Sehun wiggled his fingers. That was all he seemed to remember. Sehun. Well... And the important stuff too.
Pitch dark and cramped. Sehun found himself calm, he was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to be calm.
A knock sounded right ahead, Sehun swore he could feel the sound on the tip of his nose.
“Uuuuuugh?” Sehun internally cringed. How long had he been napping for? It appeared that his mind and body weren’t quite synced up.
“Oh goody he’s awake! Boys, if you would!”
Some scrabbling. Sehun heard splintering, then light flooded his vision.
“Ah, good morning, sunshine! For a while we weren’t sure about you, after all we’ve never had a zombie before. For a while we thought the council made a mistake and you were just a regular corpse!”
Sehun blinked a few times, trying to adjust to the light.
“Right, you take your time there. Woke up on one of our rare sunny days, m’fraid. You do know your name’s Sehun, right?”
His throat still felt all knotted up so he nodded instead.
“Well that’s already better than some. The ghosts are the worst. All they do is wail for the first few days.”
Sehun could blearily make out the figure clutching his head as he went on, “Such loudness! And it never ends! You can’t hide from them, they pass through everything!!!”
By now Sehun’s vision cleared. The man who had been talking to him had brown pointy fluffy ears and a long bushy tail. A genial demeanour, bright smile, and short. He seemed trustworthy enough. Sehun wasn’t fussed.
Flanking him were two men, one short with heavy spectacles and a white lab-coat, then a giant who towered over the other two. Sehun’s eyes were drawn to the heavy bolts on the giant’s neck.
“My name’s Baekhyun and I should be able to answer any question you have.” He sighed, “Our dear mayor is the one that should be here greeting you, but he’s always on about how he’s absolutely swamped in paperwork. I don’t get his deal, it’s not often we get a newcomer.”
Sehun swallowed, throat feeling much clearer so he attempted to speak again. “I’m a zombie?” he croaked.
“”Bloody skulls and pumpkins, you don’t wail but you’re slow.” Baekhyun pinched the bridge of his nose.
The man in the lab coat and spectacles hushed Baekhyun. “Sit up if you can, the tombstone behind you has some details that may jog your memory a bit. If not, it’ll come back slowly. We’re all still remembering things too.”
Sehun sluggishly pawed around his plywood box coffin. Gripping the edges he pulled himself upright. Some soil crumbled over his hands, the mouth of the hole was still a bit up there. “How…?” He didn’t get very far before being taken by a hacking fit. His voice was workable, but gravelly.
“How long have you been here? How are you alive?”
While the lab-coat man spoke, Sehun worked on standing upright, hopefully there wasn’t anywhere he needed to be. His shaky limbs were full of pins and needles.
“There’s something special about Halloweenland. We all have our odd ways of ending up here. This is the border; chances are being buried around here for a bit was enough to breathe that Halloweenland magic into your corpse.”
Sehun doesn’t remember how he died, thinking as he stood upright. The hole wasn’t as deep as he first estimated. Standing straight left only his body from the shoulder down in the pit.
The three men gasped and stepped back, “Though it doesn’t appear that Halloweenland magic completely saved your body.”
“What?” Sehun rasped.
Spectacles man took out a mirror and handed it to Sehun. “Your left cheek.”
Sehun stared dumbly at the mirror for a moment before it clicked in his head. Grabbing the mirror he tilted it to look at his left cheek, except he didn’t have one really. A large patch of flesh was missing, leaving his teeth exposed.
“I could fix it,” spectacles man suggested. “I’m pretty good. Chanyeol here is one of my works after all.” He said, patting the giant’s back, “My first try also lived here, although he didn’t come out as well.”
“Kyungsoo what… Why do you have that?” Baekhyun side-eyed the spectacled man.
Kyungsoo shrugged, “Yifan’s supposed to be able to show up in it, I need to test it out.”
By now Sehun was out of the hole, which Chanyeol, the giant stitched up monster with bolts in his neck, just noticed. The giant tapped Kyungsoo’s shoulder.
“Oh, terribly rude of us getting carried away like that. You must need some time to recoup. We have a place ready for you, are you ready to come?”
“A place… Don’t I need to pay for that?” Sehun’s voice was steadily improving. He’d kill for a drink of water though.
“Everyone pays in their own way at some point. Don’t worry about that now though, newcomers get to take the first year easy.”
Sehun ambled along behind the other three, who mostly spoke amongst themselves, not that Sehun minded. At first they had attempted to engage Sehun with a steady current of questions. Unfortunately the answers had mostly been some variation of “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” The conversation among his welcome party was well interesting to listen to though. Kyungsoo’s first creation, a jiangshi (whatever that was) named Zitao, had been missing for a few days. Yifan, a vampire who ran the local cafe broke up a plot to smuggle instant snow into Halloweenland. Sehun also learned that snow was illegal in Halloweenland because it harmed the pumpkins and leaves. All the gossip about Halloweenland was interesting and helpful, though he couldn’t understand the significance in most of the statements made.
For somewhere called Halloweenland it didn’t look very Halloween-y at the moment. A foggy image of carved pumpkins and turning leaves flashed through his mind. The scenery on the way to his supposed new residence was more evident of a “Springland” if anything, with all the green trees and sun while the birds chirped. There were little reminders of where he was with the frequent wrought iron gates and imposing mansions as they walked along the cobblestone road, but otherwise, totally Halloween in summer.
Town Centre was a circular clearing that the cobblestone path they were on and the other cobblestone paths of the town led to. A fountain splashed merrily in the centre while surrounding it were what Sehun assumed the important mainstays of the town were. An inn, a cafe with a little bulletin board beside it, the constable’s house--he would have to check it all out later.
They passed Town Centre and, after walking around ten minutes, they came to a lake with a sandy bank and a few meagre cabins.
“Most of the past newcomers wanted a little space so we just figured it’d be better to put all the newcomers at the lake. Everyone around here’s quite friendly. If you need anything you can pretty much ask anyone.” Chanyeol poked Baekhyun’s arm. “Well… Everyone except for the little stitch boy in the cafe. I’m sure he means well but he’s not very helpful.”
