Kingdom Cut: A Beautiful Lie

Kingdom Cut: A Beautiful Lie

By SF Hades

Note: This story is best read when listening to ‘Beautiful Lie’ by Hans Zimmer. 

Part One: The End And New Beginnings

By Vietch Jimenez and Walter Gilligan

Vietch

“Vietch? Vietch? Earth to Jimenez, man!” Chloe says. She snaps her fingers at me, jolting me out of my daze. I looked around, less dazed and moreso confused. Yeah, that’s the word. Oh, so confused. 

With all the drama going on at Lampert, I felt thankful to finally get away from it all. Despite Kane having it’s own problems, from an outsider’s perspective it looked downright orderly compared to the chaos of Lampert. From students catching major stomach bugs at their carnivals, to students regularly breaking into faculty areas, usually stealing supplies. But, over the last year or so, after I and my ragtag group, The Folders of Tomorrow, stopped Daniel Anderson’s brother, Gil Anderson, things had quieted down. 

While most students would appreciate things finally being able to slow down in their lives, I am not most students. I’m John Constancrease. I’m the guy who steps from the shadows, all trench coat and arrogance. I’ll drive your demons away, kick em’ in the bollocks if I have to, and I spit on them when they’re down, leaving only a wink and a wisecrack. For so long, I walked these hallways alone, because no one else would be stupid enough to walk it with me.

And then… my friends came along. Actual, real, friends. The Folders of Tomorrow.  I mean, yeah, Daniel betrayed us. But we stayed together, mostly. 

Today, I gathered up with The Folders, or, more accurately, what’s left of us. Alberto Ramirez and Chloe Pines. Also, Meg was there. Meg had stayed with the other Folders, and she had become sort of our unspoken cheerleader. 

At the end of the day, driving them out to the golf course the school uses for practice. I set up a few lawn chairs around the place, and we passed around a large bottle of Mountain Dew. 

I wished I would’ve had the nerve to invite Alex. 

I realized I was lost in thought again, an often occurrence these last few months. 

“What was that?” I asked, for what must’ve been the third time this conversation. 

The last few days it had sunk in. For so long, I had no one. I didn’t know how much I cared about these people, until I was bidding them all farewell. 

“Alberto was just telling us about how he and his sister, Jesse, you remember her, right? Well, him and Jesse got their big break. For the moving business.” 

“Oh, really?” I faked a smile, “I wish I could see that!” That part I didn’t have to fake. 

“Yeah, things are shaping up for the Ramirezes!” Alberto said, flexing his muscles. 

“Awesome…”

My voice had grown timid and weak over the last few months, and my lisp was starting to come out. That was bad. I hadn’t lisped since I chose to write a paper on coded characters in comics… without realizing I had to present it to the class. 

That’s how I met Alex, actually. I adopted the British accent almost solely to impress him. And to feel like my big brother – my former hero – Sean, who had spent a year studying in England his freshman year. I didn’t get to go anywhere my freshman year, and I guess I knew why. 

Say what you will about Chloe, she could read the room well. She knew that the party was ready to come to a close. “Well, Vietch, to be honest, we’ll miss you. I know that you never really wanted to be a part of these things but,” she hugged me. It was the first time I have been hugged in months. Maybe a year. One of my teachers hugged me on the last day of my sophomore year. That probably doesn’t count. 

When the bell rang, slowly, faces fell, and the party seemed to come to a close. Alberto was the first to leave, answering to a call from his Mom. 

“I don’t give a rat’s cracker who you spend time with, you’re thirty minutes late, niño.” 

“Yeah, yeah,” he groaned, “I’ll be there in ten, Mama. Love you!”  

“Sorry, partners, I gotta go.” 

“C’mon, man,” I insisted, “Why you gotta do this to me?” 

“It doesn’t matter why,” he brushed his hair through his fingers, and I blushed, “I just do.” And he began to walk away. 

“Wait!” I yelled after him. 

“Here, take this.” I pulled a cowboy hat out of his backpack, attached to the top were brown leather cat ears. “I saw this at a flea market and just knew, man. And I just- I just knew.” 

Alberto placed the hat upon his head, and he walked off into the sunset, cowboy boots jangling.

Meg stood up from his lawn chair, “Do I get a gift?” 

From my pouch, I produced a cassette tape. David Bowie. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars. Debut album of the song, ‘Starman.’ “Best wishes, Starman- or, uh, Stargirl.” I saluted her, and after an awkward moment she reached in for a hug. 

That just left me and Chloe. My oldest, and perhaps dearest friend. 

“I’m sorry it had to turn out this way.” She said. I smiled with affection. 

“I know what you mean. I miss Daniel too. Heck, I miss all of them. Emma, Meg, Edgar, so, so many.” I couldn’t bring himself to add Alex to that lost list. 

“I wasn’t talking about them.” She stood up, “Vietch- I was at church with my parents. And your Dad stopped me. He gave me an invitation.” 

“What?” 

“The Puppet Society, Vietch. They’re back.” 

Chloe looked down, in shame. Because there was a puppet resting in her pocket. Not the White Canarigmai she had had since forever, no. She had a different character, The early, early, version of a character already in existence. No, she wasn’t Bella Ortiz. 

But she was the Black Canary. 

Walter

I stumbled over my own feet as I made my way down McKay Avenue, eventually stopping at the Jimenez household. Before I could even mentally prepare myself, or take in the three stories that stood before me, the door flew open. Fearful, I hid from behind a bush. 

A skinny figure tumbled down the brick steps, a trickle of blood running down his forehead. He crawled along the pavement on his hands and knees, his palms were shredded from breaking his fall, leaving specks of blood along the pavement, making the whole driveway look like an art deco sponge painting. 

Pastor Jimenez stood in the doorway, arms folded. His hair a smooth and slicked, black, web of lies, a single strand of it dangling over his wrinkled forehead.

“Normal,” Vietch’s father groaned, “That’s all I wanted from you. Look at Sean, he’s a normal kid. And that’s all I wanted from you. To just be normal.” 

Vietch struggled to his feet, skirt dangling from his white button-up shirt and sweater, checkered blue, yellow, and pink. Vietch spread his arms wide, holding back a shiver, and forcing out each word. 

“I am normal, Father.” He twisted the word into something that sounded like a heinous insult. 

Norman and Vietch only shared one characteristic, and that was their face. Harshly handsome in a sharp, angular type of way. Like a blade with blood dripping from it, or a diamond that gleams under the sun, too sharp and too hot to the touch.

“No more free ride to college,” Norman muttered, “No more money.”  

Vietch held back either a whimper or a laugh, “I don’t want your stupid, dirty, money anyway! Seventy percent of it is frivolous tax dollars, anyways!”

“You call it frivolous?” 

“THE CHURCH LITERALLY HAS A MARBLE ENTRANCE. MARBLE. AN ENTIRE BLOODY ROOM MADE OF MARBLE.” 

Norman spat on the steps, and made a noise, a bit of a cross between a growl and a snort “The money’s gonna go to your brother, Vietch.”

Vietch glared at his Father. The air between them turned dry and bitter. Both seemed to wait for a definitive gesture, for one or the other to apologize and give in. Two unstoppable forces had found their collision point. 

