Beyond The Fog

"You walk around in this world like you have a splinter in your mind. That makes me smile." The man in black smiled and outstretched his hand.

Thomas shook the man's head but said nothing.

"You see these great torches along the mountainside?" The man in black walked and pointed, his weathered face scanning the gloomy peaks. A large pack on his back made of different patches of cloth, full of unreadable writing. His vocal chords were wearing as well, cold air coming from his mouth, "Hundreds of years ago people were nailed to large wooden stakes and burned where those torches were.. and the people that did it..

"Well.." The man in black flicked Thomas's forehead with his index finger. "They thought their brains were alright."

"And who lights those torches now!?" Thomas asked, distress in his voice from the wind.

The man in black pulled out a flask and began twisting off the lid, "I don't know who they are!"

Thomas could smell the booze on the stranger's breath, "Is that where we are going? To find out?"

"We're not going that high up the mountain." The man in black smiled yellow-white, banging the flask against Thomas's chest and dropping it for him to catch. "We're going to where the graves are."


First Letter,

By the time this letter gets to you, I suppose I will have made it ashore somewhere.  My face is looking scraggly, and its quite the annoyance.  I've decided to save my razors for more important things, like surviving.. or dying.  Pardon the black humor, this room has about as much light as I do optimism after being stranded at sea, but as long as I'm alive the goal still stands.  Food is getting scarcer, but we've rationed and we are okay; the captain's pet has died though, and I don't think he's too happy about that.

As you know, when we first boarded the ship it was a beautiful day, though I could've used a little more breeze just as the sails could have.  A couple weeks after the skies here were often streaked with orange and pink, like the optimistic mark of some alien god, sometimes offset with depressing, contemplative blues that make me think of times I was less alone.  I remember years ago when we camped in the desert and heard the footsteps and sounds of some giant beast, half-asleep and guns at our side, and we woke up to the graveyard that saved our lives.  But the days have been getting gloomier here, resembling home I suppose-- but with more fog.

Although everyone in this crew speaks the same language, there is more in the way of gloom than conversation.  Two men are dead, one went mad and shot himself; he was the only carpenter, who would've done any needed repairs.  They gave me his pistol, I told them I already knew how to use it, but secretly I had mixed feelings about taking it.  On the first day they said not to drink the sea water, the captain said that there was more than just salt in Warren's Ocean.  The man who shot himself drank the water.  The other man died in a storm that badly damaged one of our sails, but we managed to patch it with some wicker and the clothes of the two dead men.

Two days later after using the wicker, we found the spare rope the madman had hidden, along with pictures of strangers.  Some men said that they were his family members, but the frames seemed too expensive for them to be a carpenter's family.  His gun is strange as well, the initials carved on the handle do not match his name, and while my inclination is to believe that he might be a thief, the way he handled himself, and the way we would handle things under dire circumstances, suggest that he is a liar with such circumstances.  But the sea has taken him.  And his family, stolen or real, will be sold next to my merchandise when we reach land.

There is something stranger than grief which sails with us, I see it in the faces of those around me as I breath in the humid, foggy air here, and I often feel locked in one of those bittersweet moments where the weather matches this almost infinite negative feeling.  Everyone here seems to be increasingly on edge, we do our jobs, but the way we talk might be considered insane to any witness from land, as if you could imagine seeing endless beginnings of conversations that are heard but go nowhere.  We may not be drinking the water, but I sometimes fear that to some degree we are breathing it in, and in that regard, I'm not sure if I can even fully trust myself.

But at least a healthy respect for fear has kept us both alive.


Second Letter,

I can't say that I've reached shore because what we've docked next to is not normal land, in fact, it appears to be some great machine sunken into the water.  We are running so low on food that we ate the captain's pet, he is a very unhappy man.  The lightning around this machine is intense, and there is wind and waves, but not enough to threaten the ship.  Two men snuck off in the night with one of the life rafts and a fair amount of food; after intense argument between the remaining crew about whether to chase after them, we decided to press onward and found ourselves in this perpetual storm which lead to the machine.

