordered Bon, though, and I were right in the room, so I surely can’t claim there were any doubt he meant it.”
“But he didn’t give you the order,” she insisted, going right for that tasty bait and biting hard.
“Then I want to hear it. Please.”
He let her simmer, pretending to think about it.
“There’s things I can’t talk about,” he said at length, beginning with the truth, as all the best lies did. “Absolute programming, ye ken. Rules to make me keep certain secrets. I won’t try to get around ‘em, but if ye’ve lived in this town, I reckon ye can guess what they are.”
“This is what you wanted to tell me,” she said, brows pinching slowly together. “That day on the dock. But you never did.”
Nettled, he shot back, “Ye never asked, did ye? How many times ye been back and how many times ye even tried to see me?”
The pendulum of her mood swung back to irritation. “I figure if you’re in your room, you don’t want company. If you want to talk to me, come and get me. I’m not the one hiding!”
“Oi, if I wants a lecture about me unhealthy anti-social tendencies, I’ll talk to Chica. They didn’t make me a party animal, they made me a pirate. Pirates like to be left alone!”
“Well then, don’t bitch when I leave you alone.”
“Ye want to hear this story or not?” he snapped.
She huffed to let him know she was adding a point to her scorecard, but squared her shoulders, bracing herself, before she nodded. So. She had an idea what she was about to hear and it made her wary, not curious. And yet, if she knew the truth already, what in hell was she doing here, alone in his cabin, killing close?
“So there’s things we can’t talk about,” he said again.
Ana nodded, accepting this without frustration.
“The man behind it all—” An alert blipped on in the corner of Foxy’s vision, bringing a tremor up his spine to rattle in his ears. He cleared it and shifted the focus to another subject. It was all about loopholes. “—met a woman. Marion Blaylock.”
The name was a growl. He hadn’t intended it to be. He’d wanted to keep this part dry, but the growl worked for him, maybe just because of its raw, unrehearsed sound. And Ana did not question it, which was a telling thing all its own. She’d been waiting for that name, aye, and the growl.
“She loved him, if ye can use that word. Love like a sickness or a poison. She done things for him. Eh? Things. And she had his son. David. Sorry about that, luv,” he said, feigning a very slight remorse as Ana drew in a small, sharp breath. “Ye had a cousin called the same, I know. Common enough name. I must have known a hundred Davids in me time. Sorry I don’t remember your’n better, but I’ve wracked my circuits and the only Stark I can think of apart from yerself was a lad named Joey, and that were at High Street. Maybe a year or two at Mulholland a’fore he considered himself too old for shanties and singalongs. I don’t suppose ye knew him?”
Ana stared at him a moment, then roused herself and shook her head, more as one dispelling a thought than answering a question. “No,” she said in an odd, low voice. “No, I’ve heard of him, but I never knew him.”
“He had sisters, as I recall. Suppose he was yer uncle, eh?”
“No,” she said at once. “No, he’s…he’s no relation at all.”
Foxy filed away that reaction for another day and went on with the tale. “David grew up among us. As much as we hated the bitch and dog, we loved that pup. And Fred loved him best. Ye see, the man who made us…Freddy saw him as more a father than a—” Foxy flexed his arm broadly, filling the cramped cabin with the sound of gears and pumps. “—robotics engineer. And in the beginning, he loved us, aye, and he loved Freddy best. When that all stopped, Fred took it hard. If’n ye ask me, all that family rot o’ his started there, losing his ‘father’…but gaining a son. Freddy raised that boy, all he could, every minute he were here, and every time he had to give him up, it hurt him. There were things happening at that house, ye see.”
Still no questions in Ana’s eyes, only the shimmer of pain. She knew all this. He had to cut deeper.
“The man died. We thought it might get better then, eh? Like an infection, finally allowed to drain, but…she went on loving him. Talking to him, like he’d never left. And doing things to make him happy…the sorts of things what made him happy. Bad enough things at Freddy’s, but worse things at home, to the boy she brought into the world, the boy she should have been nothing more’n a mother to. And he loved her yet, ye ken, because that’s how it is with kids sometimes. They keep the good stuff close and bury the bad down deep in the dark places inside o’ themselves where they never has to see it.”
