I wanted to give y’all a trigger warning for assorted suicide mentions. Otherwise, our stage is set for Room 249 of the Hunters Guild housing, and thus we begin.)
Loneliness is a funny emotion. It makes you miss the people you don’t love. The people you used to shout at. The people you never knew you needed. Or at least didn’t want to need. Hilarious, really. Your body can be packed with muscles, your brain overflowing with characters and other worlds, but that doesn’t make you immune. Not always. Not forever.
That was awfully poetic, actually. I should write a book someday. I’ve got the time for it. All I need now is a really good story.
“I’m not going to ask again, Kit!” the Mightyena barked. Louder this time, though I hadn’t thought it possible. “Open this door. Robin’s orders!”
I rolled over in my bed of potted ferns and sprouts and shrubs. Stretched. Started to get up, then… eh, changed my mind at the sight of the dull, pale brown room. Someone down the hall popped open a door and called for Thames to shut his jaws. I heard him slash his claws across my wall.
A second voice, softer than leaves. “Come on, Kit. You know why we’re here. Let’s not make this harder than it needs to be.”
I stared through the glass door in front of my face and onto the rear balcony. It didn’t have a floor anymore - not a solid one. Just a lush carpet of overgrown marigolds and lilies and kudzu vines. Purple streetlamps glowed in the dark city beyond and below. I hadn’t tired of the view in the last two and a half years.
“My partner is right, though,” Sen continued. A little more bravado crept into his voice. “Kit. You need to open this door.”
“I can smell you!”
“He can smell you.”
Probably. I hadn’t bathed for… months? Sure, let’s go with months. At last, but no less reluctantly than before, I shed my blanket of small potted plants and turned my attention to picking round yellow-green leaves and mushy overripe berries out from between the folds in my rust-colored scarf. Hardly seeing, hardly hearing, I drifted past the tilted, cracked mirror on its legs that faced Roland’s bed and bobbed to one of the plant-covered sets of drawers.
“We aren’t here to pick a fight,” insisted Thames, undoubtedly standing there with his gray and black fur puffed like a Quilfish around his pointed ears. “And we don’t plan to go away.”
Pause. My brass room key, thick and round, clicked against wood as I dragged it from the dresser and floated over. Two of my ghostly thin fingers fit inside the loop. I’d always half-wanted to put it on a chain, because Roland’s was on a chain, and he wore it absolutely everywhere he went out, even when he was sleeping with the pretty girls. Not that I would know or anything. Not like I care.
“All right,” Thames growled when I chose not to answer him.
“I’m going to shove it open,” warned Sen. I could hear the Absol shifting around, orienting himself in the brown, brown hallway. Claws snagged in thin reddish carpet. “One.”
“Two,” the Mightyena chimed in.
But the worst part about loneliness, I think, is that you don’t even have to be alone for it to take you.
I deliberately waited until I heard the soft scrape of Sen’s paws sliding over wood. Then I jerked the door inward. The Absol slipped and stumbled from two feet back to four with a cute little “Ah!” Thames put up his hackles when he saw me.
“Good morning, Sen,” I stated crisply, sliding my one glowing eye from my right socket to my left. “Thames.”
The Mightyena tightened his jaw, his brown, brown shawl fluttering around his neck. “It’s evening.”
“Is it?” I tipped my head to one side, which sent the eye rattling back to the right. “How quickly time flies when you’re dreading being kicked from your only home to survive on the streets at the start of winter.”
If Sen’s dark face could have turned turned darker with a furry flush, it would have. His gaze fell to his paws. I could practically hear the sweat coursing between all that silky fluff. “It’s just probation.”
Easy for him to talk. His kind were mountain dwellers. That thick coat of his would allow him to buffer his way through a blizzard without catching so much as frostbite.
I floated up and hooked my room key on the tip of Sen’s curved horn. “Where to, boys?”
“About your plants-”
“Burn them all,” I said, swishing past his shoulder as the Absol turned his head to follow me. “I don’t care anymore.”
Didn’t want to, anyway.
We moved downstairs. A little red Duskull in the lead, clinging to a set of purple and pale blue ceramic bracelets on the right hand, because said shiny Duskull had worn them for years and wasn’t about to stop now. Thames followed close behind with the breath from his jaws hot on my left shoulder. Sen brought up the rear for a time. His quick steps brought the fluttery shh, shh sound of his fur to the little pink Slakoth ear hidden beneath my ghostly form, all tattered and pockmarked with burns from the day I’d killed myself. Suicide’s a cruel joke when it ends up winning you immortality you never asked for and still wish you could end.
Down the stairs. My tail rippled behind me, flicking back and forth and at times spinning to propel me on. We passed a Lickitung, a Girafarig, an Emolga with a brown hat whose name I vaguely remembered and willingly forgot. As we rounded the next corner and the front hall of my beloved Hunters Guild came into view up ahead, all stone arches and cheerful gargoyles and chipped mahogany pillars and soft faded chairs made of something that wasn’t leather or any domestic Pokémon-based product. I glanced smoothly at Thames over my shoulder.
“Thank you for the escort. I can find my way out from here.”
He dipped his head, but he and Sen stayed hovering where they were, blocking my path further into the Guild, until I’d flitted past the couches of Grass- and Flying-Type Pokémon having pleasant evening conversations - Riley, Tuesday, Amanda, Cotton, and Harrison were a few faces I convinced myself I recognized - and I passed through the propped-open double glass doors, and that was it.
Kit, the shiny Duskull who had no surname he or she or they would ever acknowledge, was officially on probation, homeless, and hungry.
No, I corrected myself, not hungry. How could I possibly be hungry? Robin had scolded me. Roland had ditched me to migrate south to Valdascatch for the winter despite my best efforts to trick him into staying another year in Andalusst. I was merely numb.
Roland was out there now, in the Fog and the storms, and probably lost to time and space for the rest of even my long life. Gods, he was such a stupid ‘Class G semi-feral’, as he always insisted, like being biologically half-brainless was something for the half of him that was actually sentient to be grateful for. The perfect excuse. Enough of him to flirt with pretty faces. Enough of him to pretend it was all instinctive and excusable.
I could still remember how much crap I gave him when he brought his first female - a Swanna - home to our room. I came in from tending my plants on the balcony to find them doing something interesting that involved a lot of chirping and giggles beneath a blanket. It was cute, actually, to watch that foul-mouthed Togetic I barely knew brought so low so fast by a pair of fluttering eyelashes. Roland always talks big like he’s the one taking the lead when it comes to that type of mortal procreative thing, but really he’s the softest and squishiest feather bundle, and does it all mostly for the snuggles. It’s the only way he knows how to get them.
He finally glanced over and noticed I was there curled up on top of the dresser, my one Duskull eye blazing in the dark. At first he ignored me, and I let them go on doing what they were until it was all done. After she’d left the following morning, he acted like I was causing problems by choosing to spend the night in my own room. “You don’t even have to sleep except once every few months, Kitty-Kat,” he’d whined, his huge wings hanging low and his neck stretched upward, feathers prickling around his face. The way he always looked when he was getting flustered and his voice was straining towards cracking. “Just go play with your marigolds and gooseberries!”
“I never told you those were gooseberries,” had been my amused response, and he’d gotten so upset by my teasing that he’d flung himself off the balcony and disappeared for hours. After that, he started playing with his little damsels elsewhere, so some nights I had the apartment all to myself. Other times there were no girls, but he drained our funds dry at this bar, that bar, every bar. I worked hard with my plants to pay off all the debts he racked up, because I was a Ghost-Type and I really didn’t need much, and why shouldn’t he get to enjoy himself?
After awhile I started tagging along with him, usually locking onto his shadow with my Shadow Sneak. He was the first one to take my hand and draw me out of it… squeeze my shoulder against his and shout for another round for his roommate while I squeaked feeble protests, his cheerful heart thumping so loud in my ear… Gods, I hated him so much.
My meandering brought me down to the corner of Oldfar Road and Samway Street. Snow dumped from the top of the signpost and onto my hood as I swept past it. I let it stay and merely adjusted my scarf against my shoulder.
“Hhhh,” I sighed.
I wish… I could make friends, instead of enemies. Maybe they would take me in, since my own family can’t. Or won’t, rather. Proof enough that we’re related.
Roland makes it look easier than propagating creeping charlies. He can flit straight up to a Doduo offering juice samples at the swap meet, brace his thin arm against the crate that makes up her stall, and chat for twenty minutes longer than absolutely necessary while I cling uncertainly behind his wings and try not to draw attention to myself despite being one of only three red Duskull in all of Andalusst.
I found myself steering that way, to where that pleasant swap meet was held so long ago, and where it still is most days of the week, except for Wednesday and Sunday. It spills across three streets in front of the Researchers Guild, then. Bubbling voices, warm bodies, clinking coins.
With evening fast sweeping the city, the place was deserted. I traced my hands along the smooth, almost metallic walls of the Guild as I slunk past one of the back entrances. Nyati roomed there, in the Researchers Guild itself. They wouldn’t let a Hunter in, even with the Bouffalant girl and I being distant relatives.
