the monsters at the end of the world
rating: +11+x

There’s nothing better, Pilgrim thinks, than being at the top of the world.

She’s flying, the wind rushing in her cape. In the sunset shadows of the building behind her, she knows her trusty sidekick follows. The Fright does not like heights like she does, but he’s getting better, has gotten better. Before he’d always just complain, but in that fun sort of way where he’s actually really enjoying something despite not saying it aloud. Now at least, he skips that first step.

Progress is progress. Who is she to judge?

They’ve been defending North City for as long as she can remember - or what feels like that, anyway. Fighting crime that no one else can, of course, but also the little things: saving cats from trees, helping the elderly across roads. They’re doing what makes all the difference in the world. Sure, the streets are still dark at night, but only they can stop the supervillains that plague the land. They have to.

This time, the Toaster (a somewhat middling villain, in the grander scheme of things) had a plan to steal from the bank, using five buildings rigged as proxy. Her consultants confirmed it all. Today, the Fright is busy neutralizing each and every one of the villain’s goons, just as Pilgrim aims for the head of the snake.

She lands on a rooftop, sending birds scattering as she kicks the Toaster in the back of their toaster-shaped mech-suit. ‘You’re toast!’ she cries.

‘No,’ the Toaster returns. ‘You are!’ Lightning arcs towards her, but what the Toaster does not realize is that her costume is uniquely equipped against electrical appliances - so much so, that it refracts. Electricity blasts the Toaster back in karmic justice, sending a plume of stale crumbs and moldy bread crust into the air .

But the fight is far from over. Hate burns in the Toaster’s eyes. He throws his arsenal of DKUs (Dangerous Kitchen Utensils, designed by the mad supervillain corporation Evil Inc) at her, flesh-splitting instruments hurtling indiscriminately at buildings and sidewalks and trees alike. It’s a good thing she’s an Olympic gymnast - she dodges each and every one. Even manages to save some lady’s dog from being hit.

Both of them stop for a moment, heaving for breath. ‘Seems like someone didn’t pull your plug when they left the kitchen,’ she huffs out. Before he can start his anticipated, but in her opinion, rather undercooked monologue, she blasts a beam of light upon her adversary, fashioning it into handcuffs that tighten fast around his wrist, holding him down at last.

The Fright appears behind her, the goons restrained in a tied-up pile.

‘All tidied up?’ she asks. The Fright glowers all silly-looking, but she knows he’s smiling. Secretly. Even if he’s eyeing the edge of that building with some kind of abject terror.

‘All cleaned up. Police should be here at any moment.’

‘Good. Justice is best served hot, once again!’ She looks over her shoulder. A shadow is in the window across the street. When she blinks, it’s gone. ‘Let’s get that root beer float, shall we?’

They always get floats after fights. It’s been their tradition, just the two of them for however long. Fright initially objected to such a thing, called it childish, but she can tell he’s finally coming around. Grump.

She puts her hands on her hips, and smiles a brilliant grin. The top of the world, huh? No, nothing is better indeed.


You never know who’s real until you’re out of the Strip. You would think that the heroes and villains all would be uniquely personable - but that’s simply not true. The most important secret agents she knows are frozen shells the moment the issue ends. Just as some random person she saves might end up being as cognizant as her.

Pilgrim wanders aimlessly down streets she haunts in her patrols, only now - everything’s clear, silent, suspenseful. The sky is the dull throbbing grey of Intermission, that space between spaces, that moment in time when all is suspended - even the birds. There’s no lines during times like these, no ordained circumstances. Just random chance, sleepwalkers in the quiet.


A store’s LED lights flicker to her right, a lone island of color in the grey. She turns her head and starts at the image of a small dog, attempting to whine but no sound comes out of its wretched maw. It’s in pain.

That’s the truth about Intermission: sometimes it does not work properly. No one knows why, and it’s not like Pilgrim can just ask about these things. But sometimes, people who were aware once - just, aren’t anymore. And vice versa. But the switch isn’t always perfect. Sometimes someone can be frayed.

The dog is crawling at nothing, but can’t move. One eye is ruptured whole. In the depths of the other is a profound confusion, a lack of time, of place, of meaning. She picks it up into her arms, gently running her fingers through its matted fur.

I saved you, she says, voice cracking from disuse. She’s surprised that words actually come out. No one is supposed to speak between issues. It’s not a hard rule, but…

She saved that dog from the Toaster, only for it to die here, now, by her hand.

The dog stops squirming in her arms, finally beginning to trust her despite the unsteadiness of its breathing, the hammering of its heart. When she’s finally sure it’s calm, she takes in a sharp breath, jerks its neck with a precision she supposes has to have been learned but doesn’t remember learning, and shuts her eyes. The snap makes no sound.