Do you remember the children's story of the iron titan?  There was a boy whose dreams he could not control, but they always came true.  One of his dreams was an iron titan who came from the stars to visit us and drowned or became stuck at the bottom of the sea.  I have never been so fascinated or so terrified by this "thing" we are standing on.  Though I am not a man educated in science, I cannot help but wonder if it is what is causing the perpetual lightning storm around us.  There are these gaps in the titan's head, like small crooks going into a large pool where fish seemed to have congregated and are too fearful to leave.  We have used this to our advantage, and filled our stomachs.  And though we all fear we may go mad or die soon, a sense of conversation has returned.


Third Letter,

We took as much fish as we could and continued forward in hopes of finding land.  I am thankful that the lightning didn't hit the ship.  The storm has passed but the daylight fog has grown thicker and the constant lack of sunlight makes me feel like I have died and I am stuck in some limbo, or that I am dreaming and I cannot wake up.  There are so many things I miss.  We have salted all the fish we kept to keep them from rotting longer.


Fourth Letter,

We found a real island but the fog will not seem to lift.  The trees here have thick trunks with little foliage, but curiously, not tropical-- each trunk bends at a point like a broken arm, they are unlike anything I have ever seen before.   We docked at night, and after one night of camping on shore, we decided to comb different parts of the island, barely made visible by the intense, endless fog.  We took our weapons with us just in case, but I don't know if this was a good idea.

I combed one side of the beach and found a strange trail of sea shells, which lead me to a child who was sleeping alone on the ocean shore.  I shook him a lot before he finally woke, but when he finally did there were tears in his eyes.  I asked him what was wrong and he said that he would tell me later.  Then I asked where the nearest town is, but he says he doesn't know.  I asked him about the machine, and he looked confused.. then I called it the titan, and his face lit up and he smiled.

"I dreamed about that." He said.

I asked if he could control his dreams at all.  He told me he had only done it one or two times.  I began to ask him more and more questions.  The boy told me that he hadn't seen anyone on the island for a very long time.  He said he didn't hunt, but lived off of whatever food he could find.  Sometimes, when he got hungry enough, he said that he had dreamed of food and then woke up to it.  My questioning to this boy in tattered clothes came back to the bad dream he initially had when I woke him.. and I ran to look for the crew, but they had taken the ship and abandoned me; just as the boy had dreamed.

I don't know why they abandoned me, if time passed more quickly for me than them.  I don't know what was real of my voyage on the ship, it all feels more and more like a dream the more I recall it.  I have thought of the pistol and the razors, and wonder if they could wake me, if this is all just a dream.. but I won't do it.  Although my sanity is wavering in all this grey air, and I question everything, I will shave, and I will hunt if needed.  The goal that I've set out to accomplish still stands.

The boy says he only wants to work with small things for fear of his sanity and safety.  I have decided to spend my remaining days on the island teaching this boy to focus and recite the dream of these letters reaching you.  Thomas, I beg of you, abandon the war and all its functions if it hasn't taken your life, come across Warren's Ocean and find us.  Save us from this cursed fog.


The middle-aged man was lying in his flipped-over car in the middle of the road, blood gushing from his body as he wondered if he was hallucinating. A shadowy old woman in a nun uniform had appeared in the road and as she got closer he could see that she didn't seemed concerned with the fact he was dying, a wide, demonic smile on her face. She was clutching a wooden cross that hung off of her neck with a bony hand, snow falling around them in the dark.

"What do you wa--" The man couldn't finish speaking as the old woman kicked him in the face, blood splattering from his mouth.

The nun laughed and then spoke, "People don't care about you, people only care about what's popular."

"Bitch." The man rattled. The nun took off her rosary and put it around the man's neck as sirens sounded in the distance. As the old woman walked away, down the center of the empty road, the dying man pulled off the rosary and threw it across the cement. She ignored the gesture. He blinked and she was gone.

The man realized that his car was on fire, and went for a broken cigarette from his pocket. His cell phone vibrated and he struggled to pull that out instead, unlocking the cracked screen. The things that wanted to kill him were waiting at the hospital.

Vibrant Night - Chapter 1

To progress with this novel, you will eventually have to click "Older Posts".

Vibrant Night
By Okami Carroll

Chapter 1

Lacie could tell it would be dull without leaving her dorm room, and she lied in bed staring at the dust on the windowsill, illuminated by bright rays of light.  Her brown, shoulder-length hair was as messy as her bed, and her shady but sociable roommate was as distant as desirable food in the mini-fridge.  And for a groggy second it seemed like there was color in the dust, until her alarm remedied her comatose state.  So the pale white girl let out a zombie-like moan and forced herself to sit up.