Ana looked away, her breath shallow and too loud in the small space. Bleeding on the inside, where she didn’t think it showed.
“And that was how it was for years,” Foxy went on, twisting that knife. “David would come here every day, hiding behind a laughing face and clinging to every hour that kept him from going home with her…alone with her. And every night, he’d have to go and Freddy would have to let him go, knowing that bitch were doing things to his boy. Hurting him. His soul, if not his flesh. His boy. His family. Until finally…”
Oh carefully now. So far, it had easy, but now the lies had to come, fitting over the truth like skin over bones, holding the shape and just…just filling it out some.
“Didn’t happen in front of us,” said Foxy. “But the right whisper must have reached the right ear, because they took him away from her. And if ye asked Fred, I know he’d say he were glad of it. Turned out for the best, but at the time? It broke him. That were his boy, more’n those what had bred him into being, and Fred couldn’t protect him, couldn’t save him, couldn’t even say goodbye. And who did he have left, eh? Marion. Marion bloody Blaylock.”
Ana’s lips moved. She coughed a little, gripped at her throat, and said, “What happened?”
“Don’t know, do I? We got some rumor of him from time to time, but we never saw him again. His new folks took him out o’ Mammon. Might as well have taken him off the edge of the Earth. And Circle Drive closed after…well, ye know.”
“Aye. The doors closed, at any rate. Our creator kept thinking we’d reopen, so we stayed on at the building. And Marion stayed. Night guard, eh? Keep the riffraff out. Even after there weren’t no more hope of opening and she were fired, she kept sneaking in. Doing her job, whether or not they paid her. Like she thought if she just rolled on like normal long enough, normal would roll on back on her. And she talked to us, ye ken. Told us all about it. Like we were friends. So I know, ye see, how Marion tried to get her boy back. I heard about every lawyer, every day at court, every scheme. When that didn’t work out, why, she just dreamed a better ending, saying how this and that would happen and she’d get him back and it would be just like before. Better. Because now he’d be older.” The last word ended on another uncontrived growl. “And he’d look just like his father.”
Ana stared at the window set in the bunk wall behind him. Through the cloudy pane of glass, the light of the octopus brightened and dimmed—blue and green and pink. And purple.
“So that kept her going awhile, happy as she ever was. Loving a gone boy ain’t much different than loving a dead man. She always did like to live half in her own head,” he said derisively. “But after a few years, I reckon reality started sinking in. She stopped talking about how she was going to get him back and started saying more how he didn’t want to come back. Loved his new mum more’n her. Loved his new dad. Didn’t want to see her. Didn’t want her letters. Didn’t want her last name. We saw less and less of her over the next year or so, and every time we saw her, she looked…not bad, I has to say,” he admitted, rubbing his muzzle as he thought back to the way Marion had looked in those first years after David’s death. “Not the way ye think of ‘bad’. She were still dressed up fair, still clean and smiling, but that weren’t her. It was like…like she was an animatronic herself, human skin over wires, going through the motions of living. Ye ken?”
Ana nodded stiltedly. “Did she…Do you know what happened to her?”
“Oh aye. She got herself a new bloke.”
Ana looked at him, finally surprised. “A boyfriend?”