When his Father slammed the door, Vietch dusted the sharp pebbles off of himself and rubbed his eyes. Not wiping away tears, no, wiping his eyes like dealing with that constant abuse was simply tiresome. 

“I require your assistance.” I spoke from the shadows. 

Vietch groaned, “Jesus Christ, what is it? Who are you? What’s your… why?”

          “Let’s ask a better question, who are you, Vietch Jimenez? More specifically, what caused our uh… incident, the one I just witnessed.”

Vietch looked at me, up and down, “Look, I asked to join Dad’s super secret club and unfortunately I hadn’t realized there was a uh… certain rule.” 

“Fair enough. And was this ‘super secret club’ the reformed Puppet Society of America?” 

“How did you-” 

“I know lots of things.” I stared into his eyes, “Lots of things.” I repeated, tilting my head, “And I know what you have to do. I wish I had your brother to join me on this, but I’ll make do. I’d like to invite you to a mission.”

Vietch raised his eyebrow, “Go on.”  

“Upon arrival at Kane High School, go seek out your friends. Seek out Mr. Austin Nolan. And then go against your Father’s orders, learn about this new Puppet Society, and prepare to make a decision. A decision at the very end of this.” 

“Do you seriously expect me to go against my Dad after all of this? He’d beat the s— out of me! Do you think I’m crazy?” 

Walter Gilligan shook his head and smiled a knowing smile, “Hardly. In fact, your sanity may be paramount to the future of JuteFruce.”

Part Two: School of Demons

By Vietch Jimenez, Theresa Carter, and Austin Nolan

Theresa

“And this is my daughter, Theresa Carter.” My Mother clamped her arm on my shoulder, tightly, as I gazed around the room absently. 

There was Meg, Stargirligami. Chloe Pines, the third Black Canarigami. Nathaniel Flemmings, Citizen Foil. The children of the first Green Paper Lantern, with Jade and Obsidian. But they were Middle Schoolers, a bit squeamish and excited. And then there was this girl wielding Hourman, who I later learned was named Taylor. Surrounding the group of teens were their parents and mentors, only together were we The Puppet Society of America. 

I couldn’t help but think of them as grade A Losers.

I snapped back to life, “And Theresa here has been going through a bit of a… rough phase.” My Mother explained to Norman.

“It’s not a phase, Mom.” 

“Well, we’ll fix her right up.” I did not like the sound of that.

“I’m sorry what do you mean ‘f-“

Norman called the strange group to attention. 

“I’m sure you’re all wondering what exactly you all are doing here.”

I did in fact wonder what I was doing here. I didn’t even want to spend my Sunday afternoons at the Jimenez House of God, but here I was. 

“Today, I give you all an opportunity. Today marks twenty eight years since The Puppet Society of America fell apart. Now, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect since then. And as we approach the next thirty years, I believe a revival is in order. I’ve talked with the parents in the room, and The Puppet Society of America will be a youth group dedicated to self improvement via the word of our lord and-” 

(Walter’s note: When recounting this story, Theresa tuned Norman out past this moment.)

After listening to his ramble for nearly an hour, I grew increasingly bored and spiteful, playing with the aglets of my shoe laces, sitting with my legs folded across the velvet carpet.

Upon leaving, Norman stopped me. “Thalia, you go on. I’ll be having a talk with your daughter.” Most parents would’ve been suspicious of this, but my Mother is not most parents.

“Theresa,” I realized how weird Norman looked. How his skin looked a size too tight on his face. How his mouth and eyes were just a little too small, his ears just a little too big. “You’re a smart girl.” He continued, “I’ve been watching you for a while.” 

I squirmed around. Red Flag. Red Flag. Red f—ing flag. He put his hands in his oversized pockets and pulled out something. I couldn’t tell what it was, exactly, but under the lights it seemed to glow from inside his hands.

“I want you to have this. Your Father gave it to your Mother, and your Mother gave it to me.” I stopped at the mention of my Father. I didn’t want to hear about him; off in New York, doing whatever. I didn’t care. Norman opened his palm, resting in his hands was an Origami Wonder Woman. 

Not like one I had ever seen.

Her armor was covered in gold tin foil, an eagle placed sharply in the center. With an American flag for a cape, it was the most Golden age thing I could ever dream up.

Not knowing what else to do, I took the puppet in my hand, and prepared for the last week of my Junior year.

Vietch

“Ay, there’s my guy!” Neil Vanderlin rushed towards me. 

I smiled at the sight of my bartender, “Shut the f— up.” I said warmly. 

“Hey, now. Why such foul language?” 

“I’m joking, man. I’m joking. But I kind of do have a migraine, so…” 

Neil elbowed me from across Complicaire’s counter. 

“Anyways, darling, what’ll it be?” 

I frowned, “How about the good ol’ depresso espresso?” 

“Really, first day that rough, huh?” 

“An understatement.” 

“Alrighty tighty, coming up lickety split,” he groaned, “Jeez, all my patrons are growing up, no one wants the chocolate milk anymore. It’s always coffee this, coffee that. Babe, at least let me mix a kool-aid packet in.” 

“Do you want me to slit your throat?” 

“Vietch, my little baby boy, the answer might surprise you. Anyways,” Neil placed his elbows on the table, propping his head up. “Sooooo, tell me about your day.” 

“Theresa was acting really weird around me. And, well, Walter Gilligan won’t stop pushing me to deal with this stupid Puppet Society thing, and quite simply, I just don’t care.”

“Sounds exhausting. Yeah, I never cared for my brother’s friend group.” 

“I never cared for my brother’s either.” I took a long, smooth sip of espresso. “Until he graduated. And then I joined them.” 

“Yikes. So you’re like… his budget version?”

I sighed, “Sure. Yeah. That’s one way to put it.” I hung my head low. 

“Oh, no, no, no, god. No. I didn’t mean it like that. I was-” 

“Joking? Yeah, I got it.”  

“I’m sorry.” He said, deadpan.

“Hey, forget about it. Anyways, is Eleanor here?” 

“Nah, I let her have the week off. She deserved it.”

“That’s for sure. But… I didn’t see her in the halls.” 

“That’s weird,” he perked up, “Oh, oh heavens, I forgot. Eleanor said that if I saw you in the halls I should ask you out on a date.”

“What?” 

“LET ME REPHRASE THAT. I should invite you on a date with her.” 

“So I see.”

“You’re a lucky guy.”

“I know, I know. Anyways, I should get going.”

Neil fired off a finger gun, “Alrighty tighty. Just… remember I’m here for you, man. Okay?” 

“Neil… are you my friend?” 

Neil didn’t know how to answer that question. “I don’t know. I haven’t really had any.” 

“Well, let’s be friends, Okay?” 

“Yes, I’d… I’d quite like that.”

I kicked my feet around. “Ok.” I awkwardly shook Neil’s hand. 

I left Complicaire. 

On my way out, Walter stopped me. 

I groaned, “Oh my god. What the $@&* Do you want?!”

“Come with me. Now.” 

Austin

It was a hard day of an even harder year. The cries of Alan Wade still echo in my ear, sometimes twisting into taunts, though often it’s that same bitter sadness. It’s hard to concentrate on the last bits of the paperwork for my new house. My old house I had run away from, fearful for my and my daughter’s safety. And I don’t even want to talk about my daughter, how much she descended as she had. 