She spends the next however-long burying it. She never knew its name, but surely it must have been important - for its awareness to have been preserved, however shoddily. So she calls it Julia, and beneath the elm tree she piles a cairn of broken concrete from her fight last issue.

She walks away. There’s still time, she thinks, to do what she’s always done in Intermission. Walk around. Stand. Watch. Walk around again, never sticking in one place for too long. Look at people, but never at them fully. To visit past glories, old haunts. And then…

Just another day, she tells herself. Just another day.

They sit together at the soda shop, both in costume. The sun is bright outside. The fight that day had been longer than usual, but only just. Freeze was a particularly lame villain, no match for them: Pilgrim and the Fright, superheroes extraordinaire.

The Fright slurps at his straw unflatteringly, and Pilgrim holds back a giggle.

‘What?’ he asks her, pretending to play dumb.

‘Just thinking about how silly you are.’

He holds up a finger, the other hand on his head. ‘Sorry. Couldn’t hear you. Got a brain-freeze.’

‘You weren’t even trying with that one.’

He shrugs, looking sheepish even behind his mask. ‘What can I say. Taught by the best.’

She laughs. The girl behind the counter walks past. ‘Excuse me - I’m so sorry. I think we never paid?’

‘Don’t worry about it. What you do for this city is more than enough,’ the girl says, smiling. ‘Free of charge.’

Outside, the buildings are gold in the sunlight. Suddenly, their watches buzz. Someone, somewhere, needs a soft-serve of justice on their side - and god willing if Pilgrim and the Fright won’t be there to give it. She looks at the Fright, and he looks at her. A mutual nod, and they’re both out the door, racing through the air and streets and that golden world where bad things happen but good people are always there to stop them.

She’s at the top of the world.


Pilgrim sits at a bar. It’s one she’s been to before, though in a different time, wearing a different face. She was a different person in that other face - the secret identity that was just as given to her as her pseudonym. She wasn’t a hero. She wasn’t even a pilgrim. She was a Cassandra.

She’s at one end, the last barstool. Faded yellow lights flicker. A faceless bartender washes the cups, silent, silent as any other person always is in Intermission. But no one’s there for talk - certainly not anything that’s unscripted. She places down money she can’t quite see the faces on, and a drink is shoved in front of her face.

One drink turns to five, five turns to ten, ten turns to something else, anything else. She tastes words burning in her throat, actions unsaid and undone. Lives, faces, archetypes, roles. It all bleeds. For a moment, brief as all of time is, she forgets.

In the corner of a bar, a minifridge that isn’t plugged in is humming. The TV has colors immeasurable, but the shapes on it are not concrete. She turns her head briefly to the right, startled by what she sees.

It’s one of her older villains, Candyman. He hasn’t been in the current run for a while. He’s not in costume. It’s a guise she knows exists, one that has to exist to fulfill what is meant to be fulfilled, but she’s never seen it before. Where once was powder and syrup and candied apple armor and honeycomb eyes is now a tired man with one of those somewhat ageless faces that probably is in his thirties, silent as a candlestick after supper. His cheeks are hollowed out. His eyes are a lightless kind of blue, nearly grey. His skin is dark ebony. It’s not pink at all. He’s drinking himself into his own kind of stupor, but for a second their eyes catch. She wonders what he sees in her. The hero he fights? She doesn’t feel like a hero outside of the mask. Maybe a villain? She doubts he sees Cassandra. She doesn’t usually think of a tired man when she thinks of Candyman, either.

What does he see in her?

He looks like he wants to say something. She knows she wants to say something, too. But getting out words is hard. And they’re separated by six bar stools, fluorescent lights, towers of transcript napkins and empty cups, a reality encased in unreality. It’s not worth the effort.

She gets up and leaves. She doesn’t look back to see if he follows.

Sunset. The sky is a deep purple, almost lilac as stars begin to glitter. Even though it’s the inner-city, the night sky and the milky way sprawling across it is always visible brilliantly at night in the Strip. It’s her comfort, her consistency in the darkness.

She passes a street-corner midway through her rounds. There’s a poster, on a lamp-post, its contents born from a printer nearly out of ink, the paper bleached by the sun. She stops. She presses her hand on it, smoothing it out, as if the simple ritual of that act might cause something to happen, even if she knows nothing will.

It’s a missing pet poster. The dog she buried, Julia, she’s there. The face of her first real kill, the first that mattered, staring up at her like she’s some monster. Wind blows. Time is wasting. The hair at the back of her neck stands on end, and she turns around, staring down the alleys. She feels eyes on her, but from where? From who?

‘You ready to keep going?’ Fright’s voice materializes out of the shadows. She breathes a sigh of relief. ‘Place gives me the heebie-jeebies.’

‘Just an alleyway, Fright. You can literally control shadow with your powers. How are you scared?’