What were my other options? I’d half-heartedly taught a yoga class once or twice when I was scraping for cash Roland had burned, but I didn’t know any of my ‘students’ well enough to request they allow me into their homes. The Puddings were afraid of Ghosts. I’d learned that for myself at the ambassador’s festival the previous night. And I was afraid of Aurora’s friend. I really hoped he wouldn’t wake up.
I paused beneath one of the streetlamps, which shifted from a dark blue-purple glow to more of a white as the wind blew. My fingers slipped from my bony mask with its three short fangs, floated for a moment, and finally I turned my left hand insubstantial and jabbed it straight through the sidewalk, into the ghostly world of the Underside.
Roland? Where are you now?
My hand traced out the touch of his shadow, familiar to me after all the times I’d used my Shadow Sneak to lock onto it. Still heading south, and not fast. He’d veered pretty far to the west. I wondered if that snowstorm we were supposed to be getting had already swept him off course.
Hmph. No duh, I was worried for him. Roland was entering his fourth year, and he’d never migrated once until now. As far as I knew, he hadn’t even found a flock to accompany him. It was a long, freezing flight, and no one to watch his back from predatory dragons or lightning bolts.
Best case scenario and he made it to Valdascatch, would he even want to come back when his migration had ended? And then to me? We had parted on pretty poor terms, shouting like that after I’d possessed him against his will at the party. He hadn’t gotten to hear my apology speech. Could he even find Andalusst again? It always felt like we got a completely new shipment of migrators every year.
The birds born fully wild-blooded knew what they were doing in winter. But Roland was a Togetic. Inherently, they loved everyone much too much to be wild - just feral - and then he’d been tamed from there. He’d been snagged by the caress of civilization early and that was why he could speak. But they couldn’t weed the feral out of him, and now I was paying the price.
I felt sick, and Ghosts aren’t really supposed to, unless they’ve been possessing someone or taking their sweet time through the Underside. If only I could receive some small sign - any sign - that he was safe.
Ugh, I thought. I placed a hand to my forehead again, squeezing my eye to a slit. I wish Mother’s gods were real.
When I raised my eye to the night sky again, I caught a glimpse of shadowy movement up there between the sweeping clouds. The shape of a V. Birds. Some Taillow, and some Starly. Migrating for the winter? Perhaps.
“… Wait. Wait!” Like a spring, I shot down the cobblestone road, trying desperately to keep pace like a blood-splattered shadow. “Are you flying south?”
The birds soared on into the stars and clouds, silent and rustling. I narrowed my eye even further, grabbing at my scarf for one of the berries I always kept tucked away in that pocket. I don’t just wear it in my unusually-tied way around my arms without good reason, you know.
“Don’t ignore me!”
Natural Gift, don’t fail me now.
With the power of the lum berry flooding my senses, my arms took on a sky blue glow. I sprouted transparent feathers, all of them glittering in the slanted light of the conspiratory streetlamps. Up. Down. Up-
I was halfway to the flock, the buildings spread below me, when my wings shimmered out. I was a Ghost and didn’t lose my height- merely my thrust. Even with my arms flailing (or perhaps because of it), my clear feathers fell from my wispy skin and swirled into nothingness.
Feathers stolen, I hovered uncertainly high above the city, clutching my hands. I didn’t have another lum berry hidden in my scarf. Only one leppa and two orans. Fighting-Type, Poison-Type, no, no, no…
The rush of wind buffeted me to one side. My long tail whipped, and one of my arms partially dissolved before reforming disjointed from the socket. I flipped backwards, lopsided as another breeze pushed at me. My fingers, after a lot of floundering and spiralling downwards, closed around the lip of a wall encircling the roof of some apartment complex. I wrenched myself around so that I was right-side up again. There I settled, my tail flicking back and forth behind me. The birds ahead swerved, flapping wildly and in patient sync, and I was left to watch as the black clouds of night and storm swallowed them whole.
Gone. Slowly, I oozed down the side of the building and melted in a heap against the sidewalk.
There were still passersby out at this time of night. They clopped on hooves or slithered on their bellies between the cobblestones in the road. One Blitzle pulled a small wagon after her- heading, presumably, for the Explorers Guild further south. South, ha. What a bitter taste.
Soft steps ceased a mere breath from my nose. I lifted my head. A Zorua I recognized - the two rings in her ear and the Shell Bell dangling from her neck confirmed that she was Grace, my saving grace - offered me her paw and a smile. Shyly, I accepted both and let her pull me upright.
She asked if I was fine. Did she know who I was? I didn’t find out. I’d been a member of the Hunters for years before she’d arrived. I’d watched her work, watched her grow, like I watched everyone who stepped through the glass doors. At last, at a street corner, after confirming one more time that I could manage and didn’t need an escort, she bounded off on her way to our Guild headquarters. I started to turn my head to follow her, but something else caught my eye first. Across the street, the name of a very small bar glowed with one simple word:
Roland? I shook my head hard, and when I squinted again, the name had changed into what the sign was actually supposed to say: Roll In and Out. In keeping with the theme, I rolled my eye from one socket to the other. That figured.
The handle of the bar door was, appropriately, a thick wooden bar stretching lengthwise across the glass. The sign above it said Push, but my arms said Can’t. I rattled the handle anyway, my tail flapping behind me as I shoved with all my limited Duskull strength. It was a mistake to shut my eyes when I did it, I suppose, since while I wasn’t watching, a Sandshrew from inside the bar pulled the door open for me. My fingers slipped from the handle, and I smacked on my face and arms against the hardwood floor.
“Couldn’t phase through the wall, bucko?”
“I can only pass through glass, dummy,” I whispered under my breath. Or would have, if Ghost-Types breathed. My strengths lay in possession, not transubstantiation or shapeshifting. I could hardly travel through the Underside. And although the door was glass, my solid scarf and bracelets couldn’t have followed me through. I would not abandon those. They were cheap, ugly, old, and replaceable, and at the moment I quite literally loved them more than my own life.
But I didn’t say any of that. I didn’t need to justify myself. Not to that tone. Not today.
“You’re just in time for a drink, since I was about to close up,” chirped the chubby barmaid behind the counter, voice low. I turned my head to find a Sealeo there. A pale blue Sealeo with the usual tan throat and feathery white mustache at her ugly round snout. Lantern light glinted off her shiny bald head. I eyed her sharp tusks.
“You look baaaad,” scoffed the only other patron - a Mareep - as I took a blue-padded stool beside him at the counter. I mumbled something in the affirmative, avoiding his gaze. I wasn’t really the type to cause conflict.
The Sealeo leaned against her side of the counter, propping herself up on a thick flipper like an arm. “Linette du Spring’s the name. What can I soak you with, stranger?”
“Something spicy, and hit it hard. I don’t care.”
The Mareep turned his head. “Big bad Mightyena looks as though he’s taken a bite out a’ your luck.”
I mumbled something in the affirmative again.
“Enjoy the festival yesterday night?”
Linette was out of ice. She pushed the button on her bulky machine with all its whirring gears again and glanced over her shoulder at me. Then, when she thought I wasn’t looking, she tilted my cup and blew in a stream of frost. Ice chunks materialized. Not wanting to embarrass her, I said nothing. Even when she shoved the glass across the counter with a loud, “Here is your drink, sir or madam; please enjoy and come again.”
Amazingly, though the cup came within the width of an oran seed from tipping over completely, it didn’t spill. Instead, it settled back on its base, its insides sloshing and ice cubes clicking. I stared at it for a few seconds, and Linette stared at it too. Then she reached her flabby arm forward and inserted a straw. I continued to stare for a second more before, with a great sigh, I lifted the glass to my lip.
“Bottoms up,” I muttered, sliding the straw beneath the fangs of my mask.
I almost choked when I tasted the liquid inside. The cup came down fast with a hard rattle against wood.
“This is leppa juice.” Then I looked around. “This… is a juice shop.”
Linette, who had turned partway around, fumbled about to face me again. “Uh… yeah. Where did you think you were?”
I put a hand to my cheek and turned my head away. “Figures. I can’t even get drunk right.”
“Oh, rough week, friend.” That was an understatement. Between Robin’s presumably renewed hatred in me, the embarrassment I’d made of myself at the party in front of the Iaponese ambassador, how sick I felt after all that possessing, the debt Team Satin were in, Fen’s return to Andalusst, the fight I’d gotten in with Roland that had prompted his departure, and the absolute hopelessness of my fate of not moving on to a peaceful level of the afterlife until Parai had been restored of plants and new life to make up for all the damage I’d ever caused, I’d have killed myself already if I hadn’t known I’d just regenerate.
Her lips tightened in a grim half-smile. “If I could make an exception, I’d say your drink’s on me today.”
“Yeah, you could,” I replied, but it was hardly my forked purple tongue that said the words. My thoughts had wandered back to Roland’s smug face with its tall, pointed ears and soft feathery muzzle. His whiteness and purity, his snappy red and electric blue freckles, that incurable quirk to his right ear, the muscles rippling around his wings like waves amidst Iravian prairie grass…
Was it any real surprise? Roland was all I had. As a Ghost, I’d seen many faces come and go - most of them people I didn’t think were all that fab - but through some twist of fate, I had never met anyone quite like Roland before.