Light from in between the blinds shines onto the empty classroom, the room being just dark enough to be black and white. Like a noir film.

A voice interrupts my handiwork, it sounded sort of like James Dean. “Hello, brother.”

I swung around. There he stood, in a suit and tie. When he called me brother, the world of hurt came back.

“You didn’t think I’d disappear that easily, now would you?” Nicholas Napier laughed to himself, “At this point, I’ll be around until after the copyright expires, ironically that’s when we’re truly immortalized.”

“Napier, what the $%(@ are you doing here?”

“I just came with a warning. There’s, well, there’s a mystery brewing around here, real bad people.”

“You’re one to talk, didn’t you kill a guy in the two thousands?”

“Look, I won’t say I’ve changed. I’ve always had one true intention in mind, I’m like Robin Hood. I get rid of the scumbag higher ups, people who fiddle with my town, with its children. Fiddling that is much like what you did, Austy Wausty. But I’m not here to end you, yet. Oh, on contraire. What would I do without you?” 

He laughed and stepped from the shadows. His jaw was broken, with each word it twisted into a strange and joyless smile. His eyes were sort of yellow-ish, and he was pale.

I agreed, “I’m sorry. I’m guilty. I know what I did was wrong.”  

“I know you are. I forgive you.” 

“You shouldn’t. I don’t want you to forgive me. I tarnished the future, tarnished legacies.” 

He released a strangled giggle. Like an outburst of Mickey Mouse. “You and I both know that we live in a society… where no one gives a rat’s cracker about the future, about legacy. But there’s no problem with that. The system’s broken, man. What do you want people to do when you’re six feet under, repeat what brought you there?”

“No, no, I-”

“I’m just saying. It’s not my place to tell you how to raise your….” he raised his eyebrow, “daughter, is it? Oh yeah, I did my research, your daughter, she has the potential to be great, especially with who her Mother is and all.” 

“Again, I’m trying to put that behind me.”

“Are you? The bags on your eyes show that you lose sleep over it. That you’re tormented by it. To truly win, you need to learn from it, yes, but look past the haze, forgive yourself, there’s always two sides to every coin, and it’s not like you’re a stranger to that. Think about the future, man.” He sat next to me, tipping his hat. He pulled a glass out of his trench coat, as well as a bottle. He poured me some.

“Rhubarb.” He said.

“I’m on the job, sorry,” 

Almost on cue, a student walked in. I jumped and turned to Nicholas. He was already gone. Had I imagined the whole thing, or was he simply hiding behind the desk? No clue. 

However, he left a note on my desk. Written on an Origami Joker. “Good choice. Never rub another man’s rhubarb.” It read. When the student walked towards me, I quickly hid the card.

I had him maybe a year or two ago, but he seemed much more cheerful back then. “Mr. Nolan.” He said. He didn’t sound like he was addressing me, he sounded like he was addressing someone else. 

“Yes, Vietch?” I asked. 

“Hey, Mr. Nolan. So my uh… friend… showed me the yearbook for the 1989-1990 yearbook and I read that you were quite the detective.” 

“Yeah, I- er- that’s one way to put it, yeah.”

“Well, to put it simply, that’s the business I want to get into. I want you to teach me.”

I was suspicious. 

“Who sent you?” I asked, doing my absolute best to make it sound like a threat. If Vietch was a court member, and as much as it pains me to say it, I was prepared. I was ready to assault this child. 

“N- no one, sir, it’s just- I- uh- I heard that you were. The ummm. The Bat-Fold.” 

He paused. “And you wanna become just like me?”

“Sir, I’ve studied you. I don’t want to become like you.” 

“That’s nice…” I muttered.

“But I want to learn from you, from your mistakes.” 

“Well, let’s just say that there’s a lot to learn from.” 

“Then you’ll teach me?” 

“I didn’t say that, kid.”

“Excuse me?” 

“Well, you’re Norman’s kid. You’re probably a lost cause already. Besides, I’m a bit… busy.” Austin said. 

“With what?” 

“…I sit upon a decaying throne of darkness and lead an army of outsiders.” 

“Meaning?” 

“Let’s just say… with Novick closed down, the teachers can expel anyone. You tell me that doesn’t give your skin a little tingle, little goth boy.” 

“You’re sick.” 

“But am I wrong? I’m doing my duty to wipe away the stains of the court and evil-doers. And besides, the crisis at hand isn’t new. It’s been brewing. Bubbling beneath all of the three school’s skin. And I’ve seen The Justice Pleats Dark. The Folders of Tomorrow. Where were all of you during this? Oh, I’m sorry, perhaps I should ask The Justice Pleats Dark? Vietch, if you really want my advice, then realize that times are changing. Once Chris Booth and Alan Wade retired, evil grew more brutal. And in turn, the good guys have too, too. Right now, the teachers hold the keys to the kingdom and we’re just trying to stop it from getting cut in half, and it requires a certain finesse that both you, and The Puppet Society, lack. So leave, Jimenez. For everyone’s sake.”

Vietch

“So… how’d it go…?” Walter asked, standing outside of the room. 

“He said no, alright? Let’s just move on.

“Why? Why did he say no?” Walter asked, his eyebrows furrowing.

“Something about how all of this stupid, okay? And the worst part is that I agree with him!”

“Geez. Okay, okay. Geez. I didn’t want to do this, but…” he sighed and pulled out his phone. After playing on it a little bit, he told me to check my email. 

“Vinny and I started keeping files on potential new BatFold material.” He explained, “Here’s what we have on Austin Nolan’s daughter.” 

Dolores “Dottie” Nolan was born into The Court of Origami Owls, yet after witnessing the defeat of Alan Wade, she broke away and swore a hatred for her Father’s legacy, which sorely included The Puppet Society of America. She believed that if it weren’t for Bat-Fold her life would be so much better. 

After her and her Father attempted to break away from the court, her Father sent her away to study at Donner due to it’s tighter security. 

And while she was safer there, her rebellious past transferred over as well. She became OriMagog, a recent symbol of rebellion at Donner Preparatory School.” 

“So are you saying that the reason Austin is so disgruntled is because his daughter is a punk?” 

“Well… yeah.” 

I rolled my eyes. “Well, I guess the case is closed then.” 

“Vietch, wait-” 

But I was already walking off.

Part Three: PANic

By Vietch Jimenez and Alex Ledger

Vietch

The alarm clock screeched, waking me up from my after school nap. Nearly falling out of bed, I wondered what I even set the alarm for.

S—.

S—.

S—.

I facepalmed, and quickly tried to put my suit on. Then came the eyeshadow, and finally I tried to comb my hair, the comb nearly getting stuck in my godawful thick and windy locks. 

I elected to wear a hat. 

“Hey, Dad!” I was careful to make sure my Dad didn’t see me. I didn’t want a repeat of the last time I snuck out without permission. “I’m off to go uh… grab some smokes?” 

“At this hour?” 

There was no son, you shouldn’t smoke. The problem was, I was barely lying. At first, it was just a small box I paid a stranger to give me and The Folders, but now I pretty much lit one whenever times got stressful. 

But in another way, I was lying. I also had a date. 

As I walked along the sidewalk, coughing and wheezing at my cigarette, I kicked a stone with each step, eventually hitting a red ruby slipper. 