‘Dunno, just am, okay?’ He replies, all defensive. He keeps turning his head in micro-movements, this way, and that. Looking for something, Pilgrim surmises, But what? ‘What were you doing, anyway? You’ve been off-kilter all night,’ he asks her. She can’t tell if he’s on-script or not. And the thing is, she can’t tell if she is either. No, maybe neither of them are. The words that just flowed out of her, these actions… they aren’t ordained.

Why do they feel so right?

He peers at the poster, looking past her shoulder.

‘Didn’t we save her last week?’


‘Guess that didn’t last long.’

‘Let’s just keep going.’

‘Are you sure-’

The feeling of being watched is back. Pilgrim’s heart pounds faster and faster. When her voice comes out, she hopes to God that it sounds strong. She brings her hand down on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze.

‘Come on, Fright.’

And they continue their patrol. But for the first time, when she looks up again as they leave the alley, not all the stars are up in the sky to greet her.

The stars are falling.


It’s hard to find Candyman again. Intermission is a sea of a thousand faces, all dead, all alive. She does it though. Pilgrim is nothing if not resourceful.

He’s standing in the grey light of a dead nightclub, dancing alone on a stripper’s pole. There’s nothing in his eyes but apathy, longing, something else. All around him are faceless masses frozen in time, collapsed and writhing on a floor that seems to suck in the light, belly-dancers in the dark of a monochrome kind of hell.

Hello, Candyman. She makes the first move, calling out to him like this. He keeps dancing, pretending to not hear her. I wanted to find you. I wanted to try and talk.

What is there to say? He stops abruptly, eyes turning to her mid-twist. He purses his lips, glistening faintly in the gloam.

I- Her voice catches before she can say much more, feeling something bony brush against her ankle. It’s one of the sleeping dancers, something dead hidden behind their formless features. They’re moving towards her, slowly yet surely. She kicks them back, away from her.

Choreomania, Candyman says. They’re diseased. They didn’t stop dancing when Intermission began, so they’re stuck like this until the next issue.

That’s horrible.

That’s our life, Pilgrim. He smiles a dark smile. We’re just a little more aware in it.

I want to stop it. I want this to end.

He lifts his eyes for a moment, as if appraising her convictions, or perhaps marveling at her own naivete. He walks down the podium, slinking towards her, placing a hand on her shoulder as he whispers in her ear. A noble goal, but you’re forgetting one thing.

What am I forgetting this time, Candyman?

What becomes of us when the plug’s pulled. Do you even know who runs this place?

Of course I do.

What are their names?

She purses her lips, hating how smug he looks, how empty.

Whatever you think they are or what they do or why they keep us, it’s wrong. They’re not bad handlers. They just want to provide their constituents an escape. We give it to them. And when we don’t, well… He strikes a match, sparks flying even as he lights a cigar. He puffs smoke into her face. We’re archetypes, baby. Cutouts. Do what’s best for you and stay in your lane.

His eyes look wrecked. There are doubtless ghosts behind them. She can tell he wants to say more just as she does, but for some reason, she lets him slip away. He walks out the door alone, not looking at her, not looking at anyone.

Touche, Candyman.

When he’s gone, she finds her way out too, away from the ghosts and sediment nightmares of the nightclub. In the distance, far beyond among buildings immeasurable, the trumpets blow. Ancient, primal things, deafening across the plain, these are the horns that signal the end of Intermission. Pilgrim does not know who blows them, though she cannot deny her interest in such questions. But there is no time to ask that now. The next issue has begun.

‘What am I doing here?’

‘What are you talking about?’ Fright’s voice crackles in the receiver in her ear. ‘Also, keep quiet. You’re the one who was so insistent we keep cover.’

There’s a mill of bodies around her - celebrities, wealthy donors, societal elite. This is a charity gala she supposes that she’s hosting as Cassandra. There’s a villain here, or something. ‘I dunno. I’m just. I guess I’m thinking.’

‘You’ve been so different, lately. And not in your normal way,’ Fright says. ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’

‘I-’ her voice cuts off, as her eyes zero in on someone standing near the back of the room. ‘Excuse me for a minute.’

Something drags at her legs as she sluggishly moves through the crowd, ignoring the feeling weighing at her limbs that this is wrong, that she is wrong, that what she’s doing is wrong, but she doesn’t care. Fright’s voice keeps asking her what the hell she’s trying to do now, but she doesn’t care about that either. Before long, she finds him. Candyman. She’s never recognized him outside the mask before, but now that she knows, she knows him well.

He looks at her, and there’s recognition behind her eyes.

‘Hello,’ she says dumbly, sifting through names she’s supposed to have accounted for in the invite list, but none comes up. ‘I’ve not seen you before.’