He wasn’t a prince. He was hardly a citizen. He was dirty and vulgar and foul-mouthed and ill-tempered. He was sexist, impulsive, gluttonous, clumsy, illiterate, accepting, noble and brave, a devoted worker, passionate…
Roland… liked me.
Such an absurd concept, that. No one liked me. Katherine Christopher “Kit” of the surname they would not acknowledge was an awful ‘mon by nature. Depressed and troublesome, chaotic and shy. I cared more for my plants than I sometimes did for others’ lives.
And yet, despite every flaw, Roland found something in me that he appreciated. He lay his hand against my dead, unfeeling cheek, and he brought me to life. A Duskull that feeds on negativity and a Togetic that feeds on happiness make for quite the pair.
Roland was the embodiment of everything that was meant to be in the world. Optimism. Socializing. Fun. He made me laugh when no one in the world could, because his genius blossomed from his gentle stupidity. Despite him disgusting me, he was my favorite ‘mon in the world. Why did I hate knowing that he saw me as his friend?
I know why. Because that hurts. When your best friend doesn’t count you as their best in return. When I gave him my everything, but being roommates with benefits wasn’t enough to make him stay.
Serpent below, I’m in love with someone I’ve forgotten how to hate.
“Get me another leppa,” I told Linette, shoving my empty juice cup across the counter as the Mareep beside me got to his two rear feet and stretched. When she closed her flipper around it, we touched for the briefest of moments. I let my fingers linger, until finally she eased the glass away. If she’d been Roland, she would have held them absently as she stared out the window, then turned to me with crooked teeth slightly parted at the sight of simple wonder in the evening streets.
I’d have murdered someone for the chance to tell him I was sorry. I’d curl my long, wispy tail around his ankle the way he liked, leaning forward with my folded arms on his knee.
One more night. Just one with the love god who considered me dirt, since I played in it so much, burying plants, burying emotions, burying dreams. One more night. Someone else’s blood on my hands for the taste of nacho cheese on his lips. I’d give anything to hear him whisper in my crumpled Slakoth ear that I actually mattered.
Linette’s casual bubbliness split me from my thoughts. “I’m about to shut ‘er down for the night. That’ll be half a starcoin, Red. A full coin if you want to be kind to your hostess with a tip.”
“Oh… Right.” As Linette set both her flippers on the counter, I pretended to fumble among my scarf. But the instant she blinked, I grabbed my freshly-filled glass of leppa juice and bolted. My barstool toppled with a smack. I shot past the Mareep, through the door he’d inadvertently held open for me, and zipped away down the street- leaving the Sealeo staring in bewilderment after me.
“Loser,” I chuckled to myself. By the time she made it to the door with that big flabby body, I’d be uncatchable.
Now I needed a place to go. I darted down the street, skimming past the Sugarplum Bakery and, around the corner, a flower shop with a Meowstic closing up for the evening. I turned onto Oldfar Road again. I had no lungs, no breath to catch, but sprawling myself across my potted ferns for the last eighteen hours had left me with a sore crick in my neck. Outside the Royal Guard Headquarters, I stopped to brace my free hand to the brick wall.
“Haha! Atta boy, Chris! Atta girl. What gender am I feeling like right now? Eh, I don’t care. I have leppa juice. I’m leppa juice gender.”
Linette had neglected to bring me a new straw. Talk about rude. I took hold of the center fang on my mask and shoved it upwards. On an empty street, by the purple light of a Litwik serving his shift in the nearest streetlamp, I leaned back and downed the contents of the glass in one gulp. My clumsy, dead mouth spilled most of the juice in what remained of my pink fur beneath my red-brown burn scars. I wiped it dry with the end of my orange scarf.
“Ha! I feel invincible! No wonder Roland likes stealing so much. That was fun. Oh, how I’ve missed the delinquent life. I’ve been a good leppa juice for too long.”
A street over, I heard Linette howl after me. I pricked my ears, my bravado crumbling instantly at the thought of facing down stern eyes and a disapproving snarl.
I glanced over my shoulder at the small Royal Guard Headquarters building. I couldn’t stay here. They could have me thrown in a holding cell for the night, and I was too broke and friendless to bail myself out.
A flyer fluttered.
No, not a flyer. A Wanted poster attached to the board on the wall, its end curled upwards like a scroll. We tended to pin up a lot of those in a troubled city like this. I tilted my head. As I pulled my mask back down, I lay my hand behind the parchment and lifted an artist’s rendition of a tall Gothita child with a swirled cowlick and thick, messy black bangs towards my face.
There wasn’t much time to think, and thinking before I acted wasn’t my greatest strength anyhow. Someone was approaching with a rumble, and likely it was Linette or some friend of hers with a square jaw and Emboar fists. I left the poster to sway on its tack in my wake. I knew a place to hide where that sea Miltank wouldn’t dare pursue.
Yeah, I knew the little punk. I made it my job to know people like him, and serpent below, get real- there probably wasn’t a soul in the city who didn’t know Rudy. His partner may be the biggest Pokémon Andalusst’s had to deal with for a couple centuries, but one has to wonder between the two of them which is actually the bigger name and bigger concern. He wasn’t on the poster because no one knew where he bedded down for the night. He was on the list because he was too slippery to catch off guard.
And, Marissa’s kind of my pal anyway. What can I say? I’m an environmentalist. Save the Wailords.
Even with the winds of the storm coming on, reaching Andalusst Lake wasn’t difficult when I could both see in the dark and fly. As I zigzagged from one cobblestone street to another, I didn’t even bother keeping a lookout to see if some random nocturnal straggler was on my tail. What were they gonna do- mug me? I was flat broke. Rape me? I have no freaking legs and my reproductive system literally only matches up with the ugliest of dating pools. Kill me? Ha. At least something interesting would happen around here. Being dead relieves a lot of anxiety, I think.
After leaving the buildings behind and shooting along the grass and dirt path beyond the city’s actual boundaries, I crested the hills and sped down the slope without pause. Weeds and yellow grass faded into churned-up sand. Lake water glistened on a fifteen-foot-tall body submerged only a third of the way. Warm Wailord breath billowed towards me from Marissa’s great gaping mouth, pushing me back up the hill. I tugged my scarf tighter and zoomed for the enormous violet eye on her right side- the one with the four pale ‘freckles’ beneath it rather than above.
“Marissa,” I hollered. My hands went around my mouth, as they had before the previous two times we’d spoken. “MAH-RIHS-UH!”
Her eye, with its pupil so wide I could have slipped through it if it were a hole, rolled around until it landed on me. She blinked a rapid blink, but did not verbally respond. She continued to hold her mouth open.
“Marissa, can I talk to you? Please?”
Obvious question, you might think, but I don’t like to cause problems. Sometimes. Once you get me talking I like to think my charisma is decent, but I can be a fat splatter of ectoplasm if picking the conversation topic or even getting the ball rolling is left up to me.
The Wailord was apparently occupied with doing… whatever it was she was doing. So I backflipped (since my spine bent that way much more easily than forwards) and flitted down to her great white teeth. Her breath smelled of wood, as it always did, and for the first time, I actually saw why.
Since settling down in Andalusst a mere few months ago, Rudy had evidently gone shopping. Shopping, or on a stealing spree, and the latter might have been a serious possibility if I hadn’t seen how little they were offering on the poster to land his butt behind bars. He’d turned Marissa’s mouth into a splendid living area, with a chest of drawers to the left and a table formed of wooden crates to the right. An enormous blue pillow - the kind advertized for Snorlaxs whose desire for activity couldn’t compete with their biological code - lay further back on her tongue. So that was Rudy’s bed, then. It had a yellow blanket thrown across it that may have been white once.
Other pieces of cloth and polished wood were strewn across the floor. Er, across Marissa’s tongue. The kid was legally blind, and for a moment the reason for the homely set-up with its decorative furniture and cute flowerpots escaped me. And then I remembered his inability to touch people without overloading his psychic powers with the effects of the uncontrollable mind reading, and subsequently blacking out. Our resident loco was playing ‘The ground is Slugma pee’.
Sure enough, when my eyes locked onto Rudy, he was standing on a short but solid rubber icebox. He leaned forward, peering down into Marissa’s gullet, with a plastic green lantern clutched in one fist. Each time she breathed, his dirty curls fluttered at the back of his neck.
And he wasn’t alone. A tall Mr. Mime crouched beside him, actually on Marissa’s bumpy tastebuds. And a female Mr. Mime at that, I would realize in a few minutes more. She made repetitive motions as though she were taking up and throwing small objects down the Wailord’s enormous throat. Both of them quickly became aware of my presence, however, and rotated halfway around with eyebrows raised.
“Um,” I said, shrinking into my shoulders.
The Mr. Mime (one of my previous conversations with Marissa had informed me her name was Autumn) glanced at Rudy. She upturned her enormous hands in my direction like, I did not sign up for dealing with two nutcases in the same night.