I looked up to see the girl I had come to meet. Eleanor Borkoshavski. 

Eleanor wore a red dress that was just a little bit too short, and her brunette hair was tied back in a bun. She smiled, her teeth pearly white. She looked pretty, but so utterly un-Eleanor. 

“Hi.” I said. 

Eleanor smiled at me, staring at my collar. “Hi.” 

For a moment, we just stood. In silence. “You… look nice.” I managed to say. 

“Thank you. You… also look nice. Now… Can I have the hat?”

I sighed. “Fine. Yes. Yes, you can have the hat.” 

Eleanor grabbed the hat off of my head and placed it upon her own. “I like the hat,” Eleanor stated.

After the silence grew intolerable, Eleanor asked, “So, what’s on the itinerary?” 

I grinned. This was something I knew how to handle. “You tell me, darling.” 

“Well… I turned eighteen.” 

“Woah, woah, woah-” 

“I was hoping we could get tattoos.” 

“Oh.”

“Why? What did you think I was gonna say?” 

I blushed and tugged at my collar. “Well, I- we can get tattoos later… did we really plan an entire date with no idea where to go?” 

“We sure did.”

“Are we idiots?”

“We- We sure are, yeah.” There was a pause that seemed to go on for an hour too long, “I mean, well… there is this uh… community theater thing.” 

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s this indie place where you can pretty much just show up, and if you can prove you know the script you can just hop on stage. The police might raid it but,” I shrugged, “You win some, you lose some. I- I’ll check the website.” I scrolled through my phone. 

“Babe. Babe. Babe.” I pulled Eleanor close to look at my phone, “Lookie here,” Eleanor gasped. 

Tonight’s performance? A personal favorite of ours, Heathers. 

It felt… weird. Being in a trench coat again. But here I was. Cast in the role of J.D. staring at myself in the mirror, backstage. 

Eleanor hugged me from behind, tickling my neck with the ends of her purple scarf. In a twist of fate, here they were as the leads. Veronica Sawyer and J.D. 

I turned to face Eleanor and smiled. Now this was her. Her eyes were kinder. She looked more free. Uncaring of what the world thought of her.

And to think that in a few moments she would be drowned in makeup by a horde of girls, and then we would make out in front of a hundred or so emos, and then she would pretend to shoot me.

I made a strange, little noise. Like that of a mouse.

“Don’t worry,” Eleanor encouraged, “You’re going to do fine.” She kissed me on the cheek.

The rest of the cast stepped out on stage, it was mostly people I didn’t recognize. Mary Jest was there, playing Heather Chandler. Go figure. 

(Walter’s note: So, he gave me six pages of details on his Heather’s performance with Eleanor. I won’t, uh, I won’t add them lol. )

I once again saw my stalker, standing out in the audience. Watching. 

As the show ended, and the afterparty began, I did what I thought was sensible. 

I punched him in the face.

 “Ah, Jeez, dude, what the %&#* was that for?” Walter asked, rubbing his hand on his lip. The crowd of goths holding illegal beverages started to stare, but just as quickly went back to the conversations. 

“I DON’T KNOW, MAYBE BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN FOLLOWING ME FOR THREE DAYS NOW, AND YOU TRIGGERED MY FIGHT OR FLIGHT RESPONSE, OKAY, WALTER?” 

“That’s… not justication…  you- you really hurt me.”  

“Oh, get over it you %&#*!* baby.” 

“So,” Eleanor interrupted, “Who’s your friend?” 

Walter readjusted himself, “I’m-” 

“This is Walter Gilligan. He’s Spectre.” I finished. 

“Eleanor Borkoshavski, Zattanagami.” 

“There’s a Zattana now. Okay. That might as well happen. Anyways, what were you two thinking?”  

“What were we thinking?? You- you must’ve followed me home and… Jesus. You were a pest before, I- I can press charges, man!” 

“No, please- please don’t. My Mom would kill me!”

I rubbed my fingers across my forehead, “You really should’ve thought about that before-“

“Vietch, dear,” Eleanor began, “Are you alr-” 

“I’m fine, El. I’m fine. Fine. I’m fine.” Some people shot me judging looks. Maybe I was speaking a bit too loudly. Maybe they liked the performance, “What are you guys staring at? I’m- I’m fine.” 

“Yeah, he’s not fine.” Walter said.

“I already hate you.” Eleanor said, bluntly. 

“Alright, listen here, buddy boy. Austin. Said. No. Therefore, it’s over.” I clapped my hand with each of the last syllables. 

“And so it’s the end? Just like that?” Walter asked. 

“Well… yeah.” 

Walter sighs, “Let’s go.” 

“Why? Where?

Walter checks his watch. “It’s six. The Puppet Society meetings start at six, and end at seven. We’ll be at the church by six thirty. That’s our window of opportunity.”

“I’m actually… banned from my Dad’s church.” 

“I’m sorry? Y’know, what, nevermind,” Walter waved his hand, “I don’t care. Just go anyway, alright?” 

“What are we gonna do, break and enter?” 

“I didn’t think you’d actually say yes,” I said as we broke and entered. 

“This is so exciting!” Eleanor chirped.

Walter grimaced, “We have a mission to do. Just sneak in, it can’t be that ha- nevermind, yeah, we failed.” 

Theresa Carter was standing in front of us. 

“Uhh…” I began, “Hi, Tess.” 

“So… Jimenez, what are you doing here?” 

“Oh,” Walter interrupted, “Nothing. Nothing suspicious at all. We’re just here to-” 

“Okay, so, Walter has this sneaking suspicion that The Puppet Society of America is secretly evil and part of a master scheme, and thus, he believes breaking and entering, a felony, is the solution to our issue.”  

“You could’ve just… asked me? I’m a member.” Theresa began. 

“Really? You’d help us?”

“Um… yeah?” 

“Oh. That’s embarrassing.” 

I poked Walter in the back.

“Yeah, I was just about to go to work. Wanna go talk in my car?” 

We awkwardly left the church, and huddled into the car of Theresa Carter. 

“So, what do you wanna know?” 

“Everything, Theresa. Tell us everything you know.”  

“Okay, well… Walter is right.”

“HA. IN YOUR FACE, JIMENEZ.” Walter yelled, sitting in the backseat with Eleanor and Vietch. 

“The Puppet Society is evil. They’re keeping us mostly in the dark, but they’re working on something called Project: New Jutefruce. It sounds sinister, and to do that… they need… a candle?” 

I gulped. Oh no. Oh Lucifer, please no. 

“Vietch, what’s the problem?” Walter asked. 

I inhaled and my eyes grew wide. I placed my hands on Theresa’s shoulders. 

“Tess. I need you to tell me, exactly what name did they call the Candle?”

“He mentioned… he mentioned demons. I think I saw my Mom go to the comic shop, once or twice. She hadn’t gone there in years.” 

“Theresa… what comic did she get?”

“Why is it important?” 

I rolled the window down and looked around to see if anyone was spying. 

“Theresa. I need you to tell me what godd— comic book she got.” 

“Fine… I think it was… Underworld Unbound? Unleashed?” 

I opened the door, panting, and began to pace around the parking lot. 

