Excerpts from Lemons loom like rain

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In this scene, Copper Petal University student Randy Morales meets with Mathis Dillard, who resides in a mansion and has offered to ease Randy's financial woes. But Randy suspects that things may be too good to be true...

The office seemed very ordinary. There was an oak desk with a stack of paperwork on top. Randy and Mathis sat down in creaky rocking chairs on opposite sides. If the chairs were different, this could have been just about what anyone would expect from a generic office.

That is, if one were to ignore the intimidating blowtorch sitting beside the paperwork. And the two scythes hanging on the wall to the right. While Mathis had his eyes on the papers, Randy glanced at one of the scythe blades, where a speck of blood remained.

“So, Randy Morales.” Randy turned his head quickly to face Mathis again. “That's an interesting first name. I'm sure you got picked on for it, right?”

“Like a scab.”

Mathis hit the shape of a nail on the forehead. Randy had felt dead all throughout high school, an institution full of immature students who constantly repeated the phrase “Randy's feeling Randy!” He was so fed up with this behavior that it was a relief when he arrived at CPU and met people whom he felt treated him as an equal, even though he felt like the odd one in the group. The toothpick in the sandwich.

Despite the weirdness of the campus, these new bonds sparked life within him. A life that he knew would be temporary.

“Typical people behavior,” Mathis said, his chair rocking forward slightly. “People can be trouble.”

Randy could still see the speck of blood in his mind's eye.

“How did you get so rich, if you don't mind me asking?”

“It's a boring story, really. Mother went to a convenience store and finally won the lottery.”

“How convenient.”

Randy did not quite buy it. Not that there was much he could buy.

“So I'm willing to give you however much you owe in loans, and then you'd only be paying me back half of that amount. With that in mind, how much did you wanna borrow?”

“Twenty thousand.”

Mathis picked up a pen and started filling in the blanks.

“Okay. And when do you graduate?”

“Next June.”

“All right. Now the procedure is that you need to start repaying me three months after your graduation. Do you know the exact date you graduate?”

“Not off the top of my head.”

“All right. Well, how about this? You make your first payment by a year from today. What's today?”


“Yeah. So on September twenty-seventh next year, I better have the first payment of one thousand. You've got plenty of time, so I expect to be paid. Otherwise, I'll have to come after you that night, if you catch my drift.”

Something about this threat was appealing to Randy. A threat from someone who looked capable of murder should have been frightening. And it partially was. But Randy was surprised to find a bit of relief in the prospect of being killed and not having to deal with financial issues. As selfish as he was sure it made him seem, he saw it as a viable way to escape from all the pressures.

“Got it. You wouldn't want to beat me over the head with reminders that night, right?”

Mathis smiled.

“Seems like we understand each other perfectly.”

Randy thought back to the woman who had been here days earlier when he called. He wanted to be sure that he understood.

“Who-?” Randy stopped himself, regretting that he had let the start of a question escape his mouth.

“Go on,” Mathis said. “Don't be shy. I can answer any questions you have about this process.”

Randy had no choice but to finish his thought, despite the possible risk.

“Who was on the phone the other day?”

Mathis maintained the smile, accompanied by unblinking eye contact.

“Don't worry about her. She's gone from my life. Frankly, she was a bit of a trainwreck, going on about the pointlessness of life. She came to me for advice, and I did her a favor.”

“Is there a point to life?”

“Not for you. Now, here's the form.” Mathis blinked at last and turned a paper around to face Randy. “Be sure to write down your current address and your emergency contact info. You wouldn't want an emergency to worry anyone, but, you know, just in case.”

This part worried Randy. In his hometown, he had his parents and a ten-year-old sister. Getting them involved was out of the question. Randy wanted to maintain their safety.

“So, would we meet here when I give you the first payment?”

“I'd prefer to take care of it at your residence, just to make sure that you're there. Would you be at your current address, or your permanent address?”

“They're the same,” Randy answered quickly, committed to making his current address his future permanent address.

“Really?” The smile faded, the face laced with skepticism.

“Y-yes. Once the one-year lease ends, I'm gonna renew it.”

Randy wrote down the apartment address, as well as Ted's contact info.

“Who's that?”

“A flatmate.”

“Will he still be living with you next year?”

“I believe so. He said he'd stay in the area.” That part was true, though Randy was not certain whether Ted would remain at the same apartment itself after graduation. If anything, his flatmates could move out, and Randy could act like he would be well off enough to remain in the apartment. If it were just Randy there, Mathis would only go after him.