“I am not with hir!” The Gothita placed his knuckles against the bowtie on his chest. “You need an invitation?”
“Rudy.” My voice splintered. “Serpent below, Rudy. R-Roland’s gone and I just remembered that Marissa stops talking this late at night because she doesn’t want to wake up the entire city when she whispers and Rudy- Rudy, I want to die. Can I talk to you? C-can I just sit down and talk with you?”
Rudy frowned, his pale blue eyes flickering. As he spoke, he proved my hypothesis about ‘the floor is lava’ correct by leaping from his icebox to one of the wood pieces he’d set out, and then to another one, and then a raggedy green cloth. One foot came dangerously close to brushing the pink lumps on Marissa’s tongue as she shifted it in response to his weight. “That’s not really possible, is it? Die. Diet. Yes, Kit.” He said something else after that, but I was too busy second-guessing my decision to come here and watching him flap his arms that I missed it, until he caught his balance and blurted, “See how agreeable I am? What the-? Who are you?”
“You remember me. It’s Kit.”
“Hm,” he said, rubbing his snout with one finger. He licked off a bit of snot and set his lantern on the crates that made up his dish-covered and berry chunk-strewn table. “I do not know them, but they sound untalented.”
“Kit. We met a few weeks back when I accidentally triggered the memories of my death and spazzed out on all those trees, man. I tore things apart and plugged the trunks full of holes. Bummer of a day.”
Rudy pointed to his right. “My walls look like Hwris flipping cheese right now.”
Why do we subject ourselves to this? Every time. I don’t think there has ever been someone who’s spoken to the kid without low-key wanting to stab him in the throat.
Autumn tossed Rudy a reproachful look as she slung her green and white scarf over her shoulders. He pursed his lips, turning them temporarily from pink to red, and wished her farewell in his typical strange way. The Mr. Mime flicked one of her fluffy blue ears in reply and walked daintily past me without much of a glance.
“Guess she didn’t wanna be here,” Rudy chirped. He flicked a finger at a cardboard box full of random blue objects, like candy, Ducklett feathers, bottles of ink, and small washcloths. It turned blue around the edges too, along with his eyes and the three large white bows on his person, as he activated the Telekinesis he was best known for. The box lifted from its place beside Marissa’s surprisingly shiny teeth, folded its top, and settled itself beside the two crates in the center of her tongue. “Sit down, son; let me fill you in,” he offered. “What’s cookin’, good lookin’?”
“Don’t ever call me that again.”
“I’m just weak and I talk to myself.”
With a sweep of my tail, I settled my wispy self down. Cardboard squeaked beneath me. I folded my arms around my midsection, only to find that they were shaking hard. My tail twisted into a legitimate knot at the end.
Flick… What had happened? Not even a full day ago, I’d been at the top of the world. Here I was now, watching Wailord saliva seep into the woodwork and fabric of Rudy’s makeshift home in the middle of a lake that few people now dared to stray in during the day, and fewer still during the night.
“Now, please sign this contract so we can get this party started.” Rudy snapped his fingers. The blue light left him in a slurp and twirled away into mist. “Who have you met, and what have you learned? Don’t let them in, don’t let them see. Adridarianpin alone comes to visit me. You mean, all the time? Not a servant so faithful he found. Because nobody likes him.”
That snapped up my attention fast. “‘Adridarianpin’? What-? Do- do you mean Adrian? The Chespin? From the Researchers Guild? Of Team Plum Pudding? He comes from Iravia and is probably a distant descendent of one of my brothers.”
“His name must be toffee.”
Encouraged by the word ‘name’, I pressed, “No offense, but what above scales would Adrian want to walk out here and talk to you for on a regular basis?”
“Oh.” Rudy licked one palm and rubbed a smudge of berries from his cheek. “He’s my legal guardian now. Rory too, when I get around to bringing her those papers from the jail.”
My socket constricted around my eye. I tightened my fingers into the creases of my elbows. Any minute, I knew, I was about to start bawling. Legal guardian? Apparently, Rudy could have gotten me in good with the Puddings this entire time. I didn’t need to confront them at the ambassador’s party! I didn’t need to possess Roland! He hadn’t had to leave me like that!
Rudy frowned. “Your colors just went from blue to purple all over. If I had your face, I’d… do something about it.”
Right. Not only was the guy’s mind busted- his eyes were too. He only saw the world in body heat. Wonder if it’s connected.
I considered my words carefully. I didn’t want to straight-out tell him that I was looking for a place to stay, because he’d almost certainly offer me a spot of my own in Marissa’s mouth all winter, and then I’d have to, you know… t-tell him no. I wanted shelter, but I def didn’t want to risk being swallowed. Ghosts on the more insubstantial end of the spectrum lack full substance, so if I slipped into water or, say, a Wailord’s digestive juices, I wouldn’t be swimming back to the surface. It wasn’t that I could drown, but the last time I’d gone under… that beach day, the last time I saw Nikki…
And then it bubbled out of me. “I lost my best friend Eurydice,” I began, clutching at my thick throat with my too-small hand. “Nothing went right for me after that, e-even though it’s been over two hundred years. Things just keep piling up around me and crashing down. I’ve never kept a friend, Rudy, and that’s hard, you know? Or maybe you don’t know. You seem to offend a lot of people, so you couldn’t possibly know what I mean. A-and then when things were finally looking up for me again, I lost Nikki. He was my new everything, Nikki. And now Roland’s gone too, and Robin doesn’t trust me, and everything’s changed, and the city’s problems keep getting bigger and bigger, and there are so many new people, and I have to be social…”
My hands slid down my the cheeks of my bony mask. Boiling tears - quite literally boiling - leaked from my eye and ran between my scars. “A-and I just don’t know what to do with myself anymore. Do I retire from Guild work? Throw myself into the Fog and let it take me where it will? Settle down and raise a family? Man. I want to k-kill myself. I just don’t want to be alone and hated. I emotionally can’t handle that. I’m done. I’m flipping done. This is immortality, and I’ve been here and done that before, and it sucks… I don’t know, I don’t know… Sand and stars. Maybe I should try to get a real job. Where do you work?”
Rudy shrugged. “I don’t work anywhere.” Popping a stray glob of pink frosting into his mouth, he added, “I don’t work out either.”
I stared at him. My eye narrowed slightly. “How are you still alive?”
I’d meant it as a passing joke, and apparently Rudy recognized that. He gazed at me softly until my whining trickled off. Then he brightened like a match. “If loneliness and an unlikable attitude bother you that much, maybe you should try asking the gods for help.”
That definitely made me frown behind my mask. “Who?”
He jumped to his feet, standing carefully atop the tattered green blanket on the floor. Both hands went behind his back, and he thrust out his thin chest with its oversized bow. The lantern on the table cast weird shadows across his pink face as he proclaimed, “I’m a Fourther. I believe in the Hundred Gods of Stone and Sky, and that they watch over us and want to mold us into the best kinds of people we can be. They’re all around us, helping us overcome our problems. I know with all my heart that one of them is looking out at us and listening to the lilt in our words at this very moment. We were all put here in this world for a purpose. Our destiny is to grow, achieve, and entertain. That’s what I believe.”
“… You’re a creationist,” I managed when I found my voice again. “You? Seriously? Man, of all people, I dunno. Somehow I didn’t expect you to believe in the nonsensical fairy tales of Diderot’s Wall.”
Rudy’s beaming smile twisted at the corners into an offended frown. He leaned against the nearest crate, propping his chin in one of his hands. With the other, he flicked a finger at me, although this time it didn’t light up blue. “Okay, potato. What do you believe in?”
Tough question. I rubbed my left shoulder. Turned my gaze to the roof of Marissa’s still-open mouth. Squirmed a moment more before finally biting the Seadra and slumping my face into my arms.
“I- I believe the world is shaped like a giant Ekans, monitored by wild running beasts who roam in search of those who destroy the ecosystem instead of preserving it.”
That brought a chuckle out of him. Rudy placed his chin on his interlaced fingers. “You Albanies are so funny.”
Ignoring the jibe because I didn’t care about things, I rolled my eye between sockets and pressed on. “These stone gods of yours-”
“Stone and Sky.”
“Sure. Sure! Listen to this, Rudy! Here’s a riddle for you! If your false gods exist, then why doesn’t everyone believe in them? What miracles have they performed? What prophets have they sent?” I leaned forward, my teeth tightly locked behind my bony mask. “What makes you so incredibly certain that your precious gods even care about us? What are we? Are we anything more than hundreds of insignificant ink splatters abandoned across a giant sheet of cosmic parchment? Test subjects, puppets, borrowed ideas, plucked up when boredom strikes and tossed aside once we’ve been used like we were never there? I know your religion, Rudy! I know what your people think we are! A cathartic universe full of prototypes, mistakes, damaged goods? The unsaveable, the hopeless, the ones who will never be remembered…”
Not a lot of ‘mon in Andalusst can insist they’ve left Rudy speechless, but I did. As he looked at me, I could see his spirit breaking in his deep blue eyes. Lies, betrayal, disbelief. His optimism was slipping fast between his fingers, and I sat back and found it delicious. He studied his bare feet for a long time while I stewed where I sat and plucked at oran seeds stuck between the slats of the table crates. Then the little Gothita glanced at me again.
