Crack. A sharp, hollow one to ring in his ears and make his skin crawl, and a million tiny, little pieces spilling out over the patio floor to follow. He panicked, struggling and suffocating, buried alive under the layers of thick, warm bedclothes. The impact damn near made his heart kick a hole out of his chest.

For the fourth night in a row, it had happened—and like a reflex, Arthur woke a frightened wreck again. Every night, something louder, heavier, noisier crashed in the garden. The first two nights, it was the bins. The night before, it had been the grill—103lbs of stainless steel shelves and slick black hollow metal toppling across the stones loud enough to make the dead shoot up with a start. Tonight—a crowbar through a window? A break-in?

Arthur gripped his quilt, all the terror melting sickeningly into the lowest cavity in his stomach. Spoiled dreams and property damage—as he found his bearings in his pitch black bedroom, gaining grainy sight through sore, bloodshot eyes, he bet to himself that it was personal. Golly, he knew it was personal.

Sitting up in bed on his knees, the red panda reached for the antique flintlock rifle that hung above it, the very one his great-great-great-great grandfather Charles once shouldered as he prowled the prairie. Arthur would be right happy to meet them face-to-face with it—he almost knew how to shoot it, too. After a quick slip into a burgundy smoking jacket and his bunny slippers (to—keep warm), he made his way out onto the landing with his hands full.

And so, he stood. Stood in the long, dark shadow of the empty house, his glare icy, his back against the wall, and his ear out to the kitchen. His fingers stroked the barrel of the rifle subconsciously. Keen on minimizing the noise of the stairs bearing down under his weight, he kept low with his knees bent and took one agonizing stair step at a time until he could get a good peek over the railing. As he drew closer, Arthur wrapped his tail snugly around his thighs to keep his silhouette still.

With the rifle's barrel pointed half-heartedly through the posts on the banister, Arthur scanned the scene further. Everything had settled by then. Embers from the evening's fire still glowed softly and silently in the fireplace. The stuffed ram head that watched over the room with wide, glassy eyes was only barely visible in the shadow of the mantle. His shelves of records were untouched. In the kitchen, things were stranger still; not a pane of glass cracked, smashed, shattered, or even missing. Nothing, not even a chair, was out of place out on the patio either.

Bleary-eyed and weary for the soft embrace of bed, though still plenty irritated, Arthur sunk into the plush armchair in front of the fireplace and continued to nurse the rifle. Whatever was determined to keep him up had gotten their wish...and maybe a little extra, if they hadn't already taken off. His slow, heavy gaze lumbered from window to window, keeping watch for a shadow, a figure, someone whose head he could take as a consolation prize.

Alas, it never came. When the few specks of light finally calmed to the point of dying out, the inky darkness and the comfiness of the armchair made their own case for a bit of extra rest. It's not like he was falling asleep there, of course, merely resting his eyes, and he'd certainly hear someone coming if they tried any more funny business. It would be alright.

Slipping out of his slippers and reclining against the squishy back of the armchair, Arthur let his head down against the armrest and let the rifle slip a bit from his grasp.

Yet, just as his eyes closed, something blew them wide open. Gentle, slow, repetitive tapping on the window behind him. Arthur tentatively leaned out over the armrest to discover a barely visible face staring back at him among the hedges. It seemed to be one like his own, but stretched lengthwise, perfectly symmetrical, the mouth flat and long and the eyes empty and dead.


And everything, from the rifle to the panda lad, went clattering to the floor.

"Pot, pan, shaker, griddle..." Sebastian growled under his breath as he methodically rummaged through each and every cabinet in the kitchen, pulling out every gadget and container and painstakingly checking around every single one. "Where the—ffffffffuck is my good jar?"

Penny threw open the front door and collapsed onto the adjacent couch, sprawling out as much as a tiny cat could across the cushions.

"Penny, I can't find my good jar," he called out to her. "What did you do with it?"

Nonchalantly, she shrugged. "I dunno. Kevin must've took it."

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