“Man,” Walter started, “That was a pretty bad event comic. Then again, most nineties event comics were and-” 

“WALTER GILLIGAN, IF YOU DO NOT SHUT THE F— UP, I WILL END YOU.”

“Jeez, someone’s edgy…” 

“No, no, no. You don’t understand. Underworld Unleashed saw the debut of Neron, and specifically his candles.” 

“So, the Puppet Society wants candles? I don’t see what the problem is. What are they gonna do, burn the schools down?” 

“I don’t know, Walter. But do you wanna know what happened the last time someone tried looking for the Candle of Neron? The Chocolate Heart Incident of 2018, that’s what!” 

Walter elbowed himself in the face, trying to get out of Theresa’s car. 

“VIETCH, C’MON DUDE. YOU’RE LYING.” 

“Wasn’t the Chocolate Heart Incident when all of Lampert got the stomach bug?” Eleanor asked. 

“That’s what Walter wants you to believe. There was another symptom, Eleanor. Aggression. And that was just what one kid, one, really, really, evil kid, was willing to do. These are adults, and kids. Some of which are my best friends, and the last time the Candle of Neronigami got involved with my best friends, HE GOT EXPELLED, OKAY, AND WE HAVE NEVER TALKED SINCE, SO SORRY IF IT’S AN EMOTIONAL TOPIC, OKAY?”

Eleanor got out of the car, “Okay, guys. Think this through, if they want the Candle of Neronigami, then we have to stop them, right? So, whatever it is, we need to find it first. Make sense?” 

“You’re right. You’re right. So,” Walter said, “Does anyone know where we can find them?” 

“I- I know a guy,” Theresa said, also getting out of the car. “We were looking for possible recruits, and they mentioned one guy knowing where the Candles are.”

“Oh. Oh no.” I muttered.

“That’s great!” Walter cheered, “What’s his name?” 

“Oh, it’s… uh…” Theresa’s eyes directed at me

“Oh no. Oh no.” 

“Alex Ledger! Yeah, it was Alex.” 

“No.” I stated.

“What is it now, Jimenez?” Walter groaned, treating me like a complain-y child.  

“We’re not gonna go see Alex.” 

“Why?” Eleanor asked. “I remember Alex, isn’t he your… oh. Oh my.” 

“Yeah.” 

“You… you guys are hiding something from me.” Walter said, “What’s the deal?” 

“Well, Walter.” I avoided eye contact with everybody. “Alex is my ex.” 

Alex

Ding dong, the diddly dang doorbell rang. 

I swung the door open, and failed to meet Vietch’s gaze. Theresa, apparently, decided to pick up the rest of the Justice Pleats Dark, on her way to my house. Derrick Boston, the Shredman. And Kaden Fahey, The Swamp Pleat. 

 “Oh, hey, Vietch.” He said. 

“Hey. We need your help, do you have the map to the Candle of Neronigami?” 

Really?  You haven’t talked to me in over a year and that’s what you come here asking about. The puppet stuff?”

“Listen, it’s important, Alex. Please. Just… let us come inside.” Kaden insisted. The large brute had taken up the hobby of twiddling and twitching his thumbs. Meanwhile, Derrick, all spindly and bone, slipped through the door frame and was already inside my house, petting the dog.

Theresa pushed through the crowd. “Alex, listen here. I don’t care how bitter you are. Yeah, what Vietch did was wrong. He shouldn’t have hit you, he shouldn’t have taken advantage of you, but there’s bigger issues, man. The Puppet Society is back, man, and everything that has been going on in our lives, the Folders of Tomorrow, the Justice Pleats Dark, we’ve reached Kingdom Come, okay?”

I sighed, “If it’s that important. Come inside. But… Vietch only. Okay?”

“Of course.” 

Vietch awkwardly shuffled into my empty trailer home.

“Where’s your Mom?” 

“She’s staying an extra shift at the hospital. Why do you care?” 

“Because she was my friend, okay?” 

Yes, Vietch Jimenez befriended my Mother. 

I rolled my eyes, “Fine. Okay. You… know where my room is.”  

“Are you kidding? Of course I’d remember, after all that’s where we-” Vietch elected not to finish that sentence.

He stepped into my messy room, cluttered with books, doggy eared, and sprawled open. 

As I rummaged through his drawer to find the map, Vietch gazed at the now framed Dr. Plate and frowned. 

“I’m sorry, y’know. For everything.” 

Without looking up, I said, “I forgive you.” 

“Really?” He asked,

“Yes. Vietch Jimenez, you were my first love. And I want to focus on the good memories, okay? So I forgive you. Not because you deserve it. Not for your sake at all. But because I don’t want to go into my senior year carrying hate when I can love.” And he handed him the map.

“You’re so wise. That’s why you were my Doctor Plate.”  

Vietch left.

Kaden decided to head in. 

“I said Vietch, only.” 

“Yeah… yeah… I know. I just wanted to say hi, dude. It’s been a wh- wait… what’s Doctor Plate doing in a frame?”  

I shrugged, “I don’t know man. That life is just… behind me now.”

“Y’know, Alex. That’s what I don’t get. You pinned this all onto Vietch, and all of these other legacies, pin it onto the people who came before them. And Alex, god doesn’t give people gifts he doesn’t want them to use. It’s a power you have inside you, down there where you keep your guts. You are Doctor Plate.”

Kaden shoved his meat finger through the glass frame, and gave Dr. Plate back to me. “Take this, you idiot.”

I grabbed Dr. Plate. 

And I put him back on his finger.

Vietch

I was walking home with the map. 

I heard clapping.

Nicholas Napier stood in front of me. 

Part Four: Brave and the Fold

By Daniel Anderson

I don’t know when you want this, but you asked for my side of the incident. 

I, Daniel Anderson, hadn’t had the best couple of months. To put it lightly. My girlfriend, Emma, dumped me. She stayed with me through thick and thin, even after I was framed. I’d like to say it was the stress, or I’d like to blame it all on her. 

And I wasn’t framed either. My brother had a scholarship on the line. No matter what stupid stuff my brother did, he didn’t deserve to throw his life away because of it.

I tried to contain the blaze. At first, I stopped talking to my friends, The Folders of Tomorrow. Wasn’t hard. They probably all hated me. 

And I think it’s safe to say I’m at an ATL. That’s an all time low. Not Atlanta. My brother, Gil, knocks at my door as I try to type off yet another college application. Whenever I see him, my vision flattens. My heart stops pounding in my chest. I feel like I’m going to die.

“Hey, man, can I talk to you?”

“What do you want?” 

He shrugs, “I want to help you out, alright? I haven’t been the hottest lately either, I know it’s hard, and it’s my fault but, well, Donner’s a good school for you. What I’m getting at, I guess, is I just wanted to say I’m sorry. Okay? I’m not good at apologizing, but my end goal has never really been evil. You forgive me, yet?” 

Ok. First day at Donner Preparatory School. First period, okay, good, good. The second period teachers know about my less than stellar permanent record, okay, I like a challenge. Third period I have P.E, which I hadn’t even signed up for. 

This is my first time going to school, ever. My parents said it’s because I’m ‘special.’ 

Anyways, today I learned I have ADHD. 

And I went to the counselor’s office. 

And that’s where I met her. 