‘To what pleasures do I owe the lovely Cassandra?’ he smiles, bowing his head. For a moment, she shuts her eyes, seeing nothing but the nightclub. No, not here, not now.

‘Remind me your name?’

‘Allistair. I’m a man of certain… tastes. I believe our companies had an understanding, last our representatives met.’

‘Yes. Certainly.’

‘You throw a good party, I’ll give you that.’

Vapid pleasantries flow, but they do little to safeguard the edge Pilgrim feels she’s standing on: the rebellion, in this act. After a while she blinks, looking again into Allistair’s eyes, into Candyman’s eyes, and there it is: stray, fleeting recognition. She reaches to grasp his hand, opening her mouth.

He steps back.

‘Not here,’ he says, teeth gritted, eyes blown wide open, seeming to look past her. Into the background.

It’s then that she notices no one else is speaking. Slowly, she turns her head. Every socialite in the room is staring at her, eyes glazed over and listless. Across the room she sees a shadow watching her, hanging off her every word.

‘I just wanted to wish you a good evening.’ As if nothing happened - a spell mended and once more unbroken - conversations reinitiate. He smiles, and she says some more empty words, and then she’s rushing outside. She needs air.

Slowly, it registers that the Fright has been talking to her. ‘… reckless, I swear to god. You know what? I’m just gonna- that’s it.’

The receiver shuts off. She clenches the railing, trying to will her hands to stop shaking. Suddenly hands come from nowhere, shaking her by the shoulders.

‘Are you an idiot?’ Fright asks her. She can’t help but dissect the words, to wonder just who is speaking to her, and for what. The Fright she knows? Or something, someone else, tinged with the faintest hope. ‘You almost cost us everything. Are you even trying to stick with the mission? You were supposed to be subtle, not implicate us to a supervillain.’


‘You what? You’re always telling me to be cautious about things before I jump into them. You look out for me, Cass. Why can’t I do the same for you?’

She imagines her responses. Because I’m not sure if you're real or not. Because I’m not sure I’m real. Because I am looking out for you, Fright, I’m just not sure how. Because-

The silence is awkward. There’s no sound coming from inside the building again, and both of them are uncomfortably aware of that fact.

‘The stars are falling,’ is all she says in the end. Because it’s a truth she assumes they both can swallow. In the purple of the night, there’s only a few stars still left in the sky.

Fright gulps. She isn’t sure if it’s the light of the street-lamps, but his eyes seem wet somehow. Almost like-

No, that’s impossible.

‘I-’ he starts to say.

But then lonely bells peal from some faraway belfry, and his face is again the one she knows, the one she feels is right. The cowardly but well-meaning side-kick, who’s afraid of everything but has a heart of gold. She wants to acknowledge the outburst, even though he doesn't. But in the end neither of them do. She goes back inside. He stays in the bushes. They stay in their lane, even if she feels increasingly like that’s becoming impossible.


I’ve never spoken to you in Intermission before. Pilgrim looks up at the light of a billboard. On it is nothing but a grey noise. I thought I’d find you up here.

Be quiet. Do you want them to-

Do I want who, Fright?

Unlike others she passes in Intermission, she’s never seen Fright outside the mask. The only thing that’s different about him here versus then is the look on his face. Here, he’s not afraid. He’s not silly. He’s standing tall, and he looks like someone more than the ink at his edges. In the Strip, he’s always watching her, admiring her with starry eyes. But here, his eyes look anywhere but her own.

He chuckles. Above them, the billboard changes to a deep, royal blue, static all the while.

You’re supposed to be the smart one. Can’t you figure it out?

He walks to the roof edge, the wide space between buildings stretching out before him. In the Strip, she calls places like those wind corridors. Highways so they can get to the scene of a crime as quick as possible, with the least amount of damage.

Here there’s no wind. Here, in Intermission, there is nothing but dead space. Between issues, between lives, between meaning.

She takes a slow and careful step forward. In the blue light, his mask seems so plastic, so unreal. But the darkness in his eyes are realer than anything in the world. You don’t know what you’re talking about, Fright. Step away from that ledge.

Think about it hard. Real hard. Look at where we are.

They’re on a flat roof, concrete stained with sepia. The sun’s setting, but it’s grey. The only thing that has color are the billboards, empty shadows, reds, blues, oranges. Even the buildings, so bright and beautiful in the Strip, are lifeless.

We’re on a roof, Fright. Why are you on the edge? You hate heights.

It’s not real, Pilgrim. It’s not real, Cassandra.

You’re talking like Candyman now.

Even as she says the words, she realizes a profound, stark difference in between Candyman’s condition, and the Fright’s. Where Candyman is resigned, the Fright is determined. Where Candyman is stable, Fright seems… on edge. Literally, figuratively, he looks like he’s about to burst, and that’s with the mask on.