“Are you saying you don’t believe in the afterlife?”
“If that was a ghost joke, so help me I’ll kill myself.” I rubbed my hands into my mask. It scraped against scarred and singed patches of Slakoth fur. “Flecks and feathers… What I’m saying is, I think you’ve lost your last marble. If there are all-powerful beings out there who care about us the way I tried to care about my plants, why not show it? Why not reveal themselves? Why not let us be happy, and live in an untroubled world? That’s the kindly thing to do. What’s the point in leaving us to struggle on our own? The gods don’t really love us.”
“How would you know?” he demanded, a threat creeping into his voice. “Have you ever been a stone slab?”
I propped one sore cheek in my right hand. “Rudy, people talk about how your species have special vision, and that’s why you have the big eyes and why you’re always staring at stuff, but have you ever actually seen these oh-so-powerful gods that you believe in?”
“Well, I haven’t really thought about it,” he said, turning and hopscotching his way across Marissa’s mouth. He flipped open the cover of his icebox. Even from where I sat, I noticed that it didn’t have ice in it, but apparently he’d stocked it with sodas anyway, because he drew one out with a Telekinetic finger flick. “There are all kinds, y’know? Besides, I’m only eleven.”
He shot me a nasty look as he tugged the icebox’s fabric lid back into place. “Cut me some slack. It was either that or potatoes. And saying potatoes is illegal for the next two minutes.”
Not sure why I try, actually.
“Rudy, these gods of yours-”
“They’re not MY gods, I’m THEIR princess!”
I blinked at him. He looked absolutely shocked. Then he slapped a hand across his eyes.
“Freudian slip?” I asked, allowing all the smugness to seep across my voice and drip down to the table.
“That was a reflex,” Rudy insisted, returning to the table with his soda. He hadn’t offered to get me one. “Like hitting your father in the ear with a shoe heel.”
He popped the can and tossed the ring aside. “Hey, what I do, what I do?”
“It’s not necessarily you, McLean. It’s your positive aura, your ‘nothing stopping me, so why not goof around and mess with Kit?’ attitude. It makes me sick. This isn’t a flipping party.” I drew my elbows to the edge of the table and lay my head down on my folded arms. “Here I thought suicide would be the end of my problems.” And then, mostly because I thought it might hurt his feelings, I added with a bit of a sneer, “You’ll understand when you’re older, kid.”
After he’d swallowed, Rudy lay his head down on the table too. I tried to ignore him, but then I shifted my eye to the other socket so I could confirm that yes, he was mimicking me. “That’s ‘cuz you don’t know how to play the game,” he said cheerfully when I looked.
“The game?” I asked as he jumped off his chair once again. “Are we still talking about your imaginary gods? Are you referring to a… cosmic game?”
“Ooh, in that case, I got dibs on playing avatar!”
I squinted and shook my head. “And suddenly our world becomes a playground for deities. I hate my afterlife.”
Rudy had made it to his chest of drawers. He tore them all apart, flinging things over his shoulder with both his Telekinesis and his physical hands. Quill pens, glass bottles, and plates with logos from assorted restaurants rained down on my head. “Don’t be a Tympole. This is not a game. This is wing work. Freedom is a state of mind.”
“You’re a state of mind. Wait.” I straightened, bracing my hands against the table as I did so. “Is that… an Ouija board?”
“Yeah!” He grinned at me as he spun around, his small teeth stained with orange soda. Even his cowlick and his heavy bangs looked proud to make this discovery. “It lets me talk with dead people!”
We stared at each other, then glanced away. I coughed into my fist.
Rudy slammed the thing to the table with both hands and leaned over it. “I think I have an idea happening here. I’m gonna lead you down the path that rocks. My mom and dad were teaching me how to do this right before I fell down the quarry and got lost in the Fog.”
“And… what’s ‘this’?”
He busied himself with setting up the board. It was shiny and obviously new, so as he worked, it occurred to me that he must have just picked it up from Andalusst. Maybe he really did know what he was doing, if he was willing to keep one on hand among his other essentials. “It’s a mind-melding trick. Lucarios and Gothitelles in Carvecliff have been breeding kids to do this for centuries, trying to create the perfect psychic to run the Fourther temple and make direct contact with the gods on the other side of Diderot’s Wall.”
“Aren’t there like, nine people in Carvecliff?”
“Sharing is caring.”
“I did not need to know that.” I always thought his neck looked a little more red than pink in the right light. Maybe I shouldn’t really talk, considering that my family were among the first settlers in Iravia, and undoubtedly some of my siblings’ descendents had to cross.
Rudy shrugged. “The Gothita line see the future, you know, and Lucario read minds. I spy with my little eye. I can do it, I just don’t want to do it. It’s harder since I haven’t evolved. It’s there, trust me.”
“Okay. Cool story, bro. And you think this Ouija board’s going to solve my problems?” I settled down atop my crate and crossed my arms. “That’s sweet that you’re doing this for me, really. Except, the last time I saw one of these, I was on the other side. It was a bunch of us spirits picking on a few nerds. Not the most reliable fount of information.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot,” he crowed as he scampered back to the drawers again. “He’s incredibly evil, isn’t he? We’ll want one more thing to put you to sleep.”
“Put me to…”
Rudy started digging through the scraps of paper and cloth in a nearby cooking pot, albeit with less flinging of junk this time around. “A friend gave this to me a long time ago. I’ll give you this for that, that for this. For it’s one, two, three strikes; you’re out.”
“Dude, you’re telling me you just happen to have something that can-”
As he turned back again, he twirled a round disc on a cord around his finger a few times and caught it in his palm. I stopped.
“Oh. Your friend was a Hypno.”
Rudy lifted his brows. “Sure, sure, let’s go with that.”
Uh-huh. I bit my torn, frothy lip as he made his return, swung himself onto the crate in front of me, and raised the disc in front of my eyes. It began to swing. “Okay,” he said calmly. “We do this right and you’ll know for sure my gods are real. Me jelly; send me a postcard from Paradise Falls. Don’t eat anything. Don’t touch anything. And stay behind the red rope.”
“… Look, I don’t remember it like this, man. Are you sure you’re doing it right?”
Rudy couldn’t see the Hypno ring since it didn’t emit body heat, and his eyes followed its swings in the wrong directions. As he positioned himself on the edge of the crate, legs dangling over the side, he started to reach out to me. Then he drew back his arm. Swallowing, he held it out again and tried to focus his gaze on mine. “I don’t make this offer lightly, but I’m going to need you to take my hand.”
His hands were smeared with frosting, dirt, berry juice, and snot. Stifling my groan behind my broken teeth, I grabbed hold. The Hypno disk flashed at the same moment. I felt myself go numb. My head hit Rudy’s lap, and I blacked out.
[Story continued in description below]
[Story continued from above]
‘Whited out’ may be the more accurate term. When I raised my head, I was lying in a bundle of my own fur. Warm, thick, pink fur, striped with light brown. My eyes slid down to the two heavy white claws on each paw.
“I’m a… Slakoth again.” The ‘mind-melding trick’ of Rudy’s had evidently worked, because I wasn’t inside Marissa’s mouth anymore. Although where I was… I didn’t entirely know.
Huh. Rudy had suggested I speak with the gods. Did that mean I’d ascended to another plane of existence entirely? Creepy. I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing you can do, but okay. I was willing to roll with it. I’m not a picky person.
“Wow. Heaven looks a lot like…”
“The mall?” Rudy’s disembodied voice finished. I had the feeling he’d used his Ouija board to translate my thoughts to the physical world.
Instead of answering, I glanced around. All the universe had blushed white. There were no doors, no dips, no rises, no floors, and no walls. No people. No furniture. No windows.
“Hmm,” he said, apparently following my gaze. “You’ve got your own style, don’t you, tenderfoot?”
I asked, “Can you see me?”
“For sure. Because I can read minds. Well. The signal is really fuzzy, and it’s not going to stay for more than a few minutes. I’m just a Gothita and not very good at this. But right now you’re only using the unconscious part of your brain, so this bit’s easy. Walk straight towards the giant red wall.”
“Um. And which wall would that be?” I spun one of the ceramic bracelets around on my wrist. Trust me, I knew the color red, and this wasn’t it.
“The one directly in front of you,” Rudy amended gently.
I still didn’t move.
“The Fourth Wall, Kit. It’s bright red and absorbing most of the Fourther power in my brain. No more Tourette’s. No more pencils, no more books… Oh. You’re looking directly at it.”
So I tried tilting my head back, my eyes raking across empty space. I waved. I spun in a circle. I even jumped up and down and flapped my arms. I’m sure his gods thought I looked ridiculous.
“Dude,” I said when I could sense him getting quietly antsy at the border of my awareness. “You’re thermosighted. I’m not. I’m going to need a little more help than what you’ve given me so far.”
“Okay, okay, can we go now? We’ll play it by ear.”