“Sugar-cookie sort o’ word for that sack o’ shite, but aye, ye could call him so. Sure, and I can’t say worse than him who came before, but bad enough. He’d come with her from time to time when she went to ‘work’, so we saw plenty of the son of a bitch. We saw him beat on her, bad-mouth her, get her drinking and drugging, but no matter what he did, she lapped it up and loved him all the more. He gave her something to be, even if it was just the filth on his sheets,” he said, watching Ana stare away at the window again. “That weren’t long a’fore they took us out o’ Circle Drive and I reckon it were only a few months later that they installed us here. When we opened, there was Marion with her old job back again, and I tell ye, lass, I hardly recognized her. Whatever it had been, six months, seven, since the last time we’d seen her, and as bad as she’d looked then, now she looked like her own corpse pulled from the river and left to dry in the desert. She took her old job back and managed to hold it the whole week, despite some complaints from the paying guests. After the closing, she and he broke in together one last time. Couldn’t get the safe open and the arcade paid ‘em out nothing but Fazcoins, ha! Ain’t seem ‘em since. Hopefully, they lit out o’ town and came to a bad end on t’other side of the world.”
Ana closed her eyes and kept them shut.
“Chica says we should feel sorry for her.” Foxy shrugged, pretending to study the array of plastic baubles on the table. “Chica’s a better one than I am. I’d put me hook in her, if I had the power. I’d gut her just for what she’s done to Freddy, let alone to her own son. And Fred, oh…If ye ever want to see him go black in a blink, ye just say the name o’ Marion Blaylock and stand back. She hurt his boy and she broke his family up, and that wound goes straight through to the heart of him. It’s bleeding yet. Now I know it ain’t easy to be hovered over the way he does—Lord, don’t I know!—but he can’t help it. When he looks at ye…” Foxy looked at her, his eyes whirring softly as they moved from point to point along the features of her face. “…he sees David.”
Ana nodded once, her eyes still shut fast.
“He just wants to do better by ye. Not pen ye in, not grind ye down, just…take care of ye. Keep his family safe and close. Aye?”
Ana nodded again, silent.
Foxy gave his thigh a slap and stood up. “Time ye were on yer way, and seeing as I’m feeling gentlemanly tonight, I’ll open the door for ye.” He gestured, back wall to cabin door. “Which one do ye want, luv?”
Ana cocked a thumb back at the Parts Room, then ran that hand through her hair, disguising a quick pass across her eyes. When she opened them, they were dry.
Foxy punched in the access code and stood aside as the door slid open. “Fair winds and following seas to ye, then.”
A final nod and Ana pushed herself onto her feet. She stepped past him and up onto the mess of props, animal carcasses and regurgitated trash that was Mangle’s nest. Foxy leaned up against the jamb, letting his eyes be a lamp for her on this uncertain footing until she’d reached the Party Room door. Once she’d picked out the code and opened it, there was new light—a purple glow that proved the camera was on and pointed at the curtain that closed off Ana’s bedroom onstage. So that was good; he thought she was there. And so did Bon, whose low worried voice could be just be heard cajoling at an empty room from the West Hall.
Ana listened for a moment, then turned her head just enough to show Foxy the blade of her cheek, not enough to let him see even the glint on her eye. She tried twice to speak and then just moved on, out of the Parts Room and into her room onstage. She closed her door.
Foxy closed his and stood a while, sifting through the ashes of whatever he was feeling and killing off the guilt. He had nothing to feel guilty about, did he? He wished he could have told her the lie he’d drawn up for the Purple Man, with rainbows and glittery hearts all around, but at least this way, she was sure never to speak the name of Blaylock in a moment of unguarded chatter. Maybe it would even be peace of a sort. Maybe she’d stop thinking of David as a ghost and find a way to see him as a living man, and it might ease her some.
Hell, as bad as the lie had been, it was still a happier ending than the truth.
Happy endings all around, in fact. In an hour or two, surely no more than that, Fred would come out to have his final word and he’d find Ana proper remorseful, if a bit too quiet. Bon would get all the credit for talking her around, Foxy had no doubt, and Ana would say nothing to disabuse him of the notion, and that was fine. Let Bon have his movies with her; there was nothing that brought two people together like a secret shared, and the darker, the better.
That thought stirred up another meager spark of guilt. Foxy crushed it out and settled himself again in his bunk. He shut his eyes off, filling up the dark with the sound of his hook scratching back and forth across his casing, and waited for someone to come and tell him everything was all right now, no thanks to him.