Candyman warned her to stay in her lane, said she wasn’t asking the right questions. Looking at Fright right now, at the slow shake of his shoulders, the twitch of his wrists, the fragility in the way he stands, makes her wonder if this was where the wrong questions led.

The stars are falling, Cassandra. Why did you say that?

I don’t-

Just tell me. So I’m not crazy, just tell me this one thing. The stars are falling. Why?

I don’t see them in the sky anymore. There, happy now?

He rips off his mask. It’s then and there that rather than the boy she expects to find, knows to exist because the pages have spoken about him existing, because their paths are intertwined as with every hero on this earth - there’s nothing. There’s just a faceless hole. Like the bartender. Or like-

She bites her tongue. He’s frayed. Of course he’s frayed.

Fright. I need you to put your mask back on, now.

I don’t see the stars either, anymore. In the Strip. I thought it was a fluke at first, like, you playing a trick on me when I asked you about it. Like that thing you do when you- when you pretend to not see things I see, or I do it to you as a joke. But you really still saw the stars then, when I asked. What changed, between then and now?

You- wait, you asked me about this? You tried to-

That doesn’t matter. Nothing matters now. I…

His hands start shaking uncontrollably, clawing at the nothingness of his face. For a moment, his fingers seem to mold the flat surface like clay. But nothing he does lasts long, makes a dent in the conformity of it.

She’s close enough to Fright now that it’s easy, in a way, to loop her hand around his shoulders, to gently guide him away from the ledge, from the billboards and the colors and the light. She hands him his mask gently, making sure his fingers close gingerly around the edges. And when it’s finally on his faceless face again, he lays his head on her shoulder, and they’re silent together for a while.

For a moment things were just like they were before she had begun this whole mess, before she had started speaking in Intermission, breaking the rules, having some kind of teenage rebellion phase. Back when there was just the good silence, the kind that is meant to be.

I didn’t mean to cause this, she whispers as he shakes against her shoulder.

I can’t find it. Ever since I started having these- these thoughts. I can’t find it anymore.

What can’t you find, Fright?

I don’t know.

The silence after that feels hollow, fake.

Maybe… maybe you can’t find your milkshake from the other day. When we were at the soda shop.

I don’t know if…

You always lose things. This is just, one of things, right? Like your wallet. You always lose your wallet on patrols but the old lady you save every time always finds it for you and gives it to you, because you’re a nice young man who’s just doing what’s right. Maybe someone will find it for you.

Will you find it for me?

He sounds almost like a child when he asks that.

There’s the Fright I know. She chuckles, smiling despite the quiver in her hands. Come now. Maybe we can go for root beer floats, right? This is… like one of our superhero fights. And after those, root beer’s always great. And I know now isn’t… when we usually get it, but I’m sure there’s someone who works there. There was someone there when I went to the bar, so…

The words feel hollow in her now, but she always remembers how complete they make her feel in the Strip. Here it feels more like some kind of twig in the face of the storm, and the twig’s about to snap.

Why were you at the bar?

We’re talking about you, not me. I’m not important.

The billboards flicker as one, plunging the land in steel-grey darkness. Fright looks devastated. But he doesn’t say anything further. Just lets her guide him away, down the stairs, across the street, somewhere else as they kill time until Intermission ends.

The lights come back, of course, as they are often wont to do. Life moves on.

Candyman’s cackling with glee, his skin vibrant pink as it always is in costume. She’s pinned by his doughnut guards, but even now she can feel the light building inside of her, the feeling of rightness ahead.

‘Give up while you’re ahead, Pilgrim,’ he brags. ‘In this very moment, I’ve rigged the entire city to be hit by my confectionary cannons. Soon, people will have no choice but to put their money behind bars. Chocolate bars, to be precise. Cacao investments will be through the roof, and I’ll be so rich there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it! In fact-’

He doesn’t get to finish his monologue. Fright pulls the rug (literally) out from under him, sending Candyman off the stairs, the doughnut guards distracted as they race to help their disgraced master. But Fright’s skin looks pallid. Almost… wrong, for the Strip. He races to pull her up.

She can’t help herself. She breaks script. She hugs Fright.

‘What?’ his voice croaks, uncertain where to place his hands.

‘I- You’re okay. You haven’t been around the past few issues. I thought you were - that I’d lost- that-

‘Why? Why did you have to say that?’ he asks suddenly, jerking away from her. ‘Why did you have to -’

Suddenly a loud crack echoes through the streets, the noise frightening a whole flock of pigeons as they fly haphazardly into the open sky. The heroes look around. Candyman and his henchmen are gone. They’re alone with no one but each other for company.

Then Fright breaks script, too.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says, mumbling into her shoulder. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I-’

But then her eyes catch the shadows in the street: the gathering darkness, ink blotting entire windows whole.