It's not assisted suicide if I don't ask him to kill me, he tried reasoning with himself, looking for loopholes in whatever laws of a possible afterlife there might have been.

After filling out the form, Randy made eye contact with Mathis and tried not to stare at the scar on his left eyelid. Debt-filled Randy thought he could sense a doubtful vibe coming from Mathis, so he was surprised by the subsequent smile and response.

“Perfect.” Mathis grabbed the papers. “Looks like we have a deal. Now, I'm gonna need a photo.” Mathis took out his phone and snapped a photo before Randy could react. Then Mathis pulled a suitcase out from under his side of the desk. He gave it to Randy, who opened it. There were stacks of hundred dollar bills. Randy counted them, and they added up to twenty grand.

“We all good, then?” Randy asked, putting the bills in the coat pocket that did not contain the knives.

“Oh, Randy, Randy, Randy.” Mathis shook his head. “We are not 'all good.' An ancient evil resides within each of us. Anyone can have the urge to hurt others, and themselves. If we were completely bereft of this ancient evil, would we really be ourselves?”

Mathis paused, and Randy could see that he was awaiting an answer. He tried to come up with something clever to seem unfazed.

“ we keep the darkness contained is what shapes us. One must shape oneself against their shadow rather than be shaped by the shadow. It sticks to you, but you can control where it goes.”

“Shadows can loom larger than the progenitor.”

“They're not solid, though.”

“But they are invincible. When the person becomes a body, the shadow remains. And even when the remains decompose, the shadows linger as stealthy particles in the air. Are you a shadow in your group of friends?”

“I am part of them.”

“Soon, you'll have to part from them.”

Mathis opened his drawer and took out a knife. Then he took out a whole lemon.

“What are you doing?” Randy asked, ready to reach for the knives in his trench coat pocket with one hand and gripping the suitcase handle with the other.

“Showing you.” Mathis used the knife to cut the lemon into slices. “One world gets fractured. Friendships get fractured. All friendships die. The eye is selfish, trying to see what it hopes is there. So bring on the pain. Lemons loom like rain.”
“Is this the part where you make some cheeky Fruit of the Loom joke?”

With his left hand, Mathis raised the slice above his left eye, squeezing the juice onto the scar on his eyelid and into his unblinking eye. He did this with a gleeful smile.

“Holy shit!” Randy jumped out of his chair and backed away, still gripping the suitcase handle.

When Mathis was done, he threw what remained of the slice to the floor.

“When life gives you lemons, squeeze them over your tacos, which are wounds. The lemons sting the cuts. Pain is inevitable. Embrace it. Better to cry now rather than later. You eat the wounds, and they sicken your stomach. So sharp is the sorrow in your guts. But people get it out of their system, despite how painful it may be, flushing it away. Memories of the pain remain, and you may feel a bit empty. But at least a weight has been lifted.”

“If it stings your eyes and your wounds, why would you put it in your body?”

“Just some food for thought.”

Randy could not help but be a bit impressed by this walking monolith's monologues.

“Did you rehearse all that or was it improvised?”

“I'm very prepared. But, in the moment, I can surprise.”

“So can I.”
“Well, then I'll see you in a year, Randy Morales.”

School has started at Copper Petal University. Pamela Sheer has just told her sister Peyton that she is the new school mascot. Dressed as Mandy the Mantleope, Pamela greets students at the Sitting Ducks Fair in the middle of Petal Lock Park, where she is about to meet a mysterious woman known as Unicoren...

All throughout the fair, Pamela, dressed as Mandy the Mantleope, shook hands with students old and new. She knew that it was her duty to raise people's spirits during the depressing times of the school year, which intensified around testing time. She knew what it was like to feel glum. She was used to walking around school all alone during recess and lunchtime. But now she felt like a new person as she wore this iconic costume. She was expected to be more energetic, and she obliged to the requirements of this identity.

Some students were enthusiastic enough to take selfies with the mascot. It did not matter to Pamela that nobody knew who she was. She donned the mantle and got into character. She had no qualms galloping on the grass as a quadruped would, using all four limbs. It made her feel closer to the earth and one with the campus.

She halted when she saw a stoic woman with glowing white eyes. The horn adorning the woman's forehead offered a clue. From what Pamela could recall of CPU lore, this was Unicoren, normally seen in the eastern side of the park. She certainly had the aesthetic: a head and limbs that seemed to be made of dirt and somehow moved like flesh, with the rest of her covered in rocks. Up close, Pamela could see that Unicoren had digits on her hands, as well as hooves on her feet. Pamela wondered what she was doing here, away from her geese and the silver birches on the west side of the park.

“Do you normally come here?” Pamela asked.

“I am just here to visit.”

“I thought you couldn't leave your side.”

“I'm able to come and go as I please within the bounds of the park, though I rarely do. I choose occasions such as these. It's my geese who are not allowed over here.”

“How come?”

“It would upset the balance.”

Pamela had heard that it was bad luck for geese to walk to the ducks' side of the park, and vice versa. But nobody online seemed to know the reasoning. Only that it would start some sort of curse.

“What happens when things get unbalanced?” Pamela asked.

“We have been fortunate enough to never find out.”

Pamela wanted to press further about this, but the woman turned away. Then another question popped into Pamela's head.

“Um, Unicoren?”

She halted and looked back at Pamela.


“I was wondering...” Pamela almost kept herself from asking the question, but it was too difficult to think of a new one. “I was wondering if it'd be all right for me to hang around in your side of the park every now and then.”

“In that costume?”

“If it's okay with you. I really enjoy playing around in it. It makes me feel more alive. Sorry. You probably think that's weird.”

It was difficult to tell, but Pamela could have sworn that she saw the slight curl of a smile.

“As a matter of fact, it does not sound weird at all. You really know how to animate Mandy. Even better than anyone else who has taken on the role.”

Pamela was pleasantly surprised by such flattery.

“Wow. Uh, thank you.”

“Feel free to stop by whenever you wish. Perhaps you will even feel at home.”

“YES!” Pamela said, fist bumping the sky.

She glimpsed Unicoren's face once more before the mysterious being turned around to walk away, and Pamela was certain that there was a smile. Pamela felt as though she had just made a new friend. One who was impressed with her performance as Mandy the Mantleope.

She felt confident and certain that many students also appreciated her performance even if they could not necessarily appreciate the person within. She wished that she could tell people, and she hoped that Peyton could keep her secret. It would certainly be a test of how strong their sisterhood could be, now that they might have a chance to reignite it after all these years. And if Peyton were to fail the test and tell other people, Pamela hoped that word would not reach the judge who had instructed her to keep her identity as Mandy a secret. The judge who had been impressed by her dancing and prancing around despite his intimidating 6'5” stature, long hair, ducktail beard, and shades.

The judge being Chancellor Mathias Moseley.

As Pamela prances around as the school mascot, her sister Peyton gets to know members of a club known as the Nap Kin. As they go to the park for a nap, Peyton notices a mysterious figure sitting on a hill. He is known as Stagmantel...

Everyone got in their sleeping bags and rested their heads on their pillows. Peyton waited until everyone else closed their eyes before rolling her own eyes and unrolling her sleeping bag. As everyone else fell asleep, Peyton remained alert, convinced that someone would try to prank her somehow.

In the distance, she could see a hill with rocks on its side. A miniature mountain. There, she spotted a silhouette with antlers. At first, she thought the figure might have been a pile of rocks, or perhaps a statue. But she saw it moving its hand over its mouth, presumably to cover a yawn. Peyton got up, determined to prevent whatever elaborate prank could have been in store for her.

Quietly, she got up from her sleeping bag, not wanting to alert anyone that she was walking away. Everyone else's heads remained still on their pillows. She walked around the back of the hill, where she discovered a hedge with a tunnel. Crouching down, she walked through the short tunnel until she reached the clearing, from where one could overlook the park. There, she saw someone sitting in a metal foldable chair, its back to her. This could only be Stagmantel.

“Not napping, then?” he said without turning his head around.

There was something about his voice that unnerved her. She could not quite place what it was. It sounded human, but also earthly. Not in a personal sense, but in the sense that one might expect from a talking boulder.

“Why don't you turn around?” Peyton asked. “Or are you afraid that those antlers will fall off?”

“They have never fallen off of me within all these years I have inhabited. I ask that you do not threaten me. Otherwise, I might start caring about the actions of your kind.”

“My kind?” Peyton repeated, tilting her head.

“You normies, as I believe you are called now.”

“What's a normie?”

“That's something a normie would say.”

“Then what the hell are you?”

“A bridge between flesh and stone.”

“Are you trolling me?”

“Trolls can dwell under bridges, but there are no trolls here. They dwell elsewhere. Far from here, thankfully.”

“How long have you been sitting there?”

“I do not care enough to count. Indifference is key around these parts.”