Sehun made a note to visit the cafe first.
“The cafe might be a pretty good place to start with, actually. Yifan, the vampire, runs the place and he probably won’t charge you for the first few visits. Everyone hangs around there. If you’re willing, maybe offer to help out with chores or errands. That’s usually how people get to know each other, and usually the townsfolk even give rewards.”
"Oh!" Baekhyun clapped his hands together, "Joonmyeon would have killed me if I forgot! The Halloween opening parade's tomorrow. You'll probably have to participate in it next year so it'd be good if you came."
Sehun motioned with his hand go on...
Kyungsoo elaborated; he had become quite good at charades, an unintended effect of creating many experiments that couldn't speak, "Everyone in the town participates unless they're new. We have a parade at the beginning of the month to welcome the Halloween season, and then a big celebration at the end of the month."
They parted ways and Sehun investigated the cabin to no great event. A single room with a tiny little wet room cell attached. The essentials were there: a bed, cabinet, desk, and so on. Sehun found them extravagant compared to what he had before.
There was a before wasn't there?
A stretch of time passed with Sehun just hobbling around his room trying to restore his normal range of motion because he definitely was not this hindered before he went to sleep, or died apparently. He had taken a look at his "tombstone" as Kyungsoo suggested, though all he found was an Oh Sehun scratched onto a small rock with "1944" inscribed under the name.
Walking around his room proved somewhat fruitful, with each circle he made he could hear joints cracking and his motions became faster and smoother. Around what must have been the millionth lap he remembered the bathtub in the wet room. He probably didn't look too nice after being dead for god knows how long, cleaning himself up might be a good place to start.
Town Centre was lively the next morning. Considering how small the town seemed Sehun thought it quite impressive the amount of stalls that were being set up. As he had decided the day before, Sehun wandered over to the cafe. A nameless cafe it seemed, only indicator of purpose being a swinging wooden sign in the shape of a mug.
Quaint. The smell of bread and sweets had permeated the air around the cafe and it was much stronger inside. A wacky cast of characters flitted to and fro inside, bringing a kind of liveliness to the place while a tall blond man in a black cape took orders behind the glass case. What Sehun took to be ghosts glided around delivering orders, but what caught Sehun's attention the most was the "stitch boy" Baekhyun mentioned sitting at the table furthest back.
It had to be stitch boy; he certainly looked stitched together. A wild shock of pink curls served as his hair, curls that almost reached large, glassy brown eyes. Sehun had thought him to be a doll at first but those eyes changed his mind.
The boy's eyes were narrowed. He sat on the table while two small girls in pointy hats and black robes flanked his sides. Both were armed with a large bundle of what appeared to be long wires, each with a tiny hook attached at the end. Sehun winced. The girls were in the midst of forcing the hooks through all the boy's joints. The boy looked murderous as another wire and hook was forced through his elbow, though Sehun found it hard to believe the action hurt the boy at all given his lack of response.
"Jinri, I'm done!" crowed the girl on stitch boy's right side, the side where his arm looked to be crafted of pink striped fabric. "Let me finish attaching the wires to the controller and then I'll help you, okay?"
Sehun watched as the girl began attaching the wires that were strung through the right side of stitch boy's body to two wooden crosses. He understood what she was making by that moment, something was trying to surface in his memories. What was it called... A Pinocchio. The girls were making a Pinocchio out of the stitch boy.
"May I help you?" A smooth voice chimed next to Sehun, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. The man who had been manning the counter was now standing next to him, and Sehun had no clue when the man could have sidled over.
"Nah I'm good." The previous evening had been productive in that Sehun managed to remaster a majority of his previous functions, such as basic motor control. Talking came after he worked out how to drink water without it leaking through the hole in his cheek.
"His name's Lu Han. Soojung and Jinri are preparing him for tonight's festivities but I'll introduce you to him after they're done." The man pointed to a table on the opposite end of the cafe from stitch boy. "My name's Yifan. Tell you what, why don't you sit over there and I'll fix up a cappuccino then join you. We'll have a chat."
Sehun watched Yifan prepare the cappuccino, going through the motions as if he had done it a million times before. Though shortly after Yifan began adding foam, the two girls had left stitch boy, Lu Han, alone and seemingly fuming at his table.
"Uh, can I sit with Lu Han? He looks kind of upset." Sehun asked, looking over at the back table where Lu Han was angrily rattling his wires and the crosses they were attached to.
"Sure, go sit down and I'll bring your cappuccino over when it's done."
With that, Sehun sat down across from Lu Han at the little round table in the back corner. Judging by how Lu Han continued rattling his new attachments it seemed Lu Han still hadn't noticed him. Sehun took the opportunity to take in more of the doll's appearance. A line of stitches crossed over the bridge of Lu Han's nose, while the bottom half of his face appeared to be composed of cream coloured burlap, the top half void of any kind of fabric texture. Sehun considered the idea that maybe Lu Han was partly composed of porcelain as well as rags, maybe even flesh going by how Lu Han's large brown eyes were alight with anger.
"Hi, I'm Sehun. Do you need help getting those off?" Seemed like a good place to start.
Lu Han looked up then held his hand out. Sehun reached out and shook it, desperately trying to convince himself that it wasn't awkward.
Any moment now Lu Han would respond, maybe introduce himself. Sehun stared at what he took to be his mouth, a thin horizontal line with large crosses spaced a centimetre apart crossing over it. Any moment it would part to offer a response.
"Don't bother. Also, here's your cappuccino," Yifan chimed in from behind Sehun, setting the drink down on the table. "He hasn't got a mouth, see?"
Lu Han slapped the table with his right hand, constructed of mostly purple fabric with white stripes. It made a very faint thwacking noise upon coming into contact with the surface, but it was the motion that counted.
"Well apparently it's more complicated than that. Either it's stitched shut or that one's just for decoration." Yifan shrugged and walked back to the counter. He picked up a red mug from the sink, and started washing up.
"You don't know for sure?" Sehun hadn't felt this invested in anything for a while. "Lu Han doesn't write?" he added as an afterthought.