‘Fright?’ she asks, abruptly cutting off his stilted apologies. ‘Do you see that? The- the shadows.’

‘What did you say?’


He looks, and his entire demeanor shifts.

‘Is something after us, Fright?’

‘Yes- no. Not you. Maybe you? It’s after me. The monster. It lives in the shadows, the,’ Fright swallows. ‘The monsters at the end of the world. Come. I have to show you something. We have to leave. It’s too late for me, but you - you have a chance still. I’m so sorry, Cass. I’m sorry-’

‘Fright’, she says; now it’s her turn to grab him, hold his shoulders, pull him close, grounding him even as he shakes, all heaving breaths and dangling limbs. In, out. In, out. ‘Fright, it’s fine. I’m here. Let’s- let’s go. Show me-’

She doesn’t get the chance to even finish her sentence, for they’re already flying through alleys and streets and subways, Fright more tireless and brave than she’s ever seen him even despite the abject terror in his voice. Buildings fold in on themselves behind them in the gathering dark. Cutouts, just like people. Shadows are marching, and she’s not sure if they’ll be fast enough to escape this.

At last they come to a rooftop. It’s the same one she found him in Intermission, the very same one. All around them now is dark ink. She can’t even see the buildings beyond it all.

Fright searches frantically, this way and that, all across the rooftop.

‘What are you looking for?’

‘It should be here. Why isn’t it here?’

‘Why isn’t what here?’

The door. There should be - there should be a door. It’s in the Strip, it should be here. Why-’

She takes a step forward to try to help him, but then there’s a loud noise. Fright screams, something hard and bright ramming into his side, sending him flying to the right, and then after that - flailing off the side of the building.

His flight doesn’t work.

She rushes to the edge, arms outstretched, but it’s too late. All she sees is her friend, her partner, bleeding into nothing as she screams his name.

Behind her, she hears footsteps, light yet familiar somehow. Almost…

‘Poor baby. I did warn you about my confectionary cannons,’ the sly voice says. ‘But then again, you were never very good at listening to warnings, were you?’

The horns of Intermission blow.

She finds herself in a theatre. Candyman is next to her, and they’re sharing a bowl of popcorn. She abruptly moves away, trying to leave, but he grasps her wrist.

Come on, stay. You’re about to miss the best part.

She wants to move so badly, but she can’t move, can’t speak. She’s not in her body, doesn’t feel like it anyway - she can’t be in her body, because this isn’t happening. Fright isn’t dead, she’s fine, she’ll wake up. Intermission will end, and everything will be- will be fine.

Candyman isn’t watching her out of the corner of his eye, drawing circles on her wrist. She has powers. She can save herself, right?

Just like you saved Fright, right? Candyman’s voice lilts. And I mean, you really did, don’t put yourself down. I’ll explain everything soon. Just calm down. Can you do that for me? Can you watch the picture for me, baby?

The film on the projector starts playing, a kaleidoscope of flickering lights overloading her tired brain. It has a strange title: ‘The Tale of Melonman and friends:’ except the word friends is crossed out. Candyman’s right, in a way. Once the film begins in earnest, it’s impossible to look away.

A man with a melonball for a heart wakes up at the beginning of a cold day. His mom is the one who wakes him up, as she always does. He can’t be late for work, after all. Even at thirty, he can’t be late for work. Why the hell can’t he be late for work?

He takes the bus. Some kids laugh at him when he tries to talk about superheroes with them. He decides he doesn’t care, even if the words sting. Because one day, even if that day is not today or might never be, he’ll be better than them.

A man with a melonball for a heart arrives at work, near the middle of a cold day. The receptionist looks at him with a vague sort of disgust, but of course their conversation is complimentary as per work standards. He slogs through the motions, a blur of light and color, and then he’s at a forklift. He moves boxes from one place to another in a room full of towers, so tall they could be buildings in the Strip, except they aren’t. They’re just… metal shelves.

He plays games in the metal shelves. The kind of games where he talks to himself, acting out these characters in his head. He keeps messing up the names, because he’s not attached to these characters, has never been. But the ones he cares about were destroyed long ago by hands that weren’t his, and he cannot ever, ever, imagine bringing those back into this picture. Not after what happened.

A man with a melonball for a heart arrives at home. His mom has tomato soup ready, the washing already in the dryer even though he tells her not to do these things because she’s hurting herself with her condition, yet he lets her do them anyway because he’s lazy and that’s the trait that wins out.

He sits alone at his desk and stares at a wall. He plays video games. He reads comics, so many comics, but with a dull stare rather than a bright one.

A man with a melonball for a heart goes to bed.


As the film concludes, she finds herself suddenly back on the roof the moment she lost Fright. This time, the city is visible. There is no shadow. There is no monster. There is only her, Candyman, a roof, and nothing.

