Chapter 6 - "Syrupy Slopes"

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Only I'm right. Everything has turned into sweets. Windows to crystalized sugar. Walls to gingerbread. Desks to marzipan cakes. Computers to marshmallows. Whiteboards to tarts with jam writing. Floor and ceiling to giant lollipops. I'd bet anything there's syrup running through the water pipes.

"Laaace!"

"Cruuush!"

Marmie and Harry's distorted voices reach us from the hallway. Sound travels oddly through a confectionery structure. Crush kicks a person-sized hole in the wall, almost hitting Jim, who was right on the other side.

"You!" Jim yells, extending a menacing feathery wing towards him, but then turns to me. "Lace, are you alright?"

I quickly get them up to the speed. The message. The locked door. The Banana hostage situation.

"Loudmouth's plumb crazy!" Marmie reacts. "If anything happens to Banana, I'mma jerk a knot in their tail!"

"You're awfully quiet," Jim accuses Crush.

Crush hesitates, not answering straight away. "There are many things I've kept hidden, and for darn good reasons," he eventually admits. His eyes are dead serious. "But there's no time for stories. Instead, I will break it down into short confessions as we make our way to the auditorium – I'm certain Loudmouth is keeping Banana there."

"The auditorium?" Jim frowns.

"Of course!" Harry has an epiphany. "That's why we heard Loudmouth so well! Auditoriums amplify sounds."

We roll our eyes and Crush giggles, "Loudmouth is indeed the kind of person who relishes the sound of their own voice. And enjoys a very good spectacle. So... Give me a chance?"

I'm torn between Jim's warning and Crush's heartfelt words. The ceiling tremors slightly. Crush looks at me so intently, it's hard to think he's lying. My insides afire, I declare, "You have my vote of confidence. We'll listen." The ceiling explodes into candy corn.

"Our emotions influence the changes," Crush calmly remarks. "Ok, here it goes. Confession #1: Lace Heavensmall... I love you. I've loved you since middle school."

The computer lab turns into a huge wave of gummy bears, out to swallow us. Crush takes my hand, we join the others in the hallway and start running between rows of biscuit and chocolate bar lockers.

"Confession #2: I know Loudmouth. Personally."

A leak near the toilets has the ground covered in maple syrup. Marmie slips. Harry helps her to her feet. A wall near them disintegrates into a pile of heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies. Take a hint, Marmie!

"Confession #3: I was involved in the satellite experiment. Jim didn't know."

We awkwardly bounce down the pudding stairs.

"Confession #4: I created the AI that manipulates the satellites."

I help Jim, whose bottom feathers got stuck to the last step.

"Confession #5: I made a backdoor into the software so I can disable it if need be. The system self-destructs if the backdoor is forcefully removed."

I suddenly remember the story of Hansel and Gretel.

"Confession #6: Freak Week occurs when Loudmouth attempts to run the system we built."

The witch lured them into the gingerbread house to eat them.

"Confession #7: Each year it takes me about a week to locate and remotely disable the machine Loudmouth sets up. Freak Week lasting a week is just a coincidence."

But Gretel was smarter and threw the witch into the oven.

"Confession #8: The only way to remove the backdoor safely is by breaking all the security layers I've added around it."

Lace, you have to be smart and courageous, too. Cook Loudmouth and save Banana!

"Confession #9: Lace, you literally are the key to bypass it. Your favorite lyric from your favorite band. Your favorite chocolate. A recording of you singing in music class. A strand of your hair. I used these and more as passkeys."

"Why would Loudmouth threaten Lace with destruction and death, when, based on your story, they'd need her alive?" Jim retaliates.

"I have all the data, Lace is not necessary. Loudmouth was indirectly letting me know he found out and threatening to hurt her if I didn't surrender."

We arrive at the auditorium, its main entrance now turned into sour jelly belts.

"Ugh, so sour," Harry grimaces as he tastes it.

"Fitting," Marmie remarks.

"Wait, Crush, did you say 'he' earlier?" I note.

"Yes, 'he'," Crush admits as he opens the door. "Confession #10: Loudmouth... is my older brother, Lester."

Curtains and walls of sour belts, seats of super-sour candy - the taste Lester's heart must have. I reflexively purse my lips.

"Crush," Lester's nauseatingly sugary voice welcomes us from the middle of the aisle. "Oh, the whole group is here. How nice!"

My enraged feline instinct is to attack, but I notice Banana quietly sitting behind him and stop in my tracks. I knew she was too nice to fight!

"Hand over the girl if you value your life!" Mr. Kevin storms in from a lateral entrance, holding what looks like a big water gun. "Or else you'll face my honey-gun!"

"How menacing," Lester mocks him.

"I'm not an object to be handed over," Banana erupts. Her tears turn into lemon drops as they touch the floor. "I'm not a hostage, I'm here of my own volition. I've been helping Lester. I sent that screenshot on purpose. I wrote the message on the whiteboard. I LIKE FREAK WEEK! It's the only time our inner freaks come out and bring us together into this tacky, messy, but kaleidoscopic kind of friendship. WHY CAN'T IT ALWAYS BE LIKE THIS? I didn't want Freak Week to end before you bunch of idiots finally accepted your true feelings, your true selves. Even if that meant helping the bad guy!"

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