I let out a grunt and traced my claws through my pink fur. A shower of glittery flecks fell into the whiteness, but shimmered out before they hit the ground. “Can we play it by sight? Honestly, I think that would work better for me.”
“‘Playing sight’?” he scoffed. “Okay, but they better not laugh. Do you see what I see?”
“Keep your bowties on. I’m looking for your Wall.” I moved slowly across the whiteness. Even with my previous experience possessing bodies, walking was a forgotten memory, and it was a long minute before I fully got the hang of it. I wondered if time was passing for Rudy at the same rate as it was for me.
“Listen with your heart,” Rudy soothed. “If you can reach through the Fourth Wall, you’ll believe me, and you won’t be afraid anymore. Look for the chink in reality. It usually manifests itself as a series of boxes arranged in a vertical line, but it depends on the medium. Hmm. I think you’ve shifted. Words! Your boxes will be huge.”
Clenching my claws, I turned about six full circles. “Dude, what boxes? There are no boxes!”
“And you’re not from the future- you’re crazy.” I could practically feel him rolling his eyes.
I was uncomfortable in the white, white world of nothingness. My Slakoth body was unfamiliar, and it was getting chilly. I glanced over my shoulder as my hackles began to prickle.
“Look man, it was a really nice talk we had about theology and your sanity, but-”
“How can you not see them? The two of you are practically kissing!”
“Wait a minute,” I said, cutting him off before the last word was fully out. “Rudy, is this my… my head? Dude.”
“Kind of. I’m using my Lucario genetics to find your aura, and viewing your future through my Gothita eyes. I squished our minds together when I hypnotized you. The more we get together the happier we’ll be.”
That made me chuckle. “So, what, I’ll find your memories in here somewhere? Gotta admit, man, I’m curious to see how your brain works.”
“I kind of help out, like, allll over the building. Everything from your head is together. Everything from mine is together. We have eighteen all together, if we can get them all together. You’d have to walk the wrong way to get into my stuff. Wrong way!”
My claws traced themselves along a nonexistent eddy in the air. “It’s so… empty here. Oh, I get it. It’s a metaphor. The emptiness of my soul. Of my heart.”
“Full moon, empty head.”
It was my turn to roll my eyes to the white sky. “Let’s not jump to conclusions, ducky… Hmm. No sign of anything useful. Memories, zen or otherwise.” I tilted my head. Then I brought my paws up to my old, clean mouth. My purple and blue bracelets clicked on my right wrist. “Eury? Nikki? Roland? … Nothing here. Just blank whiteness. Geez, what a creepy place. Hey, Rudy. Any chance you can tell me how to access my old memories?”
“Oh, my mom could do that! You can rent anything. But I’m not very good at this stuff. I can’t use my powers when we’re bonded like this. Actually, I’m trying really hard to keep our minds from exploding.”
“You what? Whoa!” My foot slipped from under me. I scrambled a pace backwards, one hand to my chest. No heart beat there, and no breath huffed from my nose, but somehow it was comforting to grab at my own fur.
“Looks like the game’s gone cuckoo!”
“Ha… ha… Did your Ouija board freak out when I shouted?” I mopped my sweatless brow. “This huge drop just came up out of nowhere. I mean, it was probably here the whole time, but everything’s just so white and undefined, man. I feel like I’m tripping on enigma berries.”
“My sight is dead. Now it’s like she’s fadin’ on me. Has anyone seen Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Idiot?”
A twinge of anxiety pinched his voice. I peeked over the edge of the cliff again, and my ears twitched forward. Along with Rudy’s powers, my vision was beginning to fritz around the edges. But I could make out some colored smudges in the canyon below.
“Hey, there are people down there. Little people living in my mind. Is that where earworms come from? I see… a shiny Slakoth. Two red Duskulls. There’s another ‘mon who kinda seems a little blurry, but they all look like me. Huh. They aren’t doing much, just… milling around.”
There was a pause. Not a silence; I could still make out the buzz of Rudy’s psychic powers mixed with his fluttery breathing. The frown in his voice glistened when he spoke again. “You can see all four?”
“Well, there are four, so I guess so. What are they?”
“Um, they’re all projections of your mind. What’s the fourth one doing?” He gave a great hiss. The world jarred around me, then steadied out. I leaned farther forward.
“Which one’s the fourth one?”
“I don’t know. I’m reading your thoughts, but because you’re really unconscious now, all I can see is black. What’s he doing?”
“That’s a little difficult to tell you if I don’t know which one is number four,” I pointed out. Brushing at my legs, I stepped back onto firmer ground. “If you mean the blurry one, he’s just chilling. Hovering, drifting… What are they? Are they me?”
Rudy sucked his tongue along his teeth for a moment, considering. “Kind of. The first one is an anthropomorphic personification of everything you were in the past. Ah! My dad can see auras. He says the first one’s aura is always unstable, because everything you give up every day or regret, that all goes into him.”
“Her,” I muttered. He meant the Slakoth. Pink fur, cheeks soft with baby fluff. Two red eyes. She didn’t have my burn scars.
“The second is the one you should be the most afraid of, because he - she - represents everything you are in the present. Everything you are now that you try to keep hidden. Secret wishes, grudges you haven’t forgiven, and you’d be totally equally matched in a fight.”
Even in my current Slakoth form? I studied the two Duskulls down below. Only one bore my blue and purple bracelets and simple orange scarf. She watched me carefully from below, never moving her tail more than absolutely necessary to keep afloat.
Rudy cleared his throat, his voice slipping deeper in tone, like it was breaking. “The third one will be your friend. He’s everything you want to and could be at this time of your life. And the fourth is where you’re headed for the future if you continue down the path you’re on. You really shouldn’t be able to see him. Only the psychics can.”
“… So, apparently I become a blur when I grow up. Righteous. Best career. Get me a kid and sign me up for ‘Bring your grudging parent to work’ day. Honestly, I don’t even think that’s a Duskull. It’s just the color red, like a bloody splash, or something…”
“Er. Dude, you’re a Psychic-Type. You sure you can’t see him? Maybe his heat?”
“I meant psychics who understand Future Sight. I’m a telekinetic. I can’t tell the future. Ow. My head. Your thoughts are messing up my words. It’s not gonna be a party.”
I drummed my right claws against my hip. “But aren’t you a Gothita? Your evolutionary line are famous for ‘reading what’s fated in the stars’, or whatever it is you do. I mean, you’re clearly able to do this in the first place.”
There was a distinctive thump. The world shuddered again, flickering briefly black. I cocked an eyebrow. “I’m not a Gothitelle, but my mom was. As long as she had an emotional connection to someone, she was able to see how they would die.” Rudy’s voice trickled off at the end. There was a pause. You’d have to be a Slowpoke not to know who she’d had an emotional connection to, and who she must have told.
“Dying’s not so bad once you get used to it, though,” I murmured. “Really. You’ll see.”
He ignored me for a moment. When he spoke again, to my surprise, his voice didn’t sound like his own. It sounded like mine. “Yeah, so as a natural psychic ability, I can see one hundred seconds into the future exactly. Just a snapshot, not any second sooner or any second further, until I try again. That’s all I ever learned how to do. I decided I’d rather pour all my strength into my Telekinesis instead. He doesn’t talk about me much.” His shrug passed a ripple across the entire landscape. “I don’t like this, man. Look at this stuff; isn’t it neat? Look at him hard, and try to describe him in your mind as best you can. Whoa! I’ll listen. Since I can see pictures of your thoughts, if you think hard enough we can probably bypass the fact that you’re unconscious, and I should be able to pick up some of it.”
“I told you, dude,” I said, disturbed at hearing my own voice and wondering if this ‘mind-melding’ would have any lasting effect on him, “he doesn’t look alive. Or like he’s afterliving either. Whatever. He’s just a red stripe on the ground. Two and Three are standing next to it. I think he’s just a decoration, man.”
I probably should have stopped saying ‘man’ and ‘dude’ if he was using the board.
“He’s just a-”
“Shh. Not you. What?”
I patted my face impatiently until he came back on again. “I think your evolutionary line are supposed to guide spirits to Heaven. And that’s a rock fact.”
“Ah. Common misconception. That’s just Dusknoir, dude, and I’ve heard it’s an obsessive compulsion. Why do you think I haven’t evolved after all these years? Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Soft snort, almost like a chuckle. “Well, kid, you’d better make time for it. Autumn does this invisible creation thing and-”
“Get to the point, Rudy.” I slowly began to step away. All four of the- the figures had angled in my direction and were starting to approach. Just- just lifted straight from the ground. Even the Slakoth. Even the blurry red shape. Four bodies, suspended and floating in my direction.
“Dude, your Number Four guy feels like he’s evolved. Like Adridarianpin likes to say, future abilities are dormant in your pre-evolved form. And… I think the stripe is some sort of genetic code or instinct that will help you find nearby lost spirits who need to be guided. I dunno, man. You know we’re kind of inside your soul, right? I put you in the - eep! - absolute center of your mind. That’s where Mom’s influence is strongest.”
Things were really wigging out now- I had these creepy floaty bodies coming at me faster and faster. The ground vibrated under my feet. Gray and black cracks ran along what I guess were walls after all.
