Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 13

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Just being face to face with Lithway was overwhelming; the actor’s presence was something else. Even with them condensed into that solid, classically perfect masculine form in front of him, it felt like they were filling the entire room.

Maybe they were.

Wow.

Tam gulped, trying frantically to remember what he knew about Lithway to use as some kind of guide to approaching them. He’d read interviews, of course; they always came across as grandiose, but not exactly egotistical. Self-confident, certainly, but invariably turning the conversation around to doing it for their fans rather than for themselves. They talked about the roles they liked to take, the tendency to do one-man shows, and even the types of interviews they did as trying to bring more attention to the art, to highlight the characters and bring the best experience possible to the audience.

And their tendency to do one-man shows didn’t take work away from other actors—rather, they sponsored local playwrights and other actors, and hosted regular independent performances on the small stage downstairs. That, along with the donations to charities, and their regular presence in the lgbt+ community, cemented their reputation as a pretty good person—for an actor who was absolutely in love with themselves.

The only other details he could recall felt pretty inconsequential—that they lived above the theatre. That they identified as primarily nonbinary but partially male. That they regularly showed up to events they weren’t invited to just to keep people on their toes. That they liked to gamble and were a regular at the casino even though it was quite far out of the valley. That they bowled.

“I think this poor boy’s tied his tongue into a knot,” Lithway told Joanne. “A little starstruck?”

“Go easy on him, boss,” Joanne said. “His twin brother’s missing.”

“His brother—?”

“You know, Ash?” Joanne prompted.

“Ah.” Lithway turned their gaze back onto Tam, a frown creasing those shadowy features. “You do look a lot like him.”

“You know my brother?” Tam managed to get out. He forced himself to focus on the here and now: honesty had served him so far, and he couldn’t imagine being genuine would work against him. “Yes. It turns out, um, that our parents had promised their firstborn son to a witch on his twenty-first birthday. I found out today, I woke up to find him gone—”

“On your birthday!” Lithway exclaimed.

Tam glanced at Joanne; she was nodding seriously. Apparently he was on the right track.

“I, I didn’t know if he knew you or not,” Tam said. “I think, if he did, he was trying to keep it a surprise. He got tickets for tomorrow’s show with the chance to meet you…” He began to dig in his bag.

A hand on his stopped him. To his surprise, it was warm and solid, although he knew that Lithway was more than capable of being entirely insubstantial. Tam looked up into Lithway’s handsome face, tense.

He had to prepare himself for rejection. Maybe even to be laughed at. This was a famous actor, busy with an upcoming play, and more than that, was one of the shadowfolk. They’d probably seen a million children stolen by a million witches. One more didn’t matter.

“I believe you,” Lithway said, in that same, soft tone. Then they slung an arm around Tam and spun him around. “Come with me! No point in you standing here in the prop room distracting my crew right before the big night!”

It was incredible how Lithway could emote without being able to raise their voice at all. “I, ah, okay,” Tam stammered, but it wasn’t like he could protest even if he wanted to. Lithway’s strength was immeasurable, a solid presence at his back compelling him forward.

“Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, boss,” Joanne called, tone cranky. “Ash is a good egg.”

“A good egg indeed,” Lithway said.

“I didn’t know you knew each other,” Tam said, then kicked himself when he realized that he’d said that already. “I mean, my brother never…”

“We weren’t exactly close,” Lithway said airily. “But I need to check out a lot of things from the library. Creative resources, you know, it never ends.” They were leading, or herding, Tam through another set of doors, then up some stairs, setting a demanding pace. “So I know most of the librarians, at least to look at them, and Ash seemed like such an eager boy. I always respect when today’s youth think of employment in places like that. Where do you work?”

Tam felt his cheeks heat. “My… my parents encouraged us to take a year off school, and, ah, they kept telling us to take it off work too, to enjoy our youth.” He couldn’t help but look back on that a bit bitterly, understanding their reasons in a new light. “Ash was, um, really passionate about library work. Me, I’ve been… well, I read history books, kind of recreationally. I’d like to prepare for a degree in history if it works out. Maybe classics…”

“Oh, brilliant,” Lithway enthused. “I think history is the best story of all. It’s incredible the way viewing it through different perspectives changes it entirely, even though it all factually occurred…”

They were in the old apartment area now; it seemed largely abandoned, but Lithway pushed Tam on regardless, kicking a door open—though it only appeared to be a kick at first glance. Their leg dissolved against the knob and key hole, and it opened immediately, as though Lithway themself was the key.

Tam got chills, but it didn’t feel exactly like fear. His heart was pounding.

That didn’t exactly lessen as Lithway lead Tam into their apartment. The living room was taken up with a large desk covered in books and writing materials, and the rest of it was filled with bookcases, forming a winding, maze-like path throughout.

The wall between the living room and bedroom had been removed, and Tam could see a large, four-poster bed that had been made up to match the decor of the theatre downstairs, all red velvet and gold gilt. Tam knew he was flushing, and averted his eyes.

Lithway released Tam at last and gestured to their desk. “Please sit! I don’t make my place terribly hospitable, but it’s surely nicer than trying to talk non-theatre business in the theatre.”

Tam sat in the desk chair, and across from him, Lithway formed a seat out of their own shadow, a magnificent throne-like affair, sitting and steepling their fingers in front of their face. Smoke trailed off them.

“Now,” Lithway said, “tell me what you need. Fisticuffs with the witch? A social media post denouncing them? I have many followers on Facebook, and a very broad social circle, I assure you! I cannot promise you the world, my sweet boy, but I can promise you my desire to help, if that alone is enough.”

[Please suggest an action in the Comments.]

[Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]

4 Comments

  • tanoshiso

    Hey, things are going better than expected! At the very least, you can try to tap him for information about nullifying contracts and/or about the witch themselves. If what he’s got to offer are connections, then see if there are any legal ones. Are there demon lawyers who specialize in this kind of thing? Or perhaps a kind of spy network? So that’s one route you can take.

  • Vikarmic

    Well, getting into a fistfight with the witch is kind of a last resort; what you really need is someone to stand with you when you go to get your brother back. A show of force in the hope that actual force won’t be needed — though you can’t discount the possibility that it might be. But it’d be better to get a better idea of what she’s after, so you can apply more directed pressure. That’s one thing you can try to get out of Antoine or Sahil’s research, later.

    For now, maybe what you’re most looking for is advice on how to approach the witch and get Ash away from her. Lithway seems like they’re willing to commit to helping with more than that, but they’ll probably understand that you’re still trying to get allies together and work out a plan — it’s only been a few hours since you found out, after all. So, advice now and backup, probably social, when you’ve got your other allies and plans in place, sounds like what you’d ideally want.

  • robonten

    Probably not fisticuffs or a callout post, no. But I agree that asking if Lithway knows anyone in the legal profession who could help out. And their desire to help is much, much appreciated.

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