The girl in the punk jacket, sitting on the beanbag chair, talking to a therapist. She nodded at me and kept talking to the therapist. I didn’t think about it, Walter. 

Until I got my diagnosis and began to leave. She caught up to me. 

“Daniel, right?” She asked. I nodded. 

“Wow. The Daniel?” 

I laughed, “What, do I have fans?”

“Well, I mean, yeah. You’re awesome. I heard you came to Donner, and had to… make sure it’s really, y’know. You. It’s crazy, man, you’re my hero.” 

I felt a little good about the ‘hero’ part then stopped myself, “What exactly did I do?”

She looked really confused. “…The Lampert Flu Protests?” 

I wanted to say the what? But I didn’t. I didn’t say that. 

I just nodded. I don’t know why I nodded. 

And I asked her what her name is. “Dolores Nolan,” she said, “And I have to take you to go visit the group!” She wrote an address on my hand, put her headphones back on, and skipped away. 

The address we met at was this old abandoned convenience store, Palmer’s. I… had history with the place. 

A group of six people sat in large, velvet thrones munching on chocolate hearts. The thrones looked like they had once been beautiful, but now had been battered and bruised with age. Like they had been pulled out of a dumpster.

The girl at the very front was Dolores Nolan, and there was an empty seat to her side. On the other four seats, there was Jonathan Yen, JC Russel, and another guy, Markus Dickings. 

“Daniel,” she snapped her fingers and her face grew into a white grin, “Daniel, come, have a seat.” She patted the seat next to her. 

“So,” I said, once I sat down, “What exactly is the, um, deal? With all of this?” 

“Weww,” Jonathan said, his mouth stuffed with chocolate, smearing his lips and cheeks, “Evew since the wampewt I-” 

“What he means to say is,” Dottie interrupted, “Ever since the Lampert incident, a few little rebellions have popped up. I did a few days as this obscure character, Magog. But you won’t believe this. The Justice Pleats broke up. There’s no SuPaperman. There’s no BatFold. The schools had no true team to protect themselves.”

“That’s where we come in!” JC yelled, “We’re the Puppet League!”

I blinked, “A real Justice Pleats,” Dolores said, “Our justice is strict, and harsh, but if gets the job done, right?” 

Everyone nodded in agreement. 

“So, everyone, introduce yourselves to our possible new member.”

After the silence became awkward, JC looked around, “Fine. I’ll go first. Name’s JC Russel. Aquapleat. I beat the Swim Master a few years back, and that lying, cheating, son of a $&#*@ Alan Wade backstabbed me. Then Black Mantagami stole my boo. And my cousin was busy with The Young Justcrease,” his face became red, and he looked like he was about to cry, “And then- and then I lost my title as Lampert’s Swim Master. To- to my cousin.” He was crying for real, now. Dottie rubbed his back, “Hey, there. JC, it’s okay. Let’s get it all out.” 

“And I only went to Lampert in the first place because I needed to get a scholarship and now I probably won’t get into my dream college and-” he started to mumble. I felt really bad for him. 

Dottie hid a whisper with her hand, “He- He does this. You’ll get used to it.”

“Ok,” Dottie said, JC sobbing in the background, “Jonathan, do you care to go?”  

Jonathan told his life story. From his first treadmill, to the time he stopped the King Crease, and where he is now: helping lead two teams, the Young Justcrease and the Teen Titans Fold, “And a third one soon too… The Tin Titans CREAST!” He spoke at 2x speed and yet it still felt, oddly enough, like hours.

I really wanted to punch him. Apparently, he’s The Fold now, he claims he’s some superior version, one with more experience.

“Charlotte Levaire?” Dottie asked. Charlotte’s feet were dangling off of the arm rest and she fired a finger gun at me, adjusting her beanie with the other hand. 

“Hey, hey, hey! Danny! Great seeing you here, I’m… friends with one of your friends, actually!” 

“Oh, I doubt that. I… don’t have friends.” 

“Well,” Charlotte kicked her feet around some more, “It is really nice to see you. A real slice.”

Everyone was silent again. 

“Oh, and I’m… Wonder Folder, by the way. They wanted to invite Theresa but… she was busy. I’m the second place trophy.” 

“And finally… Mark!” Dottie said, disregarding her friends’ emotional needs. Mark shuffled in his seat. 

“H-Hi. I-I-I-I’m Mark. I-I-I don’t want to be here,” he twitched, “She has my family. Cage.” 

“Mark’s a… colorful character.” Dottie explained, “He gets really weird around new people.”

“No…” Mark twitched again, “I just- I just h-hate you.” Markus shivered. 

“Shut up, Mark.” Dottie grabbed a ruler off of a surgeon’s tray that was by her throne. “S-S-S-Sorr-r-ry, D-D-Dottie.” 

“Mark is Green Paper Lantern. Go figure.” 

“So…” I looked around, “What puppet do I get?” 

Jonathan Yen jumped in his seat, “Can I tell him? Can I tell him? Can I tell him?”

“Actually,” Dottie raised her voice, “I was planning on-” 

“YOU’RE SUPER CREASE!”

“Super… crease?”

Dottie whispered in my ear, “Johnny came up with it. He really likes it. Just go with it.”

“I-I-I-I think it-it-it-it sucks.” Mark said.

“Shut up, Mark.” 

“S-S-S-Sorr-r-ry, D-D-Dottie.” 

“So… I’m Superman? I’m supposed to lead you all?” 

“Well… not exactly.” Dolores pulled out her own puppet. 

The Batfold. 

It was his suit from The Dark Knight Returns, which is actually one of my least favorite versions of the character. I always preferred the lighter sides of the DC universe, stuff like the silver age sci-fi stuff was always my favorite. 

“Anyways,” Dottie slid something forward, a map.

“I was working with one of my sources, Graham Stuart. And we got this.

Dolores produced a map from her backpack. “The goal is simple, we go to the location where the Candle of Neronigami supposedly is, the ruins of Novick Detention, and we steal The Candle of Neronigami. Sound like a plan?”

“Of course,” I said, “Let’s do this.” 

Part Five: Armageddon. 

By Vietch Jimenez and Chloe Pines

Chloe

The Puppet Society had done… a little bit of recruitment. Pretty much every single person we had ever fought with was on our side, on the side of the Puppet Society of America.

“Alrighty folks,” I held the map in my hand, “We’re here.” The middle schoolers rolled their eyes, “Where are we even?”

“Well, kiddos, welcome to…” 

Novick Detention.

“Novick used to be the home of all the bad kids, all the screwups. Now, they must expel everybody, especially since the place shut down.” 

“Some people say it’s haunted by the souls of all the expelled children,” Nate said. I elbowed him. 

“Can you not? You’re going to scare the kids.” He rolled his eyes and hung his head low, “Whatever.” 

“So, do we just head in and start looking for the candle?” 

“According to the map Nicholas stole for you, yes. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do.” I turned to see who said that. 

It was Alex Ledger. I hugged him. 

“Geez, did you miss me?” He laughed, “I’m Doctor Plate, again.” 

“We missed you.” 

“It- it feels good to be back.” 

I opened the door, and everyone rushed in. 

The school was, for all intents and purposes, in surprisingly good order. 

In fact, the lights were on as well. 

And we realized why, when six people stood before us. Chief in front of them, Daniel Anderson. 