"He writes--that's the only reason we know anything about him at all. But he's slow and he said his hand cramps up if he writes too much." Finished with that mug, Yifan picked up a blue one to polish.
"Ah, well then." Sehun paused. "Can it be fixed?"
"Who knows?" Yifan set out all the clean mugs by the sink.
Sehun tried to put the pieces together. Doll... Stitches... Fix... Sew?
He shook his head. He needed a thinking break. "Hm."
Pushing himself up Sehun slowly shuffled out of the cafe.
Yifan assembled the now clean mugs to be shelved in alternating colours, red blue red blue. "We haven't had a zombie before, he's pretty fun don't you think?"
Lu Han stared at the wooden door, still swinging from Sehun's exit.
The crowd screamed as the mayor, a ghost named Joonmyeon rose out of the stage while Sehun stood far off to the side with a bemused grin. All of the villagers were certainly spooky in a cute, family-friendly way. Chanyeol and Kyungsoo made a remarkable parade float themed like a secret laboratory, though judging from one glance at Kyungsoo they probably didn't expend any effort coming up with the set, maybe just retrieving some things from around his house.
The last float was a stage that was supposed to host the last performance of the evening. Rumour around the village was that it was a play. Sehun thought the theory was reasonable enough, all that was on the stage was a huge wooden scaffolding with a red velvet curtain hanging from it.
"How has everyone's evening been so far?" The mayor asked through a megaphone. How he was holding said megaphone was beyond Sehun.
"Spooooky!" The crowd chorused.
The mayor laughed at the warm response, "Well it's about to get spookier. Please anticipate the final performance of the night! Without further ado, here is Pinocchio and the Big Bad Wolf!"
As Joonmyeon floated off the stage the crowd echoed Sehun's bewilderment at the odd title, little "ooh"s and "ahh"s could be heard from all around.
The red curtain dropped from the scaffolding and the crowd went silent.
Behind the red curtain was a crude cardboard diorama of a forest. The two girls who were messing with Lu Han in the cafe earlier stood on a high ledge, both with a cross in each hand. While the crowd around him broke into raucous cheering, horror welled up in Sehun’s chest.
From what Sehun could tell, “Jinri”, the girl that needed help preparing Lu Han, controlled his left side while the other girl controlled the right. Not Pinocchio, a puppet! That’s what it was, Sehun thought as he slapped his forehead.
Dehumanising Lu Han didn’t end there, apparently.
“Hello everybody!” Sehun gawked at the wires pulling Lu Han ramrod straight as he waved to the audience. Clearly Jinri was doing the voice for him. “I’m little Pinocchio! I heard there’s been a dangerous wolf in the forest lately. Could everyone please tell me when they see a wolf?”
The audience cheered their affirmation and thus the story of Pinocchio and the big bad wolf had begun. Much to Sehun’s awe the girls were quite good at manoeuvering Lu Han, sparing him a fair deal of humiliation. Evidently this wasn’t the first time the girls had done something like this, if the murmurs around him of “another fine show from Soojung and Jinri” were any indicator. He looked on as the girls continued introducing the story, taking in Lu Han’s appearance as their meeting in the cafe hadn’t really afforded him the opportunity for that.
According to everyone else Lu Han was a rag doll but what Sehun didn’t realise until now was that Lu Han was literally a doll made out of rags, bits, and bobs--a fact that his outfit showcased nicely. The doll sported a pressed pair of navy dress shorts with two columns of golden buttons at the front. Attached to them was a pair of black braces that criss-crossed at the back. His top was short-sleeved as well, a white dress shirt mildly rumpled and tucked into his shorts. Topping off the whole outfit was a large red bow that had a round golden bell hanging from it, adorning each of Lu Han’s movements with a little jingle.
The short-sleeved shirt and shorts showcased the “patchiness” of Lu Han’s physical makeup. There were no patches but his physical appearance was a bit… complex. Sehun had noted that Lu Han’s right arm was a dark purple with a white stripe spiralling down his arm, but on his other arm was a deep blue swatch that covered his whole arm up to his wrist, patterned with white polka dots. His right leg? Green and white argyle print that stopped mid-thigh, and from there up it was the same purple as his right arm but, instead of a stripe, this purple swatch was patterned with white polka dots. For his left leg, light pink and patterned similarly to his right arm, a white stripe spiralling down and… Wait where were his shoes?
“A wolf, a wolf!” The audience cried as Baekhyun came out on the stage, pulling Sehun out of his thoughts.
“Oh my! Where?” Jinri exclaimed while she and the other girl made Lu Han mime the motions. Sehun was surprised to find a playful smile. At the least it appeared Lu Han didn’t entirely hate the ordeal. While Jinri played the ventriloquist, sometimes Lu Han would smile or move his hands in jaunty motions appropriate of the accompanying dialogue or how the girls were moving him.
“There! There!” The children in the crowd all but screeched, pointing to Baekhyun who quickly hid behind a cardboard bush, sporting a comically devious grin.
“I don’t see anything!” Lu Han attempted to cup his cheeks but the girls forced his arms to shrug, and Baekhyun reemerged from behind the cardboard bush.
“Look out, Lulu!” A girl from the audience cried out.
Too late. The second Lu Han moved to turn Baekhyun pounced on him, and both of the puppeteers shrieked.
In true dog-like fashion, Baekhyun bit down on Lu Han’s shoulder and jerked him around briefly before letting go, “You’re no boy! Where is the meat?” He announced in mock anger.
Sehun thought his eyes were playing tricks on him when he saw the sparkle from Lu Han’s eyes fade just a bit.
Lu Han clutched his shoulder, “This is what happens when you prey on the little boys and girls of the village, Mister Wolf.” Jinri’s voice echoed while Lu Han rummaged through his pockets. “In the dead of the night, when there’s no one in the old cemetery, their grieving mothers come in.” Lu Han’s hands stilled. “That’s when they dig them up and fix them into little dolls like me so you can’t eat them, Mister Wolf.”
The audience gasped as Lu Han pulled a short blade out of his pocket and, with a grand flourish from the girls, he gently pressed the knife against Baekhyun’s abdomen. The wolf made a dramatic show of expiring, releasing a piercing howl and crumpling to the ground.
”Now that the wolf is dead we can cut his tummy open and retrieve all the parts needed to make everyone real again.” Jinri said jubilantly. Lu Han seemed to have lost his previous passion in playing his role as Pinocchio. The two puppeteers turned Lu Han so that he faced the audience, and Jinri dipped the cross that controlled Lu Han’s head and torso, manipulating him into a deep bow. ”And I couldn’t have done it without you all. Thank you, everyone!”
The audience cheered. Given the nature of Lu Han’s mouth it was a bit difficult to decipher his expression, though seeing the grim line his mouth was set in, Sehun was pretty sure Lu Han wasn’t as pleased as everyone else.
On his way home, all throughout the evening and up until he was ready to turn in for the night, Sehun found himself plagued by thoughts: some were about Lu Han, such as why no one had attempted to fix his mouth, was he okay after tonight’s events, and other things.
But mostly his thoughts were about blue shoes.
Sehun clutched his head; he couldn't stop thinking about blue shoes. Baby blue shoes, why wouldn't they leave his mind? Baby blue shoes with bows on the tip, and Sehun angrily shook his head. Blue shoes weren't relevant! Except the next image that flashed through his mind caught his interest. Baby blue shoes being darned. A pair of hands. One hand holding the shoe the other...
Sehun shut his eyes tight and pressed his hands harder to his head. This was important. The other hand held something shiny and Sehun swore he knew what the shiny thing was.
Collapsing on his side, Sehun haphazardly tugged the duvet over himself. It wasn't impossible to make Lu Han a new mouth, of that he was certain.
Moments later something odd happened; his tummy grumbled. Evidently even in death he wasn't exempt from eating. Sehun laid on his back and stared at the ceiling, even weirder was that he actually felt hungry. Really, one would have thought that these weren't issues that the dead had to deal with.
The cabin was generously stocked with fishing line, Sehun knew what to do with that. God knows what he was doing in life that enabled him to fish and kind of sew, but Sehun was now grateful for it. Sure enough behind the desk he found a dusty fishing rod and went to work lining it.
Outside didn't feel like real October. Memories of bitterly frosty nights and hot days in the Autumn came back to Sehun as he sat on the shore with the re-lined fishing rod. The general picture lingered with him but not the little details. Images of frosty footprints in the frozen mud flickered through his mind but for the life of him Sehun couldn't remember what he was doing.
A tug on the line pulled Sehun out of his memories. The fish couldn't have been that big; not much struggling was happening on the other end and, in short order, he had a nicely-sized fish flopping and dangling on the hook, about the length of his forearm.
They were all familiar motions. Gripping the fish tightly as he unhooked it, he cast a glance at the fire pit several meters down the shore--the normal course of action was evident. The pit was blackened from previous use, and there was spit propped up above the pit. Some Samaritan had even left a lighter next to the site. Sehun looked back to the fish wriggling in his hands, shiny, a good amount of meat, the flapping gills and eye called out to him.
Sehun ignored the fire pit and attacked the fish, teeth first.
Dimly he registered the fish thrashing in his bite and fins flapping. Without relinquishing his bite Sehun pulled away, tearing away the whole chunk of muscle where the side fin was and pulling some excess skin along with the hunk. Earlier the fish scales had shimmered a lovely silver under the glow of the moon. Sehun gnawed on the raw fish meat some while the skin dangled out the corner of his mouth, later slurping it in so that it no longer hung out if his mouth.
It was then he realised that the continual shrieking in the background hadn't been in his head. He called out to the bushes, "Uhh is anyone there?"
Sehun went back to eating the fish and the shrieking started right back up. He held the now still fish away from his face and examined it. It wasn't the fish screaming was it? He then caught a glimpse of the fish’s thin bones and felt a faint stirring in his mind. It looked like the thing darning the blue shoes.
Plucking out one of the bones and laying it to the side, he took another bite aiming straight for the throat. The screaming continued.
At supper time the following day Sehun found himself in Yifan's cafe again, sitting at Lu Han's table, and resolute in not mentioning the previous evening’s parade.
Sehun didn't wait for Lu Han to finish preparing his sketchbook and pencil before posing his question, "What happened to your shoes?"
"Lost," Lu Han scrawled as soon as he found a clean page.
Before Sehun could continue a group of children, the ones who had strung Lu Han up for the parade, ran up to their table.
"Lulu, this one's bad! Really, really bad. We saw him last night, didn't we, Jinri?!"
"Y-yeah!" The taller girl piped up. "He ate the fish whole. We saw him, didn't we, Soojung?!"
"We saw him eat a fish whole!"
"He didn't even chew, he ate it in one bite!"
"Yeah, and then he spat the skeleton out! It was totally clean!! That's what he'll do to you, Lulu!"
"I did not eat it whole!" Sehun responded indignantly.
The girls shot each other matching, poorly suppressed grins.
"The sprinkles and frosting aren't ingredients for witchcraft! I thought I told you two to go bother Kyungsoo!"
"Uncle Yifan!" The girls screeched in unison, chasing after their new distraction as he walked out from the back room.
Sehun watched until all three of them disappeared to the back before he placed the fish bone that resembled the shiny needle in his thoughts on the table. A needle, he knew what that was; he used one before at some point in his life. When though, he couldn't remember. The needle had been his project for most of the day, boring a hole through the base and working a thread through.
Upon seeing the makeshift needle Lu Han's eyes widened.
"I didn't eat it whole!" Sehun insisted, to which Lu Han covered his mouth and Sehun could see his eyes crinkle. Back to the topic at hand, "Is this familiar to you?" Sehun was sure he was on the right track. Lu Han had a reaction to the needle, which had to count for something.
Lu Han held his hand out flat, palm down, then tilted it back and forth.
Lu Han rolled his eyes and picked up his sketchbook. "A bit," he wrote.
"Oh? How so?" Sehun would take anything he could get.
Lu Han pointed to the bone needle, then to the stitches along his arms.
Another set of images came to him and Sehun allowed his head to fall forward and hit the table. The hand darning the blue shoes, what on Earth was it doing? He saw the needle puncture the shoe, go through, then come back to puncture the shoe again. It punctured the shoe again and again in the same spot, and that was the part Sehun had difficulty grasping. What was the needle doing?
A pat on his head brought Sehun back to Earth, to a perplexed looking Lu Han. Maybe Lu Han knew. "Do you feel anything in your doll parts? Would you be able to demonstrate how the fish bone works?"
Lu Han looked down and reached for his sketchbook. He gestured to what little flesh he had, the upper half of his face. "No feeling in rag parts." Then pointing to the stitches where his mouth was he wrote, "Only know how to do these." Afterwards he gestured to the stitching along his arms and neck, "Wasn't awake."
That brought an interesting point to light. "So your creator wasn't responsible for the mouth stitches?"
Lu Han shook his head, then flipped through his sketchbook until he came to a drawing of a child with her back turned. He pointed to the needle and Sehun handed it to him. A generous amount of fishing line was looped through the base. Lu Han punctured the paper with the bone needle, to which Sehun gasped. That was unexpected. Just like the stitching on his mouth Lu Han cross-stitched along the drawing's spine, then finishing it off with a long line that crossed over the rest of the stitches.
Tracing a finger over the stitches that now lined the drawing's spine, Sehun thought of something interesting Lu Han revealed earlier, "You were awake for the person stitching your mouth shut, but you knew they didn't make you?"
Lu Han nodded while flipping back to the cleaner pages of his sketchbook. "Couldn't move then." He quickly gestured to his mouth, "Felt different. He didn't know what he was doing." Lu Han then abruptly dropped the pencil and massaged his hand.
"Do you want me to do it?" Sehun asked, extending a hand out to him. He figured Lu Han was incredibly helpful today; he should try to repay the favour somehow.
Akin to a child Lu Han shoved his hand into Sehun's outstretched palm, looking up at him expectantly while Sehun had to swallow a laugh at the behaviour. Previously Sehun had thought that Lu Han's hand had just been made of a peachier coloured burlap, but holding it now made it apparent that Lu Han's hand was also real. No wonder it cramped up.
There was a train of thought Sehun had been going down for some time now. While he hadn't made the conscious decision to fix Lu Han's mouth. That was the natural conclusion to this newfound interest in sewing. Sehun dug his thumb into a large knot he found in Lu Han's palm. He had more work to do before he could suggest the idea to Lu Han.
Before taking his leave from the cafe Sehun turned to Lu Han. "Would it be okay if I took the drawing you used the bone on?" He used vague wording on purpose; he didn't want to give anyone the impression that he could sew just yet, especially not Lu Han.
Lu Han carefully tore the drawing out of his sketchbook then held it out toward Sehun. Taking the drawing, Sehun stared over it for a moment, “One more question.”
Lu Han looked up at him.
“What’s the bell for? Just wondering.”
Lu Han bristled, bell merrily tinkling along with his coarser motions and he angrily scribbled in the notebook. ”Always there. Yifan said it’s to keep me from getting lost.”
Yifan's cafe stocked fairly nice paninis that were made fresh every day. Sehun once asked him how.
"This cafe is actually a labour of love on the whole town's behalf. I only make the bread and desserts. Well, I assemble everything too. But the stuff comes from different places." Yifan punched air out of the dough he was kneading. "These are a baker's hands, don't you think? Large and warm so I think it helps the yeast rise. I tried having Lu Han do it once but it didn't come out nearly as nice."
All of the villagers conveniently had little skills that they remembered. The mayor, a ghost named Joonmyeon, had the largest garden in town. Apparently his body just went through the same motions it did when it was alive. A small crowd tended to gather whenever Joonmyeon went out to his garden.
"They want to learn, and I don't really know what I'm doing myself so I guess this is the next best thing."
Baekhyun somewhat literally "brought home the bacon." Every night there were several hours that he couldn't account for. Then in the morning he'd wake up next to the carcass of some creature, caked in dirt and blood.
"The funny thing is I don't think I'm eating anything while I'm out there. Or if I am then my night time adventures are a lot more strenuous than I thought." Baekhyun shook his head. This time he had brought back a large pig. "Where did this thing even come from? I don't think there are any pigs in the forest."
Today Sehun made an excursion out to Kyungsoo's laboratory to ask about making a mouth for Lu Han. If Kyungsoo could bring people back from the dead, or construct them out of different parts, making a mouth for a doll would be simple, wouldn't it?
Sehun didn't understand why Kyungsoo kept his lab so secret. Far away from the cobblestone roads and buildings where most of Halloweenland's residents lived was a small stable in a clearing, and apparently under the stable was the laboratory where Kyungsoo and his creations lived. Sehun heard laughter coming from the stable.
"Lu Han, stop fussing, you'll be fine! Even if you fell you don't weigh anything so it wouldn't hurt!" Chanyeol guffawed while he tossed Lu Han onto a dairy cow, seemingly much to the terror of Lu Han who was glaring daggers at Chanyeol, hitting him up until he was tossed onto the cow. As soon as he landed on the cow's back Lu Han clung to its horns for dear life.
"Oh, don't be such a baby! I'm jealous that Moktar isn't even making a fuss right now! When I tried to climb on she gored me." Lu Han didn't look consoled at all by Chanyeol's words, going by the shut eyes and clinging.
Sehun walked over to Kyungsoo, who sat on a crate busily scribbling in a notebook, unperturbed by the roughhousing meters away from him. "Uh... Are they okay? Lu Han looks pretty scared."
"He shouldn't be," Kyungsoo said without looking up from his notebook. "He's full of fluff and maybe blood, I don't know. I did a squish test while he was sleeping once but I don't think he had as many fleshy parts back then."
Sehun nearly dropped his sketchpad in horror. "A squish test?"
Kyungsoo waved his hand, "Or a palpatory exam if you want to go by the book!" Later he muttered, "Names and regulations, how bothersome," with contempt.
Something Kyungsoo said had piqued Sehun's interest. "You said he wasn't as fleshy back then?"
"I'm assuming he was all rags at some point. I think he's been steadily gaining flesh, not fast enough for me though. I want to see how his insides are transforming but he won't let me cut him up."
Sehun absently listened to Kyungsoo but his gaze remained on Lu Han clinging to the cow while Chanyeol tried to get the cow to walk faster. Eventually Sehun decided he couldn't take seeing Lu Han like that anymore. He walked brusquely over to the cow and held his arms out. "Lu Han, I'll help you down."
Lu Han cracked open one eye. He slowly sat up but made no move to jump onto Sehun.
"It's too scary to jump?"
Lu Han nodded.
Sehun stepped closer and hovered his hands over Lu Han's waist, "What if I picked you up? Is that okay?"
Lu Han looked up to the sky for a moment, then looked back to Sehun. He nodded again.
Sehun placed his hands firmly on Lu Han's waist, holding the doll up then lowering him to the ground in short order, doll clinging to him all the while. Lu Han scuttled over to the chickens the moment Sehun released him.
While Sehun watched Lu Han play, Kyungsoo broke him out of his daze. "So why'd you come over here anyway? Aside from ruining Chanyeol's fun, that is."
"Do you have any idea how to go about making a new mouth for Lu Han?" Sehun looked on as Lu Han squatted by the chickens and pulled out their loose feathers.
Kyungsoo looked up from his notebook first the first time, "Cut one maybe? I'm pretty sure there's cutting involved."
"Well yeah I'll need to cut off his current one but he'll need a new one too."
Kyungsoo harrumphed, "Well in that case I'd say try to find how much of a new mouth he needs. Would it be sufficient if you just cut the stitching off? Or does it go further than that?" He crossed out everything he had written on the notepad, "But you have to remember. Lu Han's a doll. I don't play with toys so I don't know how to fix him."
Sehun's chest flared at that last statement. "Thank you for your advice. I'll be leaving now." He took one last look at Lu Han playing with the chickens before heading off. A doll.
The next few days Sehun found himself very busy, forgoing his daily cafe trips for drawing out potential new ragdoll mouths and practising his slowly returning sewing abilities. In retrospect, he felt guilty about neglecting those cafe trips.
Kyungsoo had a point about Lu Han’s mouth. Not in the cutting part, but it would be useful to determine how much of a new mouth Lu Han needed. Before that he had to at least create some evidence that he knew what he was doing first.
The cabin ended up having a fair amount more than Sehun initially anticipated. In the bottom drawer of the desk he found a makeup kit of all things. Not inherently useful to his work but at least he could colour things now.
So those few days ended up being very busy. Often he found himself thinking of Lu Han’s face and what would look nicer than the current stitchy mess he had for a mouth. Ideas and memories came to him while he fished or drank coffee that Yifan had delivered.
”He says Lu Han misses you,” Chanyeol teased, handing off a toastie, and still warm cappuccino to Sehun.
”Tch.” Somehow Sehun doubted that. Lu Han was fairly high in demand in the village, be it the witches and other children. Or Chanyeol. Still though, maybe he would pay him a visit soon.
He didn’t end up having the chance to visit Lu Han.
It started one afternoon when he left the cabin for a rare breath of fresh air, only to find an unexpected sight.
“Hey what’s up?” Sehun walked down to the lakeshore a few steps away from the door of his cabin to join Baekhyun. There were probably question marks all around him, fact of the matter was no one but the occasional child came down to the lake for the most part.
Getting a closer look at Baekhyun after Sehun had sat down tipped him off. Every night was arguably a rough night for Baekhyun, Sehun couldn’t imagine the wolf transformation process to be smooth, but if Baekhyun’s eye circles and the bits of fluff that littered his entire body were any indicator, last night must have been particularly rough.
Baekhyun shook his head and mumbled, “I just woke up.”
Sehun passed today’s cappuccino to Baekhyun, which the other accepted gratefully. “Did you get in a fight with a pillow or something?” he asked, motioning to the white fluffy bits.
Baekhyun nearly finished the entire mug. Again, he shook his head. “Close, but worse.”
Sehun raised an eyebrow.
Baekhyun was trembling as he slowly retrieved something from his pocket. What hit Sehun first was a sudden feeling of dread that made his body go rigid. Hot on its heels was a tiny jingling sound, and the sight of a scratched up bell. There was some blood on it as well? That couldn’t be right, the red on it had to be something else.
“I woke up with this near me.”
That was enough of an explanation really. “Are you okay to move around?” Sehun asked tentatively. He didn’t want to push Baekhyun but leaving Lu Han injured in the woods wasn’t ideal.
Baekhyun nodded wearily. “I can smell out where exactly he is, to be honest. The thing is I don’t think he’ll be pleased to see me at the moment so I’d rather someone else retrieve him.”
The words hung in the air for a moment.
Sehun swallowed. “I can be that person.”
If one walked along the lakeshore by Sehun’s cabin for long enough they would find themselves in the woods. It wasn’t a real secret; Sehun could see them from his cabin, though generally only Yifan and Baekhyun ventured into them.
”Is there something bad there? How come everyone seems so apprehensive about the woods?”
The delivery of the day from Chanyeol was the usual cappuccino and a toastie with tuna. Sehun found himself fishing more as a hobby now and donated whatever surplus he caught to Yifan’s cafe. The villagers had all been pleasantly surprised to find Sehun attempting to pull some of his weight already.
“Dunno,” Chanyeol shrugged. “I heard the border isn’t far beyond here though. Apparently we’ll die if we cross it.” For the grim topic, Chanyeol looked rather nonplussed.
Sehun was curious. “You’ve never tried?”
Sehun thought about it. While he enjoyed his recent reanimation there was that other thing… “Aren’t we all kind of dead though?”
“No. That’s just you, Yifan, and the ghosties.”
“Lu Han shouldn’t be far from here. Do you want me to show you the way back?”
“Oh! Uh…” Baekhyun had caught Sehun off guard. “Nah, I’ll be fine.”
Baekhyun turned around. “In that case, I’ll be taking my leave now.” His head drooped. “I need to prepare a proper apology.”
Sehun waved goodbye then trudged forward. Unlike Baekhyun, he didn’t have a hypersensitive sense of smell to look for a missing Lu Han. What had Lu Han even been doing out here, anyway? According to Yifan, Lu Han wasn’t allowed out of the cafe without supervision. A secret mission of some kind?
Sehun kept his eyes peeled for any signs of fluffy pink hair and brightly patterned rags, but all that lay in his path were leaves and bramble, also what appeared to be bits of cotton plant.
Squatting down, Sehun picked up one of the flyaway bits of white fluff and, sure enough, it matched what was strewn all over Baekhyun. This made finding Lu Han considerably easier. Ready to follow the trail of fluff, he flicked away the bit in his hand.
Before Sehun could head off, he caught a glimpse of the ground and winced. There had been an awful rain the night before, happily compensated by generous sunshine in the present. However left on the ground was a superior record of Baekhyun’s adventure the night before.
Deep tracks of a wolf man marred the ground and Sehun ran a hand through his hair. He was an idiot.
Without further ado he followed the tracks; the route they led him on seemed about right. As he walked further the white fluff, presumably Lu Han’s stuffing, was becoming more noticeable. Now they were closer to clumps than the little fuzzies on the path before.
Not even ten steps further Sehun found his first clue in the form of a green and white argyle print leg sticking out of a bush.
“Lu Han?!” he shouted, running toward the bush. “Are you okay?! Can you move?!”
He stood next to the bush and waited for a response. “Lu Han?”
Sehun poked the leg. Still no response. Maybe Lu Han was passed out? He grabbed the ankle then gave it a hard tug, only to stumble backward and fall flat on his rear.
The leg hadn’t been attached to anything, Sehun gawked at the disembodied limb in his hand. Hopefully Lu Han was okay. On the bright side, this meant he wasn’t tracking a moving target, or at least a very slow one. On the down side, Lu Han wouldn’t be able to escape anything with just one leg.
Sehun suddenly felt something nudge his back. Whirling around, he saw a purple striped arm laying behind him and, immediately, the torrent of profanity he had prepared to shout died in his throat. Surely the arm wasn’t there before.
Right before his eyes the hand flexed and the arm began pulling itself toward him, like some warped spider. Sehun had a feeling that this wasn’t the most bizarre thing he’d ever seen but it was mildly frustrating that now, at best, he had two of Lu Han’s appendages with no Lu Han in sight.
Just then the arm finished crawling to his front and flopped over, index finger extended. Sehun only stared at it. He wasn’t really prepared for this situation.
Again the arm angrily gestured, and it struck Sehun that it was pointing. He looked off into the direction Lu Han’s arm was pointing, and the Earth tilted just a bit.
Really stupid. A few steps away was a small clearing. White clumps of doll stuffing were strewn all over the ground, and in the middle of it all was Lu Han, far less than intact.
Scooping up the leg and arm, Sehun rushed over to the clearing and knelt down next to Lu Han, giving him a once over. It wasn’t a pleasant sight. Lu Han’s eyes were closed but, if he could manipulate his arm, surely he was fine? Both legs had been torn off from around his upper thighs. The detachment site was marked by frayed threads and fluff spilling out of the ends. That was pretty much blood for Lu Han, and Sehun felt his heart hurt. Lu Han’s usually neat outfit had long claw marks over the front. He had only managed to keep one arm attached. Baekhyun had certainly done a number on him.
The doll’s eyes fluttered open.
“Um… I can fix you, but the stuff is at my place. Would you mind if I carried you back there? I’m assuming being fixed is on your priorities list.”
With the one arm he still had, Lu Han reached for Sehun.
Sehun held onto the hand, “Before I pick you up do you have any idea where your other leg might be?”
Lu Han pointed toward a nearby bush and, like the argyle leg, this one was also sticking out foot first.
It didn’t take too long to lug Lu Han back to the cabin, around ten minutes though it seemed longer. Sehun hoped the experience wasn’t too demeaning for him, given the unusual state of Lu Han’s form at the present. Sehun had to exercise some creativity in carrying all of him back.
Unfortunately, the easiest solution ended up being holding Lu Han like a bride while Lu Han had an arm wrapped around Sehun’s neck, disembodied limbs piled on Lu Han’s chest.
“Can you open the door for me, Lu Han?”
The doll nodded and Sehun bent his knees so that Lu Han was level with the door. Unwinding his arm from around Sehun’s neck, Lu Han turned the handle and pushed. His arm quickly shot back to Sehun’s chest when Sehun walked into the cabin.
Lu Han tensed in Sehun’s arms when they stepped in. Sehun laughed weakly. “Ah yeah, sorry I didn’t tell you anything. I wanted to try making you a mouth.”
Lu Han’s eyes widened as he glanced around the room. Strewn all over the floor were papers depicting the many mouths that Sehun had devised. Some of the papers even had practice stitching on them.
“I’ll ask for your permission after I sew your limbs back on. Think about it, okay?” Sehun sat Lu Han down on the edge of the bed, then took the arm and legs off of Lu Han’s chest and placed them to the side. If Lu Han’s legs were attached at the moment, they would have been dangling over the edge. As it was, all Lu Han could do was awkwardly grip the sheets with his one arm and try to maintain balance.
“I’m going to start with your arm,” Sehun declared, grabbing said limb. “You said you don’t have any feeling in your rag parts right? Will this hurt you?”
Lu Han shook his head, and Sehun released a breath he wasn’t aware he was holding. That Lu Han would be in pain was his biggest concern. “Did it hurt when Baekhyun attacked you?” He asked, walking over to the desk to pick up his trusty fish bone needle and string. Turning around he saw Lu Han shake his head again.
“Hmm, seems like you’ll need new clothes too.” Lu Han watched as Sehun prodded the site where his arm was ripped off. He had a fair amount of stub remaining.