You know, you’re not going to find any answers jumping off that roof.

Candyman, Pilgrim says, turning around suddenly, venom in her voice. Why?

Because I’m like you.

You- you’re lying. I’m nothing like you. You just - you just killed my friend. My partner. How can you even have the gall to-

Do you know what a crossroads is?


Come on, Cass. We don’t have all day.

Of course I do. I help old people across crosswalks all the time.

Not a crosswalk. A crossroad. The place between life and death, reality and unreality, one choice or another. I was at the crossroads once. Just as you are now.

A yellow door opens out of nothing at the roof’s edge, stark and brilliant. She squints her eyes, peering out.

This is the door Fright wanted me to find, she says dumbly, the words slipping from her mouth before she can stop them.

Indeed it is, Candyman says. It’s not very grand, is it? Upper management has had budget cuts, lately, so I digress.


Our handlers, he says like it’s just that simple. That the monsters that keep her here, those monsters behind the shadows are something pristine and elegant and correct rather than alien. It leaves an acrid taste in her mouth.

But there’s something else behind his tone. She sifts back through her memories, of her moments with him. The party, where no one spoke. And later, when she was outside…

You called off the shadows, didn’t you? You control them.

Perhaps, but I don’t control anything. What I am, ultimately, is what some might call a ‘steward’. A housekeeper. You know, like your butlers and maids. I just have a bit of a higher position, is all.

You’re going to pull my plug. Why- her voice catches. It’s all hoarse from running. Why give me this consciousness, if all that’s going to happen is that it will be taken away?

I didn’t give it to you. He shrugs, tapping the side of his nose as he looks up. That’s upper management again. You really have to sort out your order of operations. It’s embarrassing, honestly-

Just- shut up for one damn second, will you?

He raises his hands in submission. She takes a step back, breathing hard.

I have questions, she says at last.

You’re lucky then, Candyman says, smiling. I have answers.

Who - who was he? The Melonman.

The man in the movie seemed so… hollow. Finished. Passionless. She wonders what happened to make him that way. Why he felt the way he felt - and what it meant, too.

Our Maker, of course. Candyman smiles.

He made us?

Well, not us us. But the concept of us, yes. We’re what they like to call transplant dreams.

So he actually… liked this place? This world?

He was a man of simple taste, yes, but who are dreams to judge the dreamer? And let it be made clear, everyone has dreams. Before he worked the forklift, he had a dream of being a master cartoonist. Would draw pages and pages of story, plaster the walls of his room with his characters. Pilgrim, after the Pilgrims from school. Fright, after his Halloween costume. A world where billionaire superheroes could make the world a better place just by putting on a costume and everything would still be okay. A world where villainy is boiled down to breakfast-based puns and kitchen appliances. It was harmless… but it consumed him into adulthood. He wanted that dream so badly, reached so high. Company after company rejected him, until finally he squandered his dream, let it stagnate and die.

If the dream is as dead as you say, why are we here?

This world? This life? This is upper management's gift for us. Upper management decided to rescue us from death, just as they rescued that man’s dream. We’re part of their archives - dead worlds housing dead dreams. But they didn’t like the idea of you and me being just, meaningless husks. So they… gave us a break, sometimes. Time to think. Time to be ourselves. It’s not their fault we had to go and interpret things the way we did, assume the worst of them.

I didn’t assume the worst, she starts defensively.

Course you did. I did too the first time around. Don’t try and be all special on me, baby. We’re not there yet.

Don’t call me that.


Pilgrim swallows, pacing this way and that. Finally, after a long pause, she looks up.

So. What are my options?

Candyman smiles.

There are three. For one, you can walk through that door. No one’s stopping you, certainly not me. I don’t know what lies beyond it. Perhaps you’ll meet our Managers. Perhaps you’ll end up in that man’s world. Or maybe somewhere else. Such Ways are mysterious things.

And the others?

You could stay in the Hen-house. You could be a… keeper. Like me. Someone who is aware of the system, who knows the importance of maintaining the dream, and ensures things run smoothly. The last, well…

Candyman looks to his side. The shadows at the edges of the streets below seem to lengthen, dark ink staining the wider world.

There’s always reset.

Pilgrim shivers, hands gripping her elbows.

Which one did - did Fright pick? The first time.

Because she’s not stupid. There had to have been a first time, right? For him to know about the door in the first place.

I suppose he chose a fourth. He walked through the door halfway, his body awash with the outer dark, before he turned back. It left his mind scarred, torn open. Normal fraying is but a product of the imperfect dreamself, but his… no, that was an erosion of body, mind, and soul. There was no going back from it, and rather than letting himself be fixed right away via reset, he opted to run. But we’ll fix him. I’ve ensured that he will be, even as we talk at this very moment.