Daniel looked disappointed to see me, yet he was not surprised. “Hello, old friend.” I said.

“Why are you here?”

“They’re here to fight against us!” A girl said, waving an Origami Batman on her finger, “Crush them, Daniel!” 

“And who’s this?” 

Daniel held the girl back, “This is Dottie. She’s a friend. And we’ve come for the Candle of Neronigami.”

“To destroy it. To stop Project: New Jutefruce.” Dottie interrupted. 

“Therein lies the issue,” Matt said, “We need the Candle of Neronigami to enact New Jutefruce.” 

Dottie looked at Daniel, “And you call these people your friends?”

“How could you fight against peace? Against order?” I asked.

“Because I have a little something called common decency, something that you all lack! I’m the BatFold not because my Father is, but because I have to be! What’s the line, Daniel?” 

Daniel looked around, “Gentlemen may cry, ‘Peace! Peace!’ but there is no peace, the war is actually begun!” 

“Th-the w-war y-y-y-you’re referring t-to killed s-s-s-seven th-th-th-thousand p-people.” Mark, from the other side, said. 

“Shut up, Markus.” Dottie said. 

“S-S-S-S-Sorry, D-Dot-t-tie.”

I shoved Dottie. Dottie shoved me back. 

And it broke loose from there. 

The lobby of Novick so quickly spirals into chaos. But not the controlled type, no. It’s something far stranger. 

War among heroes was not expansive, nor epic. No, there was no bravery, no worth coming from the description of these battles.

It was slow, each stroke and each strike made with a sad, yet calculated effort. And beneath it all is the age old question: What are we even fighting for?

The Puppet Society promised three schools united under a flag of peace, but if so, then why are we fighting? 

Vietch

“You’re… you’re Nicholas Napier.” I said.

He looked back in shock, “Aww, what gave it away?”

“What are you-” 

“Doing here? Well,” he shrugged, “I got a call. From your Dad, you, erm,” he giggled, “Have been misbehaving. Yeah, that’s the word. You’ve been up on a high horse for so, so, long. You’ve been under my radar for so long I just had to stop by and say hello. After all, I’m an expert on this… system, on these nonsensical orders society expects us to follow-” 

“Why are you talking like that?” I hissed.

“I’m simply speaking English, a wordsmith such as yourself should crack open a dictionary sometimes, maybe then you’ll finally be able to understand the message I’m trying to get across. But can I tell you this, now, I don’t serve The Puppet Society of America. Now, I’m no henchman.” 

He offered me a glass of water, “Thirsty, Vietch?” I shook my head, “Good. See, you drink water. I drink anarchy. I drink to the idea that so much of human life is without meaning, without hope. That people are destined to repeat failures. That life is just a bad joke.” He paused, “The question is: Why aren’t you laughing?”

“Because-” I decided to stand my ground, “Because there is hope. And these jokes you speak of, I’ve heard them before. Because like it or not, mister, people believe in me.” I pulled my puppet out. “People believe in John Constancrease, people believe that-” 

He poured water on Constancrease, soiling him, making him paper mache in my hands. 

“Maybe you lie to yourself, maybe you hide… you hide behind the mask that are these puppets. You’ve tried so hard to show people that you’re just some stone cold, gothic, bad boy. That you don’t have that soft side. Walter Gilligan trusts that you’ll stop this insanity, Eleanor Borkshovaski trusts that you’ll be the man of her dreams. But we know better, now. Don’t we? You’re not the person you try to look like, are you? You’re not the hero!”

I looked away, and he grabbed me by the hair, forcing me to stare at him. “I want you to say it. Say that you’re not the hero.” 

“I’m… I’m not the hero.” I whispered.

“There. There we go. All you’ve done is lie to everyone you’ve ever met, you pathetic fraud. Who are you? You could be anybody, and yet… you’re nothing, Vietch Jimenez. You’re nobody. And you have no one.

“I don’t need anyone, I can do all of this alone.” 

“But you don’t want to,” he cleaned out his nails with a knife, “You shove away anyone who gets too close until they resent you for being the way that you are, ain’t that right? Is that it? Are you afraid to love people, Vietch? Is that it? Has your Father’s hatred of you, your brother being away in college, the loss of date after date left you craving an admiration that you can’t even fathom?” 

“No, stop. Please.” I said, “Stop f—–ing talking!” 

He laughed, and struck me across the face. It felt like each and every blow I’d ever felt. On the other hand, he stole the map I had forgotten even existed. 

From the battles I’ve had with the Justice Pleats Dark. 

The Lampert infections.

From my Father. 

And he left.

And I cried.

Not because the strike hurt.

But because he was right. 

And because I lost.

My whole life, I had everything beating down on me. And I pushed forward, because I had hope. I hoped that the world would need me to fight on another day. 

And… I lost.

I lost that hope – I lost it, oh, so easily. 

I’m John Constancrease. 

I’m John Constancrease. I’m the guy who cloaks himself in the mystery, and in the shadow. I’ve shrouded myself in a trench coat and a mask of arrogance.I create my own demons, kick myself in the bollocks, and force the world to spit on me while I’m down. I may try to leave behind a wink and a wisecrack, but I‘m destined to walk these streets alone, because no one else should be forced to walk them with me.

I’ve tried to force myself into people’s lives, force myself to have a little bit of everything all of the time. 

But now I see that none of this was real. 

Maybe I’m just going crazy, but would I even know? 

I stumble down the crosswalk to my house, my ears ringing, my vision blurring. Colors glitch in and out of existence, and I realize, I’m not welcome in my own house.

I shouldn’t even be welcomed in my own skin. 

I turned to the place I had been looking at for a while. An apartment. I hoped that I could move out after High School, maybe skip college and work in the arts. Not this. 

The lady at the front desk, Lorraine, regarded me with kind eyes, hidden behind the frame of green glasses. It’s a long, heavy night. 

It’s funny, y’know. I’m the detective. 

And for once now, I have my own place. My own cold case to comb over. 

There’s a knock at my door.

Part Six: A Beautiful Lie

By Vietch Jimenez

Vietch

Austin stared down at me, perhaps wondering if it would be he or I who made the first move. I decided it would be I.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“I know what it’s like to be caught all up in a charade, to play head games with the people around you. My real name is Kane McKay, actually. This identity I created for myself was, and still is, dangerous. But I realize, now, that sometimes you just have to own up to it.” 

“You still haven’t even answered my question. What are you doing here?”

“I’m searching. Same as you.”

“No, I- I don’t even know what I’m looking for, at this point. I don’t even know who I am.”

“That doesn’t matter. It’s about the search. It’s the deeds that make the person.”

“My- my deeds have just made everything worse, Austin. I’m a fraud. So much is going on and they need- they just need some sort of hero and-”

“Then be a hero.”

“No, you don’t understand my issue I-”

“It’s not about you. It’s about them. Nobody can walk out on their own story.”

“Did you read that on a fortune cookie?”

“Eh, something like that.”

And I stood up. “Mr. Nolan, what do you know about the Candle of Neronigami? He looked around, “It’s a sore memory. But… I created it.” 