Peyton heard a quack and turned around. Four ducks came out of the tunnel and approached the chair. Still not turning his head, the man reached out with his right hand as a duck examined his fingers, made of dirt that somehow seemed like flesh. Peyton could not help but make the connection in her head.

“Are you a sitting duck?”

Stagmantel turned his head around, revealing his stoic stone-like face. It looked like dirt, and his demeanor seemed very cold. The antlers still stuck to his head. The glowing eyes were unnerving.

This has gotta be a mask, Peyton reasoned to herself.

But the muscle movements in the face made her second-guess.

“Sitting is a hobby of mine, but I do not mind moving around these parts whenever I feel like it.”

“Does the school know that a weirdo like you hangs out here?”

“The Landlord and I have an understanding. I don't interfere with the school's affairs, and the school does not interfere with mine.”

“What are your affairs?”

“It is just the one, really. We are a bit private about it though. You and I have only just met, and it may not yet time for you to be in the know. A newcomer such as yourself needs time to adjust. Take all the naps that you can. You may find that they will help you catch up to the logic of this place.”

Peyton thought she saw a slight smile, but then she reasoned that it must have been some confirmation bias. She still had so many questions.

“Where are you from?” she pressed on.

“From the top.”


“We will take it from the top once you are ready to know.”

“What's your aesthetic?”

“That is enough questions for now. Run along and rest.”

Perplexed, Peyton stepped backward toward the tunnel, partially expecting Stagmantel to rise out of the chair quickly and give her a jump scare. But he just remained on his minimalist throne, overlooking the park and its redwoods as ducks waddled around him.

Going back through the hedge tunnel, and trying not to step on any incoming ducks, Peyton still had many questions. But she knew that Stagmantel was reluctant to give her answers. Going back down the hill, she could see the club members still lying on their bedding. A few were napping. Others were simply staring up at the sky. Gertrude was among the latter group. She turned her head to Peyton as she got closer.

“Where'd you go?” Gertrude asked.

Peyton pointed up at the hill.

“Notice anything unusual up there?”

Gertrude sat up and looked in the direction to which Peyton pointed. After a few seconds, she shook her head.

“No. I don't see anything.”

As the day fades away from Petal Lock Park, some students depart, and Stagmantel receives a visit from a familiar figure...

Stagmantel watched the students depart. Once they were gone, a familiar presence came through the hedge tunnel: Mathias. It was dark, but through his glowing eyes, Stagmantel could see the colors of the peacock feathers on the front of Chancellor Moseley's bowler hat. The patterns of the feathers resembled an extra pair of eyes. To mirror the pattern, the shades he wore over his eyes had dark blue glass and lime green frames. The chancellor also wore a black grad robe, which was unzipped to reveal an outfit with colors that conformed to the peacock pattern: dark blue formal slacks, a green dress shirt, and necktie with both of those colors forming many peacock feather eyes. And he also wore black dress shoes.

“Same question as always, I expect,” Stagmantel anticipated. “Yes, I have seen the new mascot. And given your routine, I suppose you have disposed of the others who auditioned.”

“Some were chicken, and some were mine. I had some company with which to dine. Though one candidate joined that company. Just one, so that there are not too many.”

He removed his shades, revealing milky white eyes mirroring the moon and its light.

“Discarding your disguise,” Stagmantel acknowledged.

“Too much color in this world alone. I am in need of my Twilight Zone.”

Stagmantel noticed something different about him.

“Did you use makeup to cover up that scar?”

“I wanted to see how it would feel,” he answered with a nod. “Tell me, does the skin look real?”

“I suppose. Putting on makeup, then. One would think you would have to see yourself for that. How do you do it?”

Mathias gave him a scowl, not appreciating his wordplay. He hissed and then took an amulet out of his pants pocket. It was made of a clear cassette tape, though no reel was within it. He held it up toward the sky so that the moon could shine into it, turning the tape into a solid, glowing white.

“These worlds used to be one. But then you decided to run. Oh, the moon separated, a high cost. Oh, to have a part of yourself out of reach and lost. I ferried you out of a stagnant hell. And now, here you remain, Stagmantel.”

“You changed that last syllable to conform to your rhyme. Sounds like you are getting rusty.”

“Maybe I should just see you as a fool, and refer to you as Staman-tool.”

Stagmantel remained undeterred despite these words. He avoided further eye contact with the chancellor, who stood for a minute until the amulet was fully lit. He put it back in his pocket.

“Well, I have my pack to feed. They sure do wish to be freed.”