Creepy was uncharacteristically quiet and preoccupied – pensive, even – as we made our way home across the blessedly un-corpse-swamped and un-stinkholed city. It was so pronounced, in the end, I eventually felt obligated to ask him what was up.
“I’m just wondering what it was all about,” he said. “The Prism. That squashed trumpet. The old prison yard shed we found down in the sewer. Yool, the just amazingly buff Christmas tree who has been here the whole time.”
“Does it really have to be about anything?” I asked.
He looked mildly offended. “Of course it does, Hatboy.”
“What if whatever it’s all about isn’t worth the effort of finding out what it is?”
“Well, in that case obviously we don’t need to worry about it.”
“And here we are.”
“Yes,” he insisted, “but it is still about something.”
We continued on our way in contemplative silence, which Creepy only broke as we were finally approaching our house. He pointed at something in the overgrown garden as he preceded me towards the front door.
“Hey look,” he said disinterestedly, “it’s that weird friend of yours. The McGuffin.”
“The Myconet,” I corrected him idly, having spotted the gnarled old dome of the Myconet’s head poking out of a clump of weeds.
“That’s what I said.”
We detoured to where the strange, enigmatic mushroom sat, her tendrils curling up and down with an indefinable yet unmistakable smugness.
“Hey,” I said for the third, or possibly first time that day. “Fancy meeting you here,” she didn’t respond, so after waiting for a moment I said, “well, I wanted to tell you that I appreciated your help today, although I’m not sure if you remember giving it or not. Thank you,” still no response. “I … guess we’re going to head in. It’s been a long day and there’s a show about skateboards with influenza that Creepy thinks he needs to watch.”
“Skateboards can’t actually catch influenza,” Creepy retorted defensively, “that’s clearly ridiculous. It’s a carbon-fibre-based strain of influenza that ‑ ”
“You need to escape,” the Myconet said, “or you will die. But to escape, you must die. So perhaps it is all the same. Perhaps it is simply a matter of waiting while the world crumbles. I do not know. I’ve heard it said that dying on one’s own terms is more important than living on them. But I have heard many things said.”
“I … see,” I said, while Creepy frowned as though wondering how this pertained to skateboards. “Well, thanks again,” I added, when there didn’t seem to be any more information forthcoming.
“It must be opened,” the Myconet said in parting, just as I was turning away. “Just do not leave it too late.”
We left her sitting there inscrutably in the garden, and headed in through the front door after the usual rigmarole of defusing Creepy’s booby traps. The majority of the rigmarole was simply opening the door and waiting for the booby traps to stop falling over and breaking. Creepy did have a frightening amount of skill in the deadly arts, but it was exceedingly specialised, not to mention context-dependent.
“Well,” I noted as a rope-slung log swung across the doorway with all the crushing force of the sawn-off broomstick handle it actually was, “that was bleaker than usual.”
“Oh I don’t know, I think it has a certain fortune-teller charm,” Creepy said, taking hold of the broomstick and unwinding it from its tangle of plastic-coated laundry line. We both leaned sideways, Creepy to the left and I to the right, to allow a slightly-rancid cream pie to catapult through the door and vanish into the dry undergrowth at the bottom of the steps. Creepy and I exchanged a look, and I raised my eyebrows in mild appreciation of the actually-functional trap. “Besides,” Creepy went on with painfully exaggerated casualness, “I always said the Myconet’s a fun gal.”
“I heard you.”
While the bladed pendulum fell backwards into the entryway and neatly decapitated nothing at all, and a tote bag full of marbles swept open and clatter-bounced across the floor, I glanced back towards the patch of weeds where the Myconet had stood. She was gone. I stepped aside to allow Creepy to enter the house first, which served the incidental purpose of making him stumble and curse his way through the remaining marbles on the floor, getting them safely out of my way.
With a final backward glance and a deep feeling of inexpressible disquiet, I went inside.
The last thing you notice about the Myconet is that, sooner or later, she’s always right.
So the dying and escaping and opening is somehow about connecting to the larger Urverse?
Maaaaaaybe. Sorta. Kinda. You really will kick yourself when you see it.
Is the Hatboyverse some sort of simulation within the Urverse?
I submitted the files for proofing tonight. The printed version should be ready for you to pick up in a week or so. It should clear up some stuff.
Roger that. I’ll just wait here.
No no, you have to come and get the book next Friday – you’re still coming to the shindig, right?
Wait, what? What’s next Friday? There’s nothing in my calendar.
I told you about it on WhatsApp weeks ago and you said you marked it down and you were good to come along. It’s a not-really-a-party-for-Human-yet-but-a-sort-of-a-party-for-the-whole-series-completion-and-also-live-music-again sort of thing. Don’t be missing it.