“I was elected as a sort of administrator, just below the principal of Kane. I was head of the board of teachers, and I drafted a document. Project: Jutefruce. It would obliterate all of the evils across the schools, from bullying to cheating. The issue was, it would result in a direct expulsion. The court wanted to add more rules, force Kane into something it can control. I realized… that wasn’t the way to go. And I hid it in the one place I knew would be safe, encased in a metal candle. The house of an old friend, Adam Wade. And then he died, and the estate went to Alan. And I knew it was in good hands. And then Novick closed down, and Alan left, and Kane fell to ruins. And Norman decided to reform The Puppet Society to… finish what I started.”

“You- you caused this?”

“I- Yeah. It’s my fault.”

I looked at the sad sack of a teacher. “Wow. You’re awful. But I forgive you.”

“Really?” 

“Yeah. If it weren’t for you, this crazy mess of a world would’ve never been possible. And I want to focus on the good memories,” I thought back to finding family in The Folders, and in the JPD. Eleanor and Alex. Neil. “I forgive you. Not because you deserve it. Not for your sake at all. But because I don’t want to go into my Senior year carrying hate when I can love.”

He stood up. “Then let’s go. To Novick.” 

“To Novick.” I said. 

***

I stood on the balcony, overlooking what was at one point a ballroom, now a cafeteria. Mighty blows exchanged by titans. This is what I see.Titan battling titan, friend versus friend, the ashes and blow causing havoc. Walter Gilligan appeared before me.

“Walter, it’s happening,” I said, “We need to do something. Make it stop.”

He stopped me, “We cannot, Vietch Jimenez. We must take no action.”

What? You drag me, no, you force me into this battle and yet stop me from taking action? The Puppet Society is going berserk, and this new imposter Justice League is only adding to the violence!”

“I bring you into this battle, not to fight, but to bear witness. There will soon come a reckoning, Jimenez. Be prepared.”

“Is that it? Am I here only to watch some hideous judgement?”

Walter looked at me with pity, “No. Look, Nicholas Napier was not someone I had accounted for, there is hope,” he lifted his phone, revealing the already dialed in numbers. 911. “We could call the police. We could put a stop to all of this.”

“What?”

“We see before us a battle, Vietch. A battle long brewing, a battle that will consume everyone and everything you care for. A battle of evil. And I want you to judge, Vietch. Judge wisely.”

“What?” 

“It is my duty as the Spectreigami to judge wickedness. To punish sin. Yet it is left for you to decide. Who’s sin is this? Their’s… or yours?”

“How- how can I? There is no evil in this battle, Walter. There’s tragedy! Horror!” 

“Judge.” Walter repeated, handing me the phone. 

I held my head low.

“Hello, yes, officer. There’s a fight going on at the Novick Detention building. Several adolescents involved, sir.” Before they could ask any more questions, I hung up the phone. 

“Great work, gentlemen.” He said. I turned and saw Gil Anderson. “No, I’m serious. Wow, loved the performance,” he smiled. 

And I slammed him into the wall. He groaned, “Wow. Wow. You always were feisty.”

“You f—ing caused all of this!?” I asked. 

He stepped forward, off of the wall. “You patronize me.” He laughed, “No, no. I’d love to take credit for all of this. But that’s all on these ‘heroes.’”

“Then why are you here?”

He sighed, “Because I wanted to give you the good news. There is no Candle of Neronigami!” He jumped up and down, like a child. 

“What?”

“See, I learned about the candle while rooting through the Lampert archives, well, I was with my friend, too. Mr. Bloomigami. And we learn about the candles. Next thing you know, ra-ta-ta-ta, we try to assemble the items that would lead us to a map. And Graham Stuart, The Thinkorigami, pieced it all together. Of course, he knew too much. I exchanged cash with a few people, long story short, exposed all of his misdoings to someone that was asking for dirty secrets on students.” He shrugged, “I wanted to get sent to Novick right then and there. To continue the search, of course. But my goody-goody brother took the fall for me. So… I did another scheme, nothing big. But it was the perfect fodder to get me sent to Novick, and finally… I destroyed the candle. I melted it away, Vietch. Stomped it into the ground, every chance of new Jutefruce ever happening gone, Vietch. Don’t you get it? I’m the hero of this story.”

“No. No. That’s-”

“Impossible? Believe it or not, no, actually. It isn’t.”

My ears rang, a ringing that faded into the sound of police sirens. 

I gazed in horror as police officers dragged so many of the people I knew, people I cared about, away. 

“Gil, if you’re so smart. Make this stop.”

“No.”

Gil, if you’re the hero,” I repeated, “Make this stop.

Gil shook his head, “Vietch, Walter, my friends, do you two honestly mean to tell me you never imagined this? Did you ever consider that a war might be for the best? That perhaps the only chance we have is for The Puppet Society to swallow itself?”

I shook my head, “No. No. This is wrong.”

I screamed. And I looked down, sure that our presence had alerted somebody. But the room was now empty. The lights had been shut off.

We sat in silent darkness.

While we bickered, armageddon had come and gone. 

It was finally over.

***

We stepped into the office and came face to face with torn puppets, files sitting beneath all of them of different students, all expelled. 

The principal smiled, his eyes kind. “You did an honorable thing, Mr. Jimenez. You saw that things had gotten out of hand, and you took a stance. Good job, young man.” 

But I didn’t care about his words. Neither did Walter, though he was standing beside me. We just stared at the faces. The lists of the expelled, the fallen. The lost. 

Taylor Cole.

Matthew Watson.

The middle schoolers.

Meg Calypsio. 

Chloe Pines. 

Alex Ledger. 

The Puppet Society was all dead. 

The madness was finally over. 

I know I should be sad. These were people who I dragged into this nonsense, people who I cared so much for. But I looked at Dr. Castillo. 

And he looked back at me.

And I couldn’t help but feel… relieved. Like I had finally buried the past.

Finally, it was all over.

Part Seven: Aftermath

By Vietch

Vietch

It’s been a few weeks. My Junior graduation ceremony was a few hours ago, and we’re all hanging out. 

It’s me Walter, Neil, Theresa, and Eleanor, all at Complicaire. Neil is mixing together his famous strawberry chocolate milk, delivering one liner after one liner. Except for Theresa. She isn’t drinking chocolate milk.

Eleanor is performing a magic trick. Or poker, I can’t really tell, with Theresa and Neil.

I can’t believe I’m about to be a Senior. 

“So, friend… what’s the plan now?” Neil asks. 

“I… I don’t know.” 

I tapped a spoon on my glass, “Alright, people.” I said, “The war’s over. We’re all kind of $*”[@)ed. And maybe this isn’t the end. But that’s alright. I can’t promise that senior year will be perfect, guys. But tonight, well, I got a job. And Austin’s helping me pay my rent. I moved out of my Dad’s house. And it hit me. We’re all growing up, and we should just be ourselves. In a few months, we’ll all be adults. But right now, we’re seventeen. So let’s kick back, let’s discover who we want to be.”

And for you, dear reader, I beg the question. Who do you want to be?

All I know is, I’m Vietch Jimenez. I’m the guy who steps from the shadows, all trench coat and anxiety. I’ll drive your demons away, kick em’ in the bollocks if I have to, and I spit on them when they’re down, leaving only a wink and a wisecrack. But I don’t walk these hallways alone.

Because I’m not stupid enough to have to. 

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