The eighteen-year-old girl, Lacie, rubbed her eyes wishing she could sleep in and take her chances with dreams instead of going to class.  The room was cheaply decorated around her but now its initial charm was wearing.  She reached for her glasses, feeling around the table next to her bed for the familiar sensation of the glossy frames.  After knocking over a notepad and prescription bottle stacked on the top of other notepads and books, she located her spectacles and restored vision to her brown eyes.  

Lacie rose lazily.  She immediately went sifting through the closet shared with her distant roommate.  The brunette grabbed what she needed including an old shirt; it had the white-lettered name of a restaurant from the South on it.  Then, she retreated to the restroom to get ready and try out the strawberry shampoo she had bought the night before.

After Lacie got her class materials and outfitted herself in comfortable clothes and the familiarity of her trusty brown boots, she headed off into the residential halls.  There were fewer people drifting around the campus than usual this Tuesday-- probably staying in, sleeping in, or already in class.  Various information was posted along the white brick of the walls.  Lacie would peer at the posters on occasion, but she was still taking in her environment with a dose of anxiety.

A blond-haired girl around Lacie's age approached; the girl was the resident assistant who was in charge of watching over the hall, though she wasn't any taller than Lacie.  The R.A. was wearing well-ironed professional clothing and always had her long hair in a braid.  Lacie sometimes thought Amanda might drink expensive liquor along with her appearance, all to keep in tune with her major.

"Lacie!  Just who I wanted to see.  I like your shirt." The R.A. smiled as a group of other students walked past.

"Thanks.. its green." Lacie replied awkwardly.

Amanda laughed but it came across as somewhat faked or rehearsed, "Okay, just a heads up.  But your roommate is leaving college.  Apparently something happened and she's going to rehab."

"Oh." Lacie let out a sigh as though she wasn't surprised.

"But there's a girl that should be coming to move in with you tonight or tomorrow."

"Alright," Lacie couldn't help but smirk at Amanda's optimism. "Thanks.. for the heads up."

"No problem." Amanda beamed.  Lacie picked up on some kind of glimmer of blue and green, like the thinnest lines of color in Amanda's eyes.. and then a flash of red and maybe yellow, and then orange.  It all happened quickly and then disappeared, and it startled Lacie so much she couldn't say anything back to the young woman.

“Well you have a good day.” The resident assistant said.

After parting ways with Amanda, Lacie ventured through the nearest exit into the bright outdoors.

It was a beautiful Summer day pardoning that it had rained the night before and showed in the parking lot.  Puddles, some blindingly reflecting the sun, were scattered around, only to be hidden by stationary vehicles.  There was a fresh breeze in the air and students were hanging around underneath the shade of trees with books, phones, and sometimes tablets and laptops.  Regardless of the embracing weather, Lacie felt a lingering sense of isolation.  She couldn't help looking at the puddles and thinking of the rain the night before.

The English major made her way in a hurried walk, long past the students enjoying their breakfast, past the wide parking lot, and various buildings to where her class was.  She entered the corridors, similar to the resident halls, but with tiled floor hiding years of wear behind the last time they it been buffed and waxed.  And seeing that the door to the classroom was ajar Lacie simply let herself in.

The classroom was an average English college classroom but had nobody in it.  Lacie looked at the clock on the wall.  The young woman realized that she was early, but it was strange that nobody was around.  In the habit of being a private person, the girl made sure that the door behind her was almost closed.

Upon taking a seat and opening her book to the page the class would probably start from, she found in the vacancy of her surroundings-- a perfect opportunity to sleep in.

Lacie knelt the side of her head against her now crossed arms and shut her eyes.  She remembered the colored dust; maybe it was the medicine she was taking, or maybe it was just a dream, or a fluke of the mind.  Then the whole world, or the last of it, seemed to slowly disappear into sleep-- like walking through an unknown door into a pitch black room, always with the hope that a light could be found.

* ~ *

Lacie awoke, lifting her head slightly.  Upon seeing her surroundings she jolted upright, which caused her glasses to almost fall off her nose.  She found herself in a clean-cut restaurant, but how did she get here?  Surrounding her were windows filled with darkness rather than daytime, and the artificial lights that accompanied it.  She remained unaware of her shirt, which now read, "Out of Business."

