Bones of Autumn
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Childe of October, Childe of the Stalks

I question your presence while the transgressor walks

The treasure you offer is not yet complete

The task is still open, make haste with your feet

Our savior, betrayer, still blessed with his sight

Escapes his due judgement this October night

Return to the forest, grace needles with bone

Make hope a myth now that he is alone

As you are my pupil, you will bring me his

So seek out and blind him wherever he is

Once you have obtained what I crave to receive

Rejoice on this permanent All Hallow's Eve

Sandy couldn't see anything. The forest was pitch black, long abandoned by any light pollution from the nearby town. The nearest coal plant was now strangled by vines, and choked with autumn leaves. Logically, he knew he was better off than Kytes, but he certainly didn't feel like it at the moment. Branches scraped his hands and pulled at his coat as he ran through the thick brush, his footfalls quieted by the soft pine needles covering every inch of the earthen floor. Not once did he turn his head to see what may have followed him on his haphazard course; it didn't matter now because he would never be safe again.

A crazed laugh escaped Sandy's throat as he wheezed from exertion. Even if he could escape, even if he could find somewhere to feel safe, even if sleeping again could be a remote possibility, how would he ever get the image of Kytes face out his mind again? Or the sound the man had made when those tiny little skeletal fingers dug into his eyes? They had been so close, too. So close to fixing Sandy's Great Big Mistake. Sandy's Great Big Mistake! Rated PG-13!, Sandy thought. Another crazed laugh floated past his lips and into the cold air of infinite October.

A rogue tree root, strongly objecting to Sandy's evening jog, suddenly sent the man sprawling into the endless bed of needles. He laid there, face first, catching his breath and ignoring the dread that squatted in the back of his mind. He laughed again. "Oh Dashiel. Oh Dash. I know I've said this so many times…so many times before, but I never wanted any of this for anyone." There was no echo; Agent Sandison's words were softly caught by the needles like a spiderweb silencing a fly.

"I should have just done my job. I should have just done my job like I did every other day." Nobody objected to Sandy's words. He listened for the quiet, skeletal footfalls that he thought for sure would be approaching soon, but the forest offered nothing. He slowly rolled over onto his back. He thought he could almost make out the light of a faint star, just barely poking through the black treetops standing over him. He opened his mouth wide. "IF ANYONE IS LISTENING, I DIDN'T WANT THIS! DO YOU HEAR ME?! DO YOU FUCKING HEAR ME?! I AM NOT A BAD PERSON! I'M NOT! I WANTED JUSTICE!"


Sandy's heart stuttered for a moment. Sheer terror prevented him from looking to his immediate left, where the question had come from. This is how a coward should die, he thought. And then suddenly, he felt calm. Paralysis left as quickly as it had come, and he found himself giving an answer to the query. "Yes, justice. Justice for Dashiel. Justice for the rest of the kids. Justice for you, too."

"Why would I need justice? He already gave the world the justice it deserves. I am not wanting for anything now, certainly not justice." The voice was raspy and dry, but still clearly a child's.

Sandy spoke again, still refusing to face his new companion in the forest. His right hand slowly stirred, and began to search for something. "The world deserved justice, you're right. But this isn't it. This isn't justice, this is apocalyptic tyranny. And I'm so sorry that I did this to you."

"You owe me no apologies, transgressor. You owe Him for your betrayal. He let you live in His world, knowing that you deserved proper judgement. He did you a kindness, and this is how you repay Him?" The contempt in the voice's accusation was like sandpaper. The thing's footfalls, though quieted by the pine needles, were getting audibly closer.

"He can go fuck Himself." The branch Sandy had quietly found with his right hand swung in a quick arc towards the sound of his accuser. A small piece of skull sliced the man's cheek as it flew past him. Bones fell to the forest floor in a quiet heap, and bore no more accusations towards Agent Sandison.

Was that the one that got Kytes? Sandy couldn't know for sure, not in this claustrophobic darkness, not with his eyes at least. He decided there was little use in checking for wet and sticky phalanges; he was running out of time. They had only been in Chilton for fifteen minutes when they had been ambushed, and their simple plan had gone to hell. I could go back and try to set the nuke. It might be covered in vines or eaten by a damn pumpkin or whatever, but I could try. I could, but I won't. Because I'm a coward.

Sandy slowly lifted himself to his feet, still holding his makeshift club the forest had so graciously given him. He kicked at the pile of bones, sending ribs skittering through the night. He sighed, and leaned on the branch, reminding himself that a real child would never speak like that. None of the children he had sheltered with for so long had sounded like the thing he had smashed here. He was speaking through it, almost certainly. Otherwise it would have sounded just like a real child, like-

"You shouldn't have done that."

This new voice was sorrowful, regretful. Sandy hadn't heard this one approaching. The paralysis came back. It wasn't going anywhere this time. Sandy began to cry.

"I'm so sorry. For everything. I just wanted…"

"I know, but there wasn't anything you could do. His will is so far beyond yours, don't you see that yet? I even tried to spare you, but He wouldn't allow it."

"That's not you talking. That's it talking. You're just its puppet now. You're not alive!" Sandy sobbed between sentences.

"Of course I am. I may have died, but He gave me a second life."

"This isn't life. You're not alive. You're not anything. Not anymore." Sandy felt his sorrow slowly turning to rage. His hand gripped the branch tighter, blurring the line between his skin and its bark.

"Your words mean nothing against His truth. You know this. You saw what I did to your friend. You will see no more."

"You're not alive. You're not anything. You're not alive." Rage was overcoming sadness. Sandy's words were more a chant than a declaration.

Footfalls on the soft pine floor. Needles against bone.

The branch swung for a second time. It was louder, more forceful. No birds scattered from the trees, no deer fled from the sound.

Agent Noah Sandison sifted through the pile of shattered bones that lay before him at his knees. He had tossed the branch away, and now his hands felt for something else. He traced his fingers along the length of a small ulna.

"You're not alive. You're nothing. You're not alive."

There it was. Metal.

"You're not alive. You're nothing."

A metal plate. The kind they sometimes used to help mend a broken bone.

"You're not alive. You're nothing. You're not my son."

Sandy clutched the bone to his chest. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

"My little boy. Oh Dash, I'm so sorry."

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