Landis sits on the back porch of the lake house, listening to the sound of Grace pulling Abbie’s car out of the driveway, taking Abbie back to the Sheriff’s department. Officially, it’s nothing more than a citizen’s arrest. But Abbie confessed to murder, and Grace had handcuffs, so it’s better than nothing. Landis hugs his knees to his chest, watching the lake, his eyes tracing the shape of its bank in the dim light.
“You think she’ll go to jail?” Mal asks from the doorway. His voice is still a little raspy, but he can raise it above a whisper now, which sounds like progress to Landis.
“Probably,” Landis says. “Or not. I mean, I’m one to talk.”
Mal barks out a laugh. “Fair.”
He comes to sit next to Landis, somehow configuring his body so it doesn’t pass right through the porch. Leaning forward and curling up, he presses his cheek against his thigh as he turns to look at Landis. The bruises on his neck look fresher than they did before, two distinct thumbprints standing out in brilliant purple on his brown skin. Landis feels sick looking at them, and glances away quickly.
“Did Amber…” he starts, and falters. “I mean, did she really…?”
“Did Abbie kill her?” Mal asks. His voice is light, almost conversational, but there’s something in it that Landis can’t quite read. “Yeah. She’s gone. Poof.”
Landis swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. I never should have let them come here. If I hadn’t agreed to the plan, this might never have happened. Amber might still be alive.
“I’m glad you’re, uh, still -” he stammers to Mal, tongue tripping over the word alive, because Mal isn’t, really, as much as they both like to pretend. Landis takes a breath, tries again. “I’m glad Abbie didn’t kill you, too.”
“Yeah, being murdered sounds like a real drag,” Mal says, completely deadpan, and it startles a laugh out of Landis that he didn’t know he had in him.
The sound of the sliding glass door opening from behind them makes Landis and Mal both turn, even though there’s only one other person in the lake house who has to use doors, so it should be evident who’s coming to join them. Otter smiles shyly at Landis as he steps out onto the porch, lit from behind by the fluorescent kitchen lights.
“Sorry to intrude on your alone time.”
“It’s okay,” Landis says, trying to smile back. “I’m not really alone, anyway. Mal’s here.”
“Oh,” Otter says. He sinks down into the dirty lawn chair, the same chair Landis sat in, waiting for his friends to crawl back up out of the lake after throwing them in. Landis thinks of saying something, and doesn’t. “How - I mean, is he okay?”
“Copacetic,” Mal mutters hoarsely.
“He’s fine,” Landis tells Otter, “and he says thank you for asking.”
Mal makes a noise of protest that Landis doesn’t dignify with a response. Otter looks relieved, but doesn’t say anything, leaning back in the lawn chair and looking out at the lake for a long time. Landis and Mal do the same, shoulder-to-shoulder on the porch steps.
“It’s pretty out here,” Otter says, finally.
Landis shrugs. “I guess.”
“I mean, if you didn’t know what all happened here, it’d be a nice place to live,” Otter clarifies, sounding a little sheepish. “You ever think about selling the house?”
“I don’t think I want anyone else to live here,” Landis says.
It feels cursed, he thinks, but doesn’t add. Even without anything possessing the lake, it feels like bad things are still meant to happen here. I’d rather have it sit around unused than run the risk of more people getting killed, or killing themselves here.
“You could just burn the place down,” Mal says. His voice is thoughtful - there’s no trace of malice in it. “Save yourself the trouble of paying the bills anymore.”
It’s not the worst idea. At the very least, it’s one Landis has considered before, in the past. He’s pretty sure he couldn’t get convicted for arson if it was on a property that he owned, especially if he didn’t try to collect any insurance money after the fact. And if people suspected that he was the one who burned down the place, so what? Still others would suspect someone else in town of doing it - almost certainly, there are still people in town who aren’t pleased about a serial killer leaving the Sheriff’s custody with nothing but a slap on the wrist.
“You went quiet,” Otter says.
“I was thinking,” Landis says, running his hands through his hair, pushing it back out of his face. It’s almost too dark to make out the shape of the lake, now, but he still stares ahead of him, eyes searching for the glimmering surface of the water.
“I know.” Landis smiles. “Mal said I should burn the house down. I was thinking about it.”
He doesn’t turn around to see the expression on Otter’s face, when Otter falls silent again. Neither does Mal, for that matter. Landis can feel Mal’s eyes on him, boring a hole into him as if to say, Well? Are you going to do it, though?
“What were you thinking about it?” Otter asks, and Landis can tell he’s choosing his words carefully. Landis unfolds his legs on the porch steps, resting his face in his hands and shrugging a little.
“Nothing in particular. Just entertaining the idea.”
“Would you really do it?”
This time, Landis does look over his shoulder. “Would you try to stop me if I did?”
As expected, Otter looks taken off guard, his mouth opening and closing for a moment like a fish out of water. He doesn’t look afraid, though, which is what Landis was also expecting. Fear, shouting, maybe the word “crazy” being slung around. But Otter does none of those things.
“You’d need a lot of gasoline,” Otter says.
“There’s a gas stove,” Landis and Mal say, almost in tandem. Landis grins in spite of himself.
Otter furrows his eyebrows thoughtfully. “You’d run the risk of starting a wildfire, if you did it now. In the winter, though -” he cuts himself off. “You’re not joking, are you? You’re really thinking about burning the place down.”
Landis shrugs his shoulders up to his ears. “I’m open to other suggestions.”
Otter laughs. Improbably, Mal does too. Landis turns back around, towards the lake, still smiling. Somehow, despite all the shit life has thrown at him today, he doesn’t feel like crawling into a hole and dying. Things might not ever be normal, or stable, not in Antlers, but it’s nice to know he can still feel happy, for at least a few minutes.
“I should call Austin,” Otter says, abruptly, and Landis’s mood sinks like a stone.
That’s right. Austin is still in the mine. Or maybe he’s not - maybe he’s home, and he’s been trying to get in touch with the two of us, to say he’s safe. Maybe everyone’s worried when there’s really nothing to worry about.
“Oh, thank God,” a voice from above them says.
Landis looks up just in time to see Richard materializing, the light of the quarter-moon filtering dully through his translucent body. Landis’s stomach turns. Okay, so maybe the worst possible thing happened after all.
“I’ve been looking all over for you all.” Richard’s voice sounds off - almost like he’s been crying. Landis feels nauseous. “Austin’s - he was in the mines, and he made a deal with a demon - and -”
He takes a shuddering breath, clearly trying to compose himself. Otter looks strangely at Landis, following his gaze upwards towards Richard, squinting towards the moon.
“What’s up there?” he asks.
Landis can feel bile in his throat. He tries to swallow past it, gripping the porch step and digging his nails into the old, splintering wood, and opens his mouth to try and explain.