Halloween night came to Scryer's Gulch, and many a party was planned. For most of the camp, they were not so much for celebrating; they were more about not being alone. Always tatty at best on top of the hermetauxite deposit, the veil between worlds got even thinner on Halloween.
When John returned to his own back parlor, Rabbit was gone, off to make a final round before bed; Mrs Smith dozed in her chair, her darning still in her lap; and Jamie fidgeted anxiously on the hearth rug with his soldiers. John woke Mrs Smith with a gentle, "Now, Minnie, it's past your bedtime, go on up, I'm home now."
Once alone, Jamie and his father avoided looking at one another, John preferring the flicker of the lamp flame, Jamie the pile of deceased tin men he stirred with one finger. "I hear," John began, "that you picked up something maybe you shouldn't have, son."
"Like what?" said Jamie, giving him a brief sideways glance.
"Like a nugget of hermetauxite."
"Well, now, Runnels, out on a night like this!" said Mayor Prake, rising from his chair. "Is there cause for alarm? Amelia, fill the kettle please, perhaps the Sheriff might like some tea. Perhaps a wee bit of bourbon in the cup?" he added in an undertone.
Amelia lugged the kettle in, put it on the stove, and took her reluctant leave. "I'm not sleepy!" she insisted as her mother shooed her up the stairs.
Once they were alone, John settled back in his chair, a comfortable shot of bourbon in his tea. "No cause for immediate alarm, Anatole, though things are stranger than usual in this town. To begin with, I believe Georgie is innocent. You should let him go back to school."
"Innocent!" exclaimed Prake. "Why, his own brother believes he did it! You amaze me. What did Miss Duniway say to convince you?"
Annabelle preferred to sit in the back pew at church; despite her general self-confidence, church always made her feel exposed and vulnerable. She'd been raised both Methodic and Enthusiastic, the product of a rare mixed marriage and a childhood spent bouncing between one set of relatives and the next. She loved the clean formality of the Methodic Church and its emphasis on logic, but when it came down to it, she chose Enthusiasm: the brightly clanging bells, the incense wafting over everything, the exuberantly decorated altar, the music so loud it shook her bones, the shouts of the faithful in response to a good sermon. And the sermons were much shorter.
Her mind was Methodic, but her soul was Enthusiastic.
The full moon crept over the town, slipping silver through the bars of the jail where John held Rabbit through his transformation; it glinted faint on Georgie Prake's tears as he sat in the darkened window he'd occupied almost continually since his disgrace; and it shone white on a woman's bare skin. The moon lit the woman only briefly. Her coloring dappled, and she blended into the surrounding shadows. Mamzelle prided herself on her camouflaging, especially chained as she was to the form of a human woman.
The wretched Rabbit woke up at dawn inside the wire cage, naked and shivering. "John?" he called weakly.
"Sheriff's asleepin," said Aloysius. "Hey! Runnels! Wake up! Yer brother's lost his fur!"
John scrambled up from his cot, instantly awake. "Sorry, Rab, sorry! I'm coming." He opened the latch on the cage and helped Rabbit to stand; he wrapped his brother in the still-warm blanket from the cot. "Are you all right?"
"Did I scratch or bite?" said Rabbit. "I'm so afraid I'm going to bite you some day, Johnny--if I ever brought this on you, I'd throw myself in the river!"
John rushed to his brother's side, whipping off the bandanna around his neck. To Annabelle's astonishment, he stuffed it in the deputy's mouth and guided the gagged and sobbing man gently to the floor. "It hurts, Miss Duniway, and he screams a lot," said John. "I'm here, Rab, I won't let go, I promise!"
"'M srry!" whimpered Rabbit around the bandanna.
"Not your fault!" said John.
"What's happening, Sheriff Runnels?" demanded Annabelle. "Should I be going for the doctor?"
The door of Simon's ethergraph office banged open, and a breathless Georgie stampeded in. "Simon! Can I hide here?"
"What have you done now? Close the door, madcap!"
The door banged shut. "Nothin--well, they think I've done somethin, but I haven't, I swear I haven't!"
Misi had almost fallen asleep in Mamzelle’s lap, when she said, “Well?”
“Well what?” yawned the demon cat.
“‘Ow are we going to keel our masters?”
“Ah. That. Yes.” Think fast, old boy. “Yes. There’s a problem with that.”
“I’m under orders...general orders...not to kill humans.” It’s even true! he thought, though it hurt his pride to confess to such a weakness. It’s so humilitating, being owned!
Annabelle felt the same tingle at her wrist the next day when Georgie and Jamie entered the schoolroom together. Jamie's grim face and Georgie's flushed one told her the boys had been arguing.
When it came time for the children to go home to lunch, she asked Georgie to stay behind. "I don't know anything about it!" he blurted as soon as the other children were gone.
"Don't know anything about what, Georgie?" she said, narrowing her eyes.
"The school, miss. That's why you wanted to talk to me, weren't it?"
"'Wasn't it,' Georgie, and no, that's not why I wanted to talk to you. But as long as we're on the subject, what is it about the school that you don't know?"