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CHAPTER 8:
TWO PATHS

Simon opened his eyes to find himself home in his bed. He blinked, groggy, before sitting up. Despite being in bed, he was still fully clothed. His cloak had been cleaned and pressed, his trousers had been washed, and even his wayward shoelace had been tied.

"How did I get here," he said, but nobody was around to answer. He looked around his bedroom. All his favorite possessions were still there in the same messy, cluttered place he had left them. Glancing out the window, Simon noticed it was morning again. The fall leaves danced delicately by his window, and outside the bluebirds were chirping in the trees.

"Simon, your friend is here," came a voice from the next room. He recognized it as his mother's voice, but something about it seemed different. Maybe the tone was off, or the way certain words were said sounded wrong... "Simon, it's that nice farmer girl!"

Daisy?

Simon sprung out of bed and bolted to his bedroom door. Throwing it open, he was shocked to see Daisy standing there. Somewhere in the distance behind her a lone horn played a slow, beautiful melody, and the whole scene seemed to move in slow motion.

"Good morning, Simon," she said, smiling gently. "Are you ready to go pick apples with me?"

"Were we going apple picking," Simon asked, "and, wait, do you know me?"

"Of course," she said, "why else would I be here, silly? It's just you and I today. We'll go into the forest, pick apples, and maybe sit together and watch the sun go down. Doesn't that seem nice, Simon? Doesn't that seem like something you want to do?"

Simon nodded slowly, his eyes carefully looking around the room. Despite being in his home, the living room didn't look right. The edges of the room didn't seem to have any corners, only rounded sections, and a fresh harvest pumpkin sat on the living room table.

"Hey, where did that pumpkin come from," Simon asked, but Daisy interrupted him.

"Forget about the pumpkin, why don't we go pick some apples? Let's pick some apples, and maybe kiss under the stars, and let's forget all about that silly old Book."

Simon's blood ran cold.

"Who told you about the Book?"

Daisy froze mid-smile as the pumpkin on the table slowly turned to reveal a grinning face.

"Whoops," Old Scratch said, "guess I gave it away too soon. But isn't this nice?"

Simon stepped backwards into his bedroom and threw the door shut. He turned to his bed, only to discover Old Scratch sitting on the edge of it, this time larger than before.

"Look, shrimp, just let me have the book and this can be yours. How about it? No questions, no tricks, I won't even try to steal your soul maybe, I'll just give you the girl and the apples and the whole thing and you can go back to enjoying your day, OK?"

"No," said Simon instantly. "Never."

"Why not," moaned Old Scratch, "don't tell me this is about me being the devil or something..."

"No," Simon said flatly. "I don't want that. I don't want her to like me like that."

"Like you like what," Old Scratch said, lifting a gourd wrinkle to make a rough eyebrow, "I don't get it."

"If you just make her like me, that doesn't even count. She doesn't like me because she likes me, she'd only like me because you made her like me."

"What's the difference," laughed Old Scratch, "who cares?!"

"I care," said Simon. "And I'm not doing it. You're not getting the book."

"UGH, FINE," said Old Scratch, his pumpkin face bent in a look of pain. "As you were, then."

Simon felt a stabbing pain in his head and his vision went white.


Simon awoke next to the guard towers soaking wet. Drenched from head to toe in water, he was cold, a little confused, but didn't seem any worse for wear. All around him sat shattered parts of a pumpkin and, next to him, sat the Book of Life and Death. Hold it down, so that it didn't blow away, was a beautiful piece of granite, perfectly smooth and cold to the touch.

In the distance, a trail of rubble and rock pieces lead to the edge of Oquirrh Lake and then simply ended at the shoreline.

Simon rubbed his eyes, picked up the piece of granite, and threw it as hard as he could back into Oquirrh Lake.

"Thank you," he called out, and when he heard the rock splash into the water he was almost certain it sounded like you're welcome.

He grabbed the Book and turned to face the clearing in the forest. Up ahead was the Watson Farm, Daisy, and Death.

 

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