Sehun continued to chatter. Half the time Lu Han wasn’t sure if Sehun was addressing him or himself, but at least it wasn’t silent. He listened as Sehun absentmindedly talked about how the cabin had some clothes that would most likely be too large for him, though Sehun quickly added that he could tailor them to fit. Lu Han’s eyes slid shut; the feeling of Sehun gently tending to his arm was a familiar comfort. He couldn’t place where it was familiar from, however. It made Lu Han think back to Him. Lu Han wasn’t awake for when He had been working on him but he remembered the feeling, how gentle He was…
Lu Han opened his eyes. Sehun had stopped and he was frowning.
“Your arm needs replacement stuffing! I don’t think I have anything that could work though.” Sehun was mumbling to himself again. Lu Han tugged on Sehun’s sleeve while praying that he didn’t lose balance. It was okay if he was under-stuffed he didn’t--
A loud rip echoed through the small room as Sehun tore his pillow in half, sending feathers everywhere, “That should do it,” he said happily.
That put Sehun out of a pillow, didn’t it? Lu Han was perplexed. Surely Sehun ripping his pillow apart was unnecessary. He quickly retracted that thought when Sehun began stuffing feathers into his arm. In short order he had Lu Han’s arm properly stuffed and completely reattached.
“Move it around,” Sehun encouraged, then placed his hands on Lu Han’s waist, “I’ll keep you balanced.”
Lu Han moved his newly repaired arm, astounded to find it in full working order. His eyes darted toward the stitches and he nearly jumped. They were exactly the same as before, even Lu Han couldn’t work out how to do that kind of stitch so how did Sehun do it?
“Is it okay?”
Sehun smiled as Lu Han eagerly nodded his head. “I’m glad.” Moving his hands to Lu Han’s shoulders he mentally braced himself for a possibly awkward situation. “I-I’m going to do your legs now.” He was dead, he shouldn’t be able to blush, yet somehow he felt his cheeks heat up anyway. “U-um I apologise right now for any inappropriate touching.”
Sehun pulled the desk stool closer and sat on it. Readying everything, he grabbed the wrecked pillow bundle closer then gently tilted Lu Han back so that he was laying flat on his back. He mumbled a quick “Sorry” as he cupped the sides of Lu Han’s rear with both hands, adjusting the doll so that his upper back was still on the bed while his bottom was on Sehun’s knees.
It didn’t make a difference to him that Lu Han wasn’t composed of flesh--the intimacy of the situation lingered on his mind. No matter how many times he tried to assure himself that things would only be awkward if he made them awkward, his mind kept darting to the subtle weight of Lu Han’s bottom on his knees, how comfortably Lu Han’s thigh fit in his hand.
No, Sehun shut his eyes tight then opened them; he had to focus now. Lu Han would probably throttle him if he didn’t have his legs aligned properly when he sewed them back on, focusing would be responsible. Still though, Lu Han’s thigh was soft under his fingertips as he wound the needle back and forth, occasionally stuffing a few feathers in to maintain shape.
When Sehun finished attaching the leg, he froze as the leg hooked itself over his shoulder. If Sehun didn’t know better he would have thought it was flirtatious though, thinking about it, that was probably the most comfortable place for Lu Han to rest his leg.
Liking Lu Han never came up on his mind--he was simply drawn in. If asked to explain it, Sehun was certain he wouldn’t be able to. He took Lu Han’s other leg and held it to the corresponding leg stump. He had to finish this then leave immediately after, before he did something stupid. The end game wasn’t to save Lu Han, and it wasn’t solely to rehabilitate him either. Spending time with Lu Han also gave Sehun something to do but that wasn’t it either; somehow, holding Lu Han and gently tending to him like this felt so familiar and right. Maybe he had been a doctor before?
“Hey, get up,” Sehun murmured, smacking Lu Han’s bum. “Walk around for a little bit. Your legs should be fine now but I want to be certain.”
Lu Han lightly jabbed his heel against Sehun’s back before sliding his leg off Sehun’s shoulder. All his limbs appeared to be, more or less, at the same state they were before that unfortunate run in with Baekhyun in the forest. A thank you to Sehun was in order, but how? He didn’t have his sketchbook on him.
Frustrated, he glared down at his hands. By now he should have been long over his muteness, but it wasn’t his fault that he constantly found himself reminded that he couldn’t communicate with everyone else like a normal person. He had already lost count of all the times he wished he could punch his message into others, or throw words at them or something.
Instead he threw his arms around Sehun’s neck. He saw someone doing that in a picture a long, long time ago. This would have to suffice for a thank you.
“Oh,” Sehun gasped as Lu Han held onto him. That reminded him of something.
“So what do you think about my previous offer? Fixing your mouth?”
Lu Han pulled back and nodded. That wasn’t a question. It wasn’t as if he had anything to lose.
Apparently, Sehun had thought otherwise given how his eyes widened. “Really? In that case, can you take a seat on the bed again? I want to check something.”
Lu Han did as asked then found Sehun sitting next to him, brushing a thumb over his mouth stitches. “Okay, since apparently no one bothered to find out I need to ask you some questions. I’m feeling something hard behind your mouth stitches. Do you have a mouth?”
Lu Han looked down. He wasn’t so sure how to answer that. He did his “kinda maybe” gesture.
“Well, are the stitches inhibiting your ability to use your mouth?”
Lu Han shook his head.
“Then may I cut them off?”
Lu Han nodded, and Sehun brought out a short knife from his pocket that he’d been buried with. Raising the blade he cut through the thick black string that composed the mouth stitches and pulled it all away, only to find that absolutely nothing had been behind the stitches. Brushing a thumb over where the stitches had been, Sehun felt some movement behind the burlap and a slight rise and indentation as well. Now he had an idea of why Lu Han was so reluctant to give a yes or no answer regarding the existence of his mouth.
“Do you have teeth?” Lu Han nodded. “A tongue?” Another nod.
Sehun moved onto the next question; his theory was turning out to be correct so far. “You have a complete and functioning mouth but no one made you lips that can part?”
Bingo, Sehun thought watching as Lu Han nodded emphatically. “I’ll see you at the cafe tomorrow? I think we can start then.”