Lacie noticed a large desk in front of racks full of donuts.  Some of these pastries were floating.  Behind the desk there was a young woman who was of a complexion pale enough to compliment Lacie's lack of a tan.

Upon seeing Lacie bolt upright, the taller employee had a look of surprise, biting her lower lip and widening her eyes.  The strange girl behind the desk had ocean-blue eyes accented with eyeliner, long hair with red tips, and a solid black dress hidden by a crimson colored apron that was covered with a wash of donut residue.

Lacie looked down at her charred English book and then fixed her glasses, "Where am I?"

"Mr. Bagel's Donut Shop." The employee spoke with a meek British accent and donuts floated around as if they were underwater.

There was a pause where Lacie's mouth opened but nothing came out.  The young lady behind the counter stared off to the side, twirling the bottom of her long hair with her lower lip still in her mouth, as if she hadn't had a customer in months.

"Mr. Bagel's Donut Shop?" Lacie asked, in a condescending tone of disbelief.

The employee stared at a chair on the other side of the room.

Lacie looked back and forth before returning her gaze to the strange girl, "How.. what's-- what's your name?"

"Elizabeth." The employee stated directly.

"Where is this place?"

"Mr. Bagel-"

"No!  I mean the town, where is this?" Lacie almost demanded in confusion.

Elizabeth began cracking her knuckles from under the desk, "N'Qevna."

"Mr. Bagel's Donut Shop?  N'Qevna?" Lacie sat back down and sighed. "I must be dreaming."

Elizabeth had finished cracking her knuckles and stood in silent, attentive listening to the four-eyed girl across the room ramble on about her predicament.

"I was in college and I fell asleep in class.  I couldn't have woke up here.  Why does this feel so real?" Lacie looked down at the remains of her open English book lying on the table with the sudden urge to throw it across the restaurant.

"Usually.. usually people come in here to buy food." Elizabeth stated nervously.

Lacie stood up with her chair loudly sliding backwards across the tile which caused Elizabeth to squint her face with a tinge of fear.  The college girl ventured to the front of the counter, "Look, my name is Lacie.  Was there someone who brought me in here?"

"No..  One minute there was nobody here, then you appeared with your book, sleeping there." Elizabeth mused.

"Well.." Lacie glared at a floating, cherry-filled jelly donut.  She put her hands down on the hard counter as though it wasn't real. "How do I get back to where I was?"

Elizabeth looked to the upper right, holding the underside of her pointy chin in thought as if scrapping her mind for information, "You could speak to my dear Uncle Herbert.  He's very knowledgeable of such things."

"Can you take me to him?" Lacie pleaded, her hands forming into loose fists.

"I suppose, as long as you don't leave me out there alone.  Okay?"

Lacie pulled her hands from their negotiating stance letting them drop comfortably to her sides.  She smiled as if hoping to wake from a dream, "Okay."

Elizabeth slid her apron over her head and tried to pull it off in a comical struggle while Lacie waited by the door.  Then the black-clad girl turned off the machines in back and jumped repetitively trying to grab some object beyond her stature.  When Elizabeth was finally ready, she headed off with Lacie into the uncertainty of a most vibrant night.

Vibrant Night - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Lacie gazed in wonder and horror at her environment with Elizabeth trailing close behind.  The sky was a midnight blue with streaks of black, pink, red, indigo, and violet under glowing, white stars.  In a center streak of jet black there was a full moon with smoke rising around it from its bottom half over its top.  Worn-down franchises and businesses mostly one floor high littered the sides of the road with light.  On Lacie's second glimpse of a burger joint, it rocketed up into the air until out of vision.

A few other buildings seemed to change completely as though they were unaware of their existential state.  There was a far-off cluster of people venturing around in the distance with one muffled man's voice booming out from them.  Pairs of men on the exterior of the distant crowd carried stained-glass windows.  Skeletons, mostly human, were scattered around various places.

Lacie found herself in shock of these wondrous and terrifying surroundings and attempted to retain her sense of sanity with one of many questions, "Okay, why is the moon smoking?"

Though it was warm outside, the moving air freely gave up its comfort.  However, the breeze of the night did not have its direction decided upon, and would rock back and forth in various intervals of minutes from different directions.  Elizabeth's hair shifted with the different directions of the confused wind, "The moon has a smoking problem."

Elizabeth spotted a skeleton grinning at her, its arm outstretched towards the manic hues parading against the smoky pallor of the moon.  She attempted to hide inconspicuously behind Lacie.

"What are you doing?" Lacie sporadically turned, hair in her face.

"Don't stop walking." Elizabeth pleaded.

An adult black and red cat darted from the parking lot of one of the businesses, where lights flickered and cars were parked upside down.  The feline lingered between the girls and followed inconspicuously, its greenish-yellow eyes in a dim stare forward, a small cactus atop its head.

“Why are you hiding behind me?” Lacie asked with tension forming in her voice. “You're scaring me.”

"I'm afraid of the dark." The black-clad girl stated timidly.

"You're dressed in all black and you're afraid of the dark?"

Elizabeth furrowed her eyebrows, "I try not to ever leave the donut shop."

The girls both passed the low, mumbling voice of a male for a product of their imaginations, "I know, I've seen her.  She doesn't."

Lacie noticed a shadowy stranger in a black trenchcoat, sitting on a bench from a few businesses down.  She guessed that it was a guy, though the face was too dark to be visible.  The figure and his surroundings were outlined with blue light from the restaurant behind him.  He had a lighted, metal sign next him that pointed to him and explained, "This person is eating chicken at a sea-food restaurant."

"So I just keep going down this road to that four-way up there?"  Lacie adjusted her glasses trying to ignore the creepy, dark figure, and the sign about creepy, dark, sea-food restaurant chicken.

"Yeah." Elizabeth had noticed the stranger by now. "I'll be right behind you."

As the girls made some distance from the stranger, Lacie began prying Elizabeth's knowledge. "So where are you from?  Your not originally from here are you?  Is anyone?"

Elizabeth looked down, "I don't know, I don't remember."

"Is, is it always night here?"

"Yes, and it is quite unpredictable in certain places." Elizabeth twirled the red and black tips of her hair around her finger and bit her lower lip.

Lacie adjusted her glasses nervously, "Like where we're going?"

"Yes," Elizabeth replied softly as though the world was eavesdropping. "And right now out here."

Lacie got a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach, and kept walking at a brisk pace along the sidewalk.

Upon arrival at the intersection a new car barreled forward from the abyss into a traffic pole which caused both of the girls to jump.

The sound of the collision was made to be so eccentrically loud that an orchestra appeared from the shadows of a nearby driveway, increasing the volume of the event with a single orchestral hit of sound-- which triggered a small, overhead explosion in the sky; afterwards the orchestra faded, returning to the dark.  And this alerted the nearby religious crowd.

The driver who emerged from the wreckage was a husky black man in formal dress with glasses over large brown eyes.  The man boomed with his hands on his head, "This can't be happening.  I had everything worked out for her, she was paid off!"

There was a huge puff of white smoke making a loud poof.  When the smoke started to clear, fence appeared all around the wreckage of the car.  Lacie did not know how to respond and stood in shock which led Elizabeth to shyly chime into the driver's predicament. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." He scratched his head in a pause, then formally held out his hand towards Elizabeth. "I'm Mr. Dreary-Gravy, but most call me Mr. Greary."

The girls introduced themselves and shook Mr. Greary's hand.

Lacie was amused fairly, "You uh..  You smell like beef gravy."

Mr. Greary chuckled drearily, "Hence the name, young lady."

"But why dreary, Mr. Greary?" Elizabeth tried not to seem shady.

Mr. Greary sighed wearily, "Such is the dreariness of beef gravy."

The nearby religious group was in the vicinity of the four-way now.  Outer pairs lugged around heavy stained-glass windows full of multi-colored pictures of rocks.  A grey-suited preacher in his fifties made way through the crowd holding onto a large book with a collective of rocks on the cover; the preacher had an exuberant demeanor and grey hair pointing out diagonally at the sides in the back of his head.

The preacher introduced himself, "Hello, my name is Thomas Limestone.  By The Rocks, I believe we were destined to meet!"

Lacie and Elizabeth just looked at each other as though they didn't want to converse with the man.  There was something odd about him and he was covered in gravel dust.

"I really must be going, I have to go buy eggs." Mr. Greary hastily impressed.

The preacher cried out almost squeaking at Mr. Greary, "You sir, who smells precociously of Thanksgiving, who admits to idolatry of eggs-- have you yet discovered the profound beauty of the rocks all around you?"

"What are you talking about sir?" Mr. Greary seemed intrigued.

There were people from the group of all ages looking over the rocks in the road and their patterns.  They were completely enchanted with the rocks around them.  A little girl in a pink dress fell into the rocks and began crying; she had skinned her knees and they were bleeding.  The sky began sprinkling with rain.

The daughter's father came to her aid, picked her up and with a calm voice, "Shhh.  That's just part of the rocks' plan hunny."

The preacher held out his open hand out at the little girl in a pointing manner, "Why can you not see?"

"I'm sorry, but I don't think I want anything to do with that." Mr. Greary stated calmly.

Lacie motioned Elizabeth, "We should probably go too."

"I'm all for it." Elizabeth half-whispered.

Mr. Greary overheard the two young women, "Are you headed off to All-Mart?"

There was much commotion in the environment.  Far-off trees came to a sort of consciousness, uprooted themselves, and flew around like out-of-control airplanes.  Some trees however, felt more like individuals in refusing to leave their places, even to the point of moving their branches like crossed arms.  Two of the buildings broke apart into pieces, forming themselves together into a kind of arch across the road ahead: from here, hanging light bulbs were in constant swing on their electrical cords.  Strangely colored creatures scurried about all over the place like little shapes squiggling across the cement.

"Excuse me to have bothered you all." The preacher steamed, his joy dissipating.  In a fit of disgust the preacher led his congregation backwards, literally speaking.  Pairs of men huffed as they heaved, back-tracing with the stained-glass windows.

"Ye- Yes.  We are heading to All-Mart." Elizabeth half-turned her head at Mr. Greary, both her and Lacie were breaking from the spell of the curiosities going on around them-- as much as one could.

There was a nearby pounding on the ground.  A menacing, six-foot-tall statue with wings and horns came barreling through the intersection, stepping on Mr. Greary's car, further damaging the vehicle and knocking over some of the surrounding fence.  The middle-aged man put his hands on his head again in shock.

As the gargoyle ventured further away the rainfall subdued.

On Lacie's face, behind her spectacles, there was an expression of both fear and general confusion, "We should get inside a building as soon as we can."

And so without further hesitation, the unlikely trio made their way down the road "You Is Twenty Three," towards the enigmatic fortress called All-Mart.

Vibrant Night - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Lacie and her newfound accomplices found themselves in a massive parking lot expanding over a vast area of land (with All-Mart due North of they're general direction).  The store itself was one-story but expansive, with red and blue brick, and the name "All-Mart" in huge, black-outlined, white lettering.  Fake birds and copper nests were perched atop the store sign, with parts of the birds’ machinery showing as they twitched or rotated their heads and wings.

There were thick, black clouds looming with distance above the area and blocking out the colorful sky.  Enormous fissures in the parking lot could seldom be seen, far away and next to a run-down mini-mall where all the businesses appeared closed for the eternal night.  Near the center of the parking lot was an empty trailer with rust on one end and a fresh coat of black paint on the other.  A group of six, fancy-dressed, older people were sat down at a black, metal-frame table chatting in front of the store.  There was an identical table next to the old people three times larger that was vacant and seemed to be more enshadowed.

Elizabeth spoke quietly, with anxiety, "Well it seems we're in company."

Mr. Greary turned to Elizabeth and smiled, pointing his finger in the air which made him seem like some sort of cheesy superhero. "There is always company at All-Mart young lady.  Now to the Dairy aisle!"

Elizabeth's ocean-blue gaze widened for a second as though Mr. Greary had lost it.

Lacie suddenly noticed rips and scratches at random intervals in her vision of the world around her and she became fearfully preoccupied with them.  She reached out at one of these rips out of nervous curiosity and gently teared it.  Her vision went starry black and she was filled with a feeling that she held an unstable piece of some cosmic structure.  As her hand slightly pulled at what was a paper-thin wall, there was a sensation as if she was dreaming and the dreams were switching so fast she could barely process them.  She quickly released her grip in more terror than wonder, as though having just touched a hot stove-top.

The table that was three times its size fell over and crumbled into pieces of debris, and the black clouds above ceased allowing return of the colorful sky.  The bricks making up the store were completely white with the logo lettering gone black.  Now in the center of the parking lot, there was a shouting man in suspenders and a pink hat who stood next to a pile of pink hats that towered at least a hundred feet into the sky from the trailer that was in the middle.  The six old people sitting at the adjacent table were now all in their late twenties.  Mr. Greary had simply disappeared.

Lacie felt her knees weakening, "I feel dizzy.  I think I just need to-- where is Mr. Greary?"

"He's.. waiting for us inside the store." Elizabeth replied unknowing of what had just happened.

"Oh.. okay."

The girls attempted to pass by the unstable tower of pink hats without being bothered, but the man in overalls and a hot-pink fedora boomed at them, "The end is near!  Get a pink hat to protect against The Fifty!  Giant bunny rabbits descend upon us!  Fifty giant bunny rabbits will wreak havoc upon our world!"

Lacie was sucked in by the idea of defending herself against any aspect of this town, "How much is a hat?"

"I have a bad feeling Lacie, we should probably go." Elizabeth whispered peering in fear at the unstable tower of hats as though they could fall at any moment, as a gathering, black cloud appeared some distance away.  Upon seeing this dark cloud, the young people conversing at the table from in front of the store all vanished simultaneously in puffs of grey smoke; Lacie didn't notice.

"Well they are free of course, as a measure of survival for a universe void of towels; and my hats are worn as high as the moon."  The hat man made his statement with certainty, though Lacie didn't understand exactly what he meant by the last bit.

Lacie took a pink sombrero, put it on, and then stared blankly at Elizabeth from behind her spectacles. "Aren't you going to take one just in case?"

"I--" Elizabeth seemed frustrated for some reason. "I guess."

The Gothic girl went for a pink trilby, similar to a fedora with a shorter brim.

The man with a pink fedora grabbed her wrist, "No!  One from the outside, this whole tower could fall!”

Lacie's face changed to concern and she froze for a second from the man's sudden outburst.

Elizabeth stood meekly as the man continued, holding herself to keep warm against the undecided breeze.. she whispered again to Lacie, "Please can we go.  I have a bad feeling."

Unbeknownst to the donut shop employee who now kept her eyes shut, a treadmill had materialized in the ground underneath of her; this caused her to move backwards at a slow crawl.

The man had quite an attentive attitude to his tower of hats, "I'll help you find just the right one.  Let me see, hmm..  The cloche seems too much like you've got a bag on your head."

From the black cloud a man appeared in solid black: a longcoat with a sash, gloved hands, boots and a head made of similarly dark marble.  He began treading clomp by clomp towards Elizabeth with a trail of thick, ebony cloud behind him.

The man in suspenders paced around looking through his extensive hat collection. "This cowboy hat is too tom-girl, that baseball cap is too common and the top hat over there would clash with your personality.."

Lacie crossed her arms and spoke with anxiety-laced optimism, "Whatever works, so we can be prepared."

"Machinagess!  THE NEWSBOY!" The man seemed extraordinarily excited about hats. "Or newsgirl as you would probably have it.  The question is what news do you have to bring?"

The marble headed man was behind Elizabeth now and cupped his hand over her mouth covering her scream.  Thick, black clouds surrounded them both (and the treadmill).

"Elizabeth!"  Lacie reached through the jet black cloud frantically as its whole trail dissipated.

It was too late.  Elizabeth and her captor were gone (and the treadmill).

The man in the pink fedora sighed, "Its my fault, I spent too time trying to find the perfect hat for her."

Lacie deduced the captor was probably the blue-silhouetted stranger that the two girls had seen earlier.

"No its mine." Lacie's voice broke in unison with a crackle of thunder in the sky. "I left her without seeing it."

“Was she your friend?”

“No, she was my guide to get out of this weird place.” Lacie replied.

"Its only a parking lot.” The man offered up the newsgirl hat, “Take her hat, maybe you'll find her."

Lacie took the hat, "Thanks."

The student descended past the man and his tower, past the solid table, and table rubble to All-Mart's crooked entrance.