“So, how do I get out again?” I asked Rudy casually. “Playin’ sight was fun and all, but it doesn’t look like your psychic powers are strong enough to be of any use to me. We’ll have to try this again when you’re older.”
“I don’t think you can leave until you wake up.”
“Then what are you waiting for, cleverclogs?” I broke into a flat-out run as the personifications of my past, present, and future began to pursue. “Wake me up already!”
“Wake me up inside?” He sucked in a breath. “Yeah, about that…”
Absolute static. I glanced to my right to find that one of the Duskulls had caught up with me, although she or he or it stared blankly forward, arms dangling like they were dead.
“What’s going on up there, kid?”
More static. Black spots avalanched across my vision. I stumbled as I tore across the white world. A muffled screech. It scuttled through my bones.
“Rudyard McLean, I swear if you touch one hair-”
The floor erupted. White triangles spewed up in front of me, drawing blood from the air. Through the chinks, blue and black twisted into a night sky, interlaced with tiny white stars. For one blink, my melded mind saw what Rudy must be seeing at the moment: Linette du Source had tracked my thieving rear down. Rudy barely dodged her Rollout. Presumably, my body had taken the hit; a flash of red suggested he was clutching my wispy form against his chest as he jumped from a blanket to the top of his dresser, fighting not to touch Marissa’s tongue or the walls of her mouth.
Then the world went white again. I thumped down on top of my Slakoth double, and the two of us went tumbling in a tangle of furry limbs. We rolled over the edge of a chasm and dropped.
We didn’t fall for long. The broken pieces of my mind hung suspended. We’d ended near the tip of an enormous triangle when we stopped. She and I propped ourselves up on our forearms, staring and gasping despite ourselves.
Nothing. Not even static anymore. I couldn’t even hear my own voice. There wasn’t air around me for the words to travel through.
Rudy must have broken physical contact with me. Our mental sync was snapping. I hollered his name once more, but again heard eerie silence in response.
Kit of the past stood up on shaking legs. As Rudy had promised, her form was unstable. Clumps of her tattered fur shed and sprouted every passing second, and her face didn’t fit on her skull quite right. She may have both eyes, although given how much blood caked the fur around the left socket, I’d have believed her if she said she had three. I opened my mouth to say something to her, but before I could even think of the words, she toppled backwards off our floating chunk of triangle. All around me, everywhere, the world bent inward like a funnel with its tip dumping down into a deep, dark whirlpool.
“No!” I scrambled with my hands for a hold, not a hundred percent confident that the black hole in my head was bad, but mysterious swirling vortexes tend to be bad news. I got the feeling that if I ‘died’ here while I was unconscious, I really might not be waking up.
… Which meant I could end it all.
I clung to the lip of the chunk by the very tips of my claws, my eyes nearly as wide as the hole. No more Robin. No more Rudy. No more Roland. No more Hunters Guild. No more Linette. No more Aurora or Adrian or Andalusst. No more problems. No more pain. No more regrets. Just let it all end.
So I let go.
The universe shifted before I reached my destination. A square chunk of whiteness caught me in the stomach as I fell. My impact pushed the chunk into another, and another. Below, the funnel hole sealed itself up again.
“Wait! Where is it?” Dropping to the lower level, I threw aside broken pieces of the floor and walls and ripped others apart. Just when I saw a glimmer of darkness, my two Duskull selves each grabbed one of my arms and dragged me backwards. My rear scraped splintered ground and burned.
“Let me go!” I screamed, kicking out at the blurry fourth one with a leg I could hardly remember how to use. “Let me die! Two hundred and sixty-two years is long enough! Let me die, or so help me I’ll kill myself!”
They were yanking at me now- tearing my fur to pieces. My very body went with them. I was becoming chunks like the imaginary world I found myself trapped in, falling apart like my mental state. With a screech that went unheard, I wrenched my remaining arm free and slammed my fist into the face of the nearest Duskull. It showed no emotion. The second went for my legs, but I dove over hir. Yes, yes! I lunged for the whirlpool, still partially buried down there-
Hot fingers closed around my ankle. I yelped as I was heaved into the air, where I dangled upside-down. The red smudge had picked me up.
But though he was strange and disturbing, he lacked much physical strength. He let me go when I thrashed and kicked in his jaw with my other leg. I didn’t waste time. After dodging one of the shiny Duskulls again, I plunged straight through the black hole.
… Why wasn’t I dead?
“Because,” I answered my own question, “ghosts… can’t… die.”
The universe wasn’t white anymore. There were colors here, although I wished there weren’t. Every wall, every inch of floorspace, was composed of vibrant rainbow spirals and zig-zags. The lights flickered. Four figures stood watching me in the distance, each of them with a finger pointed towards me. I didn’t have to be an Alakazam to figure out where the whirlpool had taken me.
“This is Rudy’s soul.” I pushed myself to my still-Slakoth feet. “And you’re all the other Rudys.”
They watched me inquisitively from a distance, even as the rainbows bled from the walls until they’d been left bare, and the colors pooled on the floor. I’d waded halfway towards the nearest Rudy - the one that looked taller than the others - but when it seemed the last drop of paint had left the walls, everything went black.
Then I opened my eyes to complete the blink. I stumbled, the dresser wobbling beneath me. Just as I caught my balance, a green mass of energy slammed into my cheek and knocked me backwards, down on Marissa’s tongue.
And it hurt.
Marissa’s thoughts were muddled with sleepiness, full of pain and hunger. The things she had to deal with, she thought. The little people with their quarrels- such silly peasants. My eyes - eye? - bounced around in my skull until they landed on my wrist. That was my wrist, wasn’t it? I rolled out of the way of Linette’s next smash, off Marissa’s tongue and onto a discarded towel.
Blearily, I gazed down at myself. My body was orange, yellow, and red. There were thumbs on my hands. Power radiated in storage tanks attached to the sides of my head, feeding me. If I didn’t continuously expel the power they unconsciously gathered, I was going to get sick.
I wasn’t possessing Rudy. There were no thoughts of his narrating my actions in the background. No memories I wasn’t privy too. No conflict whatsoever.
I was Rudy. Rudy was me. We were synced. We were whole.
The Sealeo adjusted her course, and I barely ducked to the side. She spiraled out of her roll and thumped into Marissa’s large square teeth. Man, I was starting to feel like a jerk for ragging on her weight and body shape. Clearly, Linette could move fast when she wanted to. And she just kept getting faster. If only I could know where she would aim next, but alas, I was just a telekinetic. I couldn’t read the future.
Instead, I pushed myself up on my hands and knees and threw up ooze in some color that didn’t register for my thermosighted eyes. For an instant, I was a tiny Gothita again, being flung in disgrace down from the steps of the Fourther temple, until my daddy caught me in his arms and quickly let me go again, because he knew that extended physical touch would overload my psychic powers and knock me out. I missed my daddy so much.
“H-hey, easy, dude. Take a breather. Us fellow bad guys, we’ve all felt what you’re feeling.”
The words popped naturally from my tongue, smooth and soothing. Linette wiped a bloody smear from the area around her left tusk. “Friends who owe me money.”
“Oh.” I remembered stealing the glass from her shop, and the two drinks I hadn’t paid for. Pretty dumb of me to even float into the place at all while I was broke. “I got a calendar back at home-”
Marissa’s tongue reared up beneath me, sending the both of us sliding back towards her throat, along with several items of furniture. I couldn’t blame her- someone had just puked on her tastebuds. I crashed into my soft bed just before it disappeared over the lip and into oblivion. Spitting, I scrambled up along her rising tongue, springing about and trying not to make contact. Small boxes, tall crates, the icebox, pretty cloths, all of it, tumbling, bouncing…
“Marissa, you’ll choke!” I screamed as I clung to a square tooth larger than my head. I bent my neck as a gurgle answered me from the deep. She couldn’t help it. Her gag reflex was kicking in. Tightening my fingers as my vision blurred with thoughts and memories, I clung on as hot Wailord saliva rose to my knees. Linette squealed as she rolled past me, unable to stop herself. She went over the edge.
But something else with cold body heat flickered nearby. Something broken and precious. Instantly I released Marissa’s tooth and dove for it with a screech. I caught hold of the shape, but the Wailord’s tongue, slippery with spit, left me with nothing else to cling to. I could do nothing but press Kit’s body to my chest. Or was I Kit? The angle was too much for my old orange scarf and the last of my berries, and they went tumbling into Marissa’s stomach acid too, never to be seen again.
“Marissa, please! I know you don’t want to do this!” I was a Gothita, not a Duskull, so I could not ‘unpossess’ the body I held, and that was foreign and terrifying. Despite my frantic fingers and kicking legs, I slid towards that gaping gullet. My heart thudded in my throat and my ears. I was going to fall. I was going to die, drowning in a Wailord’s digestive juices. “Dude, I’m Rudy! I’m Rudyard Kendall-Renyolds McLean, and you wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for me! You wouldn’t have traveled Parai at all, girlfriend! You owe me!”