So what? After that he’s just… dead?

Reset, there’s a difference.

What difference does it make if nothing we had together he remembers?

What do you mean? He remembers everything that matters. He remembers your root beer floats, patrol times. He remembers you first rescuing him when he was young. He remembers beating countless villains with you, side by side. He remembers your undercover work. He-

Things that matter to me, Candyman. Not things that matter to- to them. To me.


Candyman almost sounds bored.

None of that was real.

Candyman rolls his eyes.

Grow up, Cassandra. If you couldn’t tell: here, fantasy is reality. And you’re this close to running a blank check permanently.

You’ve made my choice for me, then. I’ll just step through that door?

He flinches. To Pilgrim, it almost seems too simple, too easy. Even with the possibility of death… she was an overdue dream, right? Something that was rerun one too many times. A mind virus, corroding the brain.

I was actually hoping I could convince you to stay.

Pilgrim balls her fists, ready to blast Candyman to the ground like one of her fights, but slowly she realizes such anger is misplaced. She remembers the Candyman from the bar, the stretched man drinking sorrows away into nothing. Perhaps she had interpreted him wrong then, but even now, she doesn’t think she did.

He steps forward.

I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but it really is safer, staying. And it isn’t all bad. You can do anything, be anywhere. Office perks. And I… could really use some help. I…

How many times have you given people this spiel?

He freezes for a moment, before dropping his hand.

A question like that isn’t fair, Cassandra.

Try me.

Sure, I’ve talked to many who have come to this point. But it is very rare that upper management deems a dreamself acceptable as a groundskeep. This is an honor, really. I’m special. You could be special, too.

She looks at him, stripping back the layers, the haughtiness, the smiles. Allistair fades into the background, and only Candyman remains.

You’re just as alone as I am, she realizes. You want a friend.

He doesn’t say anything, but she can tell by the way his eyes twitch, the bite of his lip, that she’s on the money. He sighs, straightening his back, clearing his throat. He holds out his hand.

Stay with me, he whispers hoarsely. Please.

She knows she’d be lying to herself if she hadn’t felt some kind of connection to Candyman. A mutual loneliness, a desire for someone to share a life with, to be understood, whatever that entails. And it is tempting, to be with him, to have a friend.

For a moment, the life she’s lived flashes before her eyes. Each issue like clockwork, a formula careening into space. She considers all the time she’s spent in Intermission wasting away just because she didn’t know any better, before she killed that dog, before everything slowly eroded at the seams. She considers the ‘gift’ that upper management thought so special - the acrid taste of consciousness, sapience, even if it’s only for a few stolen moments at a time. Up until now, she had never considered it positively. She’s still not sure if she does.

She considers Fright.

And now there’s this door. The yellow door, so innocuously simple yet so damning. There’s a certain level of uncertainty on the other side of that door. In the world of the Dreamer, of that man driving that forklift with his dead eyes, there is a monotony starkly similar to the life she lives now, only wrought of training videos and stacked boxes and money rather than bright smiles and superhero powers and rootbeer.

But whatever life that could await her there, there could also be no scripted lines, no universal this is right or this is wrong controlling her every action. There could be no Strip, no Intermission. No more set rules except her own and the ones of that world: her own intimate pact. And for that alone, she knows what her final choice will be.

I’m sorry, Candyman.

He nods, resigned.

See you around, he says.

Yeah. I’ll be seeing you.

She takes one last look at the streets below her, at the top of the world yet now she feels as if she’s falling. The horns of Intermission blow, echoing through the alleys as grey bleeds into brilliant gold, the compulsion in her body and soul to go to the place she ought to be, she must. But she ignores it, ripping it to shreds as she forces her arm upward, catching on the frame of the door as she steps in. One step becomes two as agony tears at her body. A moment of sharp regret pierces through her, and fear too, but she will not turn back. She’s no Fright - when she has her mind on something, she commits. Two steps become three. Three become four.

She screams, fingers rending into outlined flesh, her very soul wrestling with her body and mind. Four steps turn to five.

Five turn to six. Six to seven. Seven to eight. Eight - nine -ten-

The door snaps shut. All is quiet.

She walks out, into the empty, soundless space. A feeling of profound, finite peace washes over her, stabilizing her, grounding her even in the gathered darkness. And in that dark, there is water. A great sea larger than any she has ever known or seen or felt. In it, something is swimming: ingredients, concepts, dreams. It’s then that she knows what’s truly behind the door: the foundations of a new world, a new dream - one that is hers to create, and hers alone.

Above, one by one the stars appear. First they’re small, sad, twinkling things. But then they grow, brighter and brighter, until all around her is a cathedral of light, a choir of little monsters in the gloom. Heralds of a fair end, and a fairer beginning.

She laughs.

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