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the owner of the house

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"It's alright," He's breathless and Stan thinks, Stan thinks, Stan thinks

he thinks

"I can fix this."

The corner of something lodges in Stan's thoughts, right across line, interrupting the flow with a crack and

I can fix this.

So why don't we

"Just hold still, just-"

-

"Mr. Pines!"

"What!" Stan stretches his tone to a grouse, to as thick and irked as he could sell it for, maybe 4.99 a pound.

Soos always bought what he's selling though, usually with a smile and never with an employee discount because Stan would rather be caught dead and buried (and locked far underground) than give something like that.

Hell, what was he thinking? He smacks the side of his head, tries to dislodge the jumble to something more coherent. Normal. (Freak.)

"Uh, something ate one of the Halloween skeleton's necks," the plastic monstrosity in Soos's hands flops pitifully, a single vertebrae chewed through. It's head twisted to the side, deformed and grotesque. It stares at Stan. Soos stares at Stan. "I was thinking necktie- you know, to give him a dignified new outlook on life! And head support."

"I think it's going to take more than that to save your buddy here, Soos my man." Wendy throws her arm around the skeleton's shoulders, making it's head bob. "Why not just pop the sucker's head off and make it a headless horsemen kind of deal?"

Soos's tone is reverent. "Wendy, you are so wise."

"Yeah yeah, do I pay you to be wise? I pay you to decorate." Stan turns as Wendy laughs, axe at the ready for a beheading.

"Mr. Pines sure doesn't like Halloween, huh?" He hears Soos say as he leaves.

"Mr. Pines doesn't like anything," is Wendy's flippant reply.

He cringes at the chop.

-

"Remember when you took me trick-or-treating that one year Mr. Pines?" Soos's tone is light, happy, nostalgic. Buoyant. It dislodges a laugh from Stan's throat that he manages to smother into a chuckle.

How could he forget? "Two industrial strength garbage bags worth of candy and a town-wide ban on leaving candy out if you're away." Soos grins at the pride in Stan's tone, relishes in it. Makes Stan think of ruffled newspapers then anything, anything else.

"You musta been the master trick-or-treater when you were a kid dude." Soos's enthusiasm is contagious yet it doesn't catch. Stan's breath catches though and he laughs, forced, hollow.

"Nah, can't say I was a fan of the holiday."

"Really?" Soos stares. "Why not?"

Stan shrugs, tries to shrug off the uncomfortable weight settling on his shoulders. "Never had anyone to go with."

-

He's in the shack and he's young.

It's not the shack, not yet, just an abandoned collection of wood and

why was he here?

"Because you found it," the owner of the house tells Stan. "It's yours now."

"Right, it's mine," Stan mimics, "because I'm Stan Pines."

"You're Stan Pines," the owner agrees, "and you know this house."

''course I do."

"You know all of it," the owner insists.

"Every inch."

"So," the owner starts, "then

-

"Well, now you got me dude!" Soos himself is contagious, kinda like a cold you can't shake.

Stan rolls his eyes, huffs. Tries not to look pleased.

(Fails.)

"We aren't trick-or-treating, Soos."

"What about a horror movie marathon?"

"Will that shut you up?"

"Absolutely."

"I'll consider it."

He buys (shoplifts) popcorn the next day.

-

The owner of the house is small.

He's huddled in a corner somewhere, and it takes Stan a beat to realize it, that

"I own this house," he says.

"You own this house," the owner parrots.

"But if I do,"

there's this beat, like turning a key, like peering into something he doesn't want to see. doesn't want to know,

"then who are you?"

The owner of the house turns from his corner. His voice crawls. He crawls.

-

"You know, I bet this house is totally haunted," Wendy tells them on a slow day.

Soos gasps sincerely and Stan sighs. He doesn't glance at the bookshelf by the wall. He doesn't think about it.

"Can't you save this garbage for the customers?"

"I'm serious man, when I closed up yesterday I heard some weird stuff going on." Wendy leans over the counter, eager now with Soos's rapt attention and Stan's not so rapt irritation. "Scratching in the walls, thumping under the house."

"So we got rats, who doesn't?" Stan picks at his ear with a pinky, satisfied at the face Wendy makes.

"Rats don't make that kind of sound Mr. Pines. Where did you get this house from anyway? Maybe the last owner built it on a burial ground or trapped his victims in the floorboards."

"Dude!" Soos whines as Stan rolls his eyes.

"You think half this town is haunted. Am I paying you for this? Get to work."

Wendy sighs as Stan turns heel. "You're no fun, boss."

-

"You know this house," the owner says, and he's not Stan.

"I know this house," Stan feels the words crawl up him, up his skin, up his throat. The field sways, a swing creaks in the background. "I own this house. But who are you?"

"If you own this house," the owner crawls, he says from the corner, "if you know it, then you can tell me."

Stan breaths. The owner twists it's head.

"What's in the basement?"

-

He pushes a heavy oak bookcase against the

against the wall.

"That won't hide it forever," something tells him in a crawl, and Stan doesn't think about it. Doesn't think.

"Always liked the old girl," Soos tells him with a smile one day, patting the bookcase. The knicknacks for sale rattle and Stan wants to yell, bellow, at Soos to step back.

He doesn't know why, so he shrugs. "When I bite it you can have the old junk." Soos looks torn between sorrow at the idea of his death and being touched. "Heck, you can have the whole house."

His stomach churns at the thought.

-

 

There's searing pain. He doesn't think, he doesn't think, he doesn't feel. He never thinks, never thought, and now's no different. He bellows, he lashes, he hurts. He throws a punch.

It connects with a jaw. The jaw rocks back, connects with some machinery. The entire side of the head connects with some control panel.

There's a crack.

"... Stanford?" Stan breaths and he doesn't think. The monolith nearby, the great, insane triangle that Stanley couldn't possibly understand roars. It bellows and lashes, silenced only when the red pool from Ford's head creeps into the cracks of the circuits. A snap and some smoke and it silences the giant.

"Ford?" Stan doesn't think. Ford doesn't speak. He's twisted unnaturally, slumped against the machinery lining the walls. But, Stan notes but doesn't think, his eyes are open. They're glassy and fogged and (lifeless) but they're open. He reaches to push Ford's glasses straight and Ford doesn't speak.

Stan screams, he lashes, he bellows.

-

"You have to help me," he says, blood still drying on his pants where he knelt by Ford, clutched at Ford, desperate and here was some guy in red, lurking at the window. Stan didn't care. Stan didn't think about it. He bellows, clutches at air. "Please, I- he-"

The man reads the blood smudged on Stan's hands, the shock dilating his eyes. He reads it slowly and Stan feels like a book, like a confession, trying so desperately hard not to think because maybe he was wrong, he was wrong so many times, maybe he was wrong and everything wasn't wrong and someone could fix his stupid mistake again, his stupid stupid stupid-

The man vanishes. The man comes back. He's glassy, wrong. "You," the man breaths, hiccups, calms. His gaze is shadowed in his trembling. "You did the right thing."

Stan doesn't think. Doesn't understand. "What?"

"It's- it's alright, I'll... I'll help ya. I'll help." He fumbles with something in his red robe. Stan's brain refuses to tick. "I'll fix this."

Stan shudders. He closes his eyes.

"I can fix this."

He starts and turns and the (body) voice is coming from the corner, from Ford's slump. His neck is unnatural but his lips move, curl. His eyes are sunk deep into the bags beneath them.

"All you have to do is come here and- heh- gimme a hand, would ya, pal?"

Six fingers tremble, twitch, reach.

He opens his eyes. The man in red stares back.

"It's alright," He's breathless and Stan thinks, Stan thinks, Stan doesn't think

he doesn't think

"I can fix this."

The corner of something lodges in Stan's thoughts, right across line, interrupting the ebbed flow with a crack and a crawl and

I can fix this.

Gold

So why don't we

"Just hold still, just-"

"Just forget."

His smile is so serene Stan closes his eyes. There's a click

and

-

"How did you get this house?" Soos asks one day, when he's tired and quiet. Maybe at peace.

Stan stares up at the old wood. He thinks.

"Honestly?" When he glances at Soos his smile is tired and quiet. Peaceful. "I don't remember."