Too much, too much. Her tongue was too steep, her writhing and twitching too fierce, the saliva rushing and yanking at my cold bare legs…
It’s actually not a long way to fall, down a Wailord’s throat. How fortunate that I stuck the landing on my fallen bed. I face-planted directly into it, crumpling my limp Duskull body beneath me. When I raised my bleary face, I blinked at my surroundings. Everything was bathed a warm yellow and orange, except other things were red. Something splashed up onto the Snorlax pillow beside me. It was Linette. I jerked up so fast that I startled her, and she almost slid back into the juices she’d just floundered from. I caught her by the shadow somehow and held her in place. Shadow Tag, activate.
“Miss me, sweetcheeks?”
“Eep! Ha… ha… I warned you we’d tangle the next time your Chimchar friend wasn’t around to protect you,” she squeaked. Her fan-like tail slipped into Marissa’s stomach acid. She shifted higher on the pillow. If I were fully Kit, I’d have bartered for my debt to be cleared before I hauled the Sealeo the rest of the way up. But since I was Rudy, I shook my head and let her stay.
Now… as for me…
I stood at the highest peak of the huge cushion, my lips pursed. I knew from past experience of dealing with furious Copperporters and Geodians what would happen if I slipped - or jumped - into a Wailord’s hot digestive juices. Howls of agony, desperate splashing…
It would be… so… easy…
The desire to forever stop being Kit radiated through me as I stared down at sloshing liquid in colors I wasn’t entirely familiar with. Linette’s breath was frosty on the back of my neck. Ice crystals gathered in my dark curls. What if I…
If I took one little step, I could stop being the Rudy I had always been. Let the both of me die. Change my fate. Change my future. Duskull or Gothita, I was friendless and hated by this city. Absolutely no one was going to miss me. They’d cheer. That’s how I would be remembered.
Why did that bother me?
Another thought was equally tempting. What if… my Rudy parts and my Kit parts stayed synced forever? The Duskull body could be dumped down here to dissolve. It might reform, or not, and either way it wouldn’t be my problem any longer. Might I become a new Rudy, with all the youthly strength of my Rudy side, and all the experiences of the part of me that had been Kit?
“Hey,” said Linette. She bunched herself together and dragged her heavy body up to crouch beside me. “You’ve got Telekinesis, right, Blue?”
My thermosighted eyes shifted to her, irritated and uncomprehending. Couldn’t she see I was in the middle of contemplating my beautiful death here?
She shoved my shoulder so I stumbled. As we came in contact, I read her thoughts for the briefest instant. The colors of the world switched to match hers, then snapped back into the waves of heat that I was used to. “Well? Get us out of here before this pillow dissolves, you numbskull.”
“Uh, do you know who I am? I could still dump you into that stuff and leave you behind.”
Her blue-green form stuck up its rounded chin, tusks glinting even through these eyes. “I flicking dare you.”
So I shook my head and flexed my fingers. The taste of Telekinesis was deliciously familiar- it lit my bloodstream from my tongue to my ankles. It was a shame, but my scarf would have to stay behind, lost where it lay. At least I’d saved the unconscious Duskull.
I didn’t release the Snorlax pillow from my Telekinetic touch until we had safely floated from Marissa’s mouth. She moaned when she saw us, and Linette flopped over to kiss the grass and pebbly lakebed sand. I’d lost my Ouija board in the chaos, but at least I was a Psychic-Type and, now that I was no longer scrambling about on my hands and knees, I could reason some things through.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I muttered to myself as I lay face-down in the soggy pillow. Lingering traces of stomach acid stung my face. I rather liked being ‘synced’ together, more deeply intertwined than any possession ever could allow. Youth and strength… experience and connections.
Ha. A cute concept on parchment. But my two halves were incompatible. As long as my Rudy parts remained absolutely gluttonous for attention, and as long as my Kit parts craved affectionate touches while trapped in a body too young for them, this would never work. I’d tear myself apart. That, I had the knowledge to recognize.
Holding Kit’s body - my body - to my chest (Er, Rudy’s chest), I bent my head and allowed myself to meditate. It took almost five minutes, but gradually, with our foreheads together, and Rudy’s mind flowing with the awareness of Kit’s body strong enough for his mind-reading powers to pick up, I eased myself apart, into Kit and Rudy again. It was better that way.
The Kit part of me - I guess it was the real me - found hirself back in a white, spacious world. I had time to glance over the triangular chinks pulling themselves together again while my past, present, and future selves supervised, before Rudy shook me awake by the shoulder.
I sat up slowly, my skull throbbing. If nothing else, there was no pain in my nonexistent legs to concern me. Light phantom tingles ran up and down them nonetheless.
My skull-like mask still rested on the edge of my snout, but Linette’s rampage had cracked it down the center. The two halves didn’t fit together very well. I slid it off and rubbed both fists into my eye sockets.
The two of us regarded one another silently, panting and trying not to make it awkward as we avoided eye contact. Rudy threw up in the sand again, multiple times for long minutes, and wiped his mouth. I curled my old familiar tail over my wrists and tilted my head as I watched him. We’d… melded minds, somehow. Reading thoughts and movements like Lucario. Viewing the future like Gothitelle. Perhaps tuning into the fringes of the spirit world like Dusknoir. Maybe the dormant pre-evolved abilities developmental theory that I’d once mocked had its roots in truth after all.
So what did this make us, now? By no stretch of the imagination could we refer to one another as ‘just friends’. Not after that. I didn’t have access to Rudy’s memories anymore, and what I had glimpsed was already slipping from me fast, but I could remember the rush and the thrill of shuffling them among mine. The both of us learning from one another, tentatively exploring one another, with every card and fleck of backstory on the table and no secrets between us any longer. Understanding everything. Accepting everything. Loving everything. That was purity. How can you still call someone a virgin after you’ve gotten to know them so intimately over the course of an hour?
He was a beautiful person, Rudyard McLean. What can I say? I have a weakness for the bad boys. When he’s older, I might have to ask him out. Y’know- subtly, so he doesn’t know it’s me until after he says yes. Or, why wait? Maybe I could take him for another spin. I’d never felt this way about anyone before. Even snuggles with Roland were kind of “Eh, that was a pleasant way to kill time”.
But Rudy, dear serpent, with his cheerfulness and his ability to bring chaos out of order made me feel like I was coming off the most passionate night in my life. How fun, to face the risk of dying! I wanted to do it again. This was what it meant to live. For someone who was a Slakoth in their past life and no less lazy nowadays, I sure can be an adrenaline junkie.
I couldn’t help myself. Rudy dropped everything to talk about my feelings and place himself in harm’s way just to cheer me up. He liked me. No one liked me! If I picked on him mercilessly, maybe he’d like me back. Forget Roland. Rudy could be my anchor, my world now.
Man, my taste in boys is fabulous. I’m in love with a mentally unstable nutcase whose voice hasn’t fully broken yet.
Still licking his messy lips, Rudy raised his head. “M-Marissa?”
“Rudy,” she rumbled, quite possibly waking ‘mon on the outskirts of the city. Stumbling over on sailor legs, Rudy lay his cheek against the pale off-white flesh of her underbelly.
“He didn’t mean it, baby. Hush, my little one. You must be exhausted. It’s gonna be okay. Got a brand new attitude.”
“She’s okay?” Linette snorted as she brushed the sand from her snout. “She nearly digested us.”
The Gothita turned around, and it was my first glance at him head-on since we’d… you know. Forget how someone stumbles out of the room for their walk of shame after an emotional night of pillows and sheets- Rudy looked wasted. Like he’d been run through a wringer stuck with Quilfish spines after getting drunk halfway through a marathon. I’d never once seen him stand straight, but his slouch to one side was even more pronounced now than before. His tongue lolled. Most of his flushed pink-purple face was comprised of wrinkles and bags. Had he always squinted his big blue eyes like that?
“Did you ever find the Fourth Wall, Kit?” he asked, softly. “Do you know my gods exist? Because I can do it again… if you want.”
“I, um…” You can’t, uh, look a Gothita in the puppy eyes and reject them. I rubbed behind my shoulder in the place where the bone-like exoskeleton pieces on my back used to be, before I’d snapped them off and given them away to a Kangaskhan joey crying for a mother who would not return. “Sure, yeah, I believe you. Let’s be done now. You look like crap, dude.”
“Heh. That’s my line.” He yawned. “I lost my cue cards in the tussle. You wanna run that by me again?”
“If you think you’re getting off the hook that easily,” spat Linette, “after you nearly killed me, by the way, then eggs and bacon, you’re mistaken.”
Rudy lifted one eyebrow. I slunk forward, letting my edges fuzz like bristling fur. Finally the Sealeo had to blink and look away from him. I guess Gothitas always win at staring contests. Perhaps she’d also just remembered she was still near the Wailord’s mouth, and I totally wouldn’t have stopped the kid if he wanted to toss her back inside.
“I’ll drop the charge provided I never see you again.” Then she pulled her head back around to me. A whuff of breath made her thick white mustache bounce against her cheeks. Her lower lip curled in a sneer, which didn’t make her tusks appear any less sharp. “Don’t steal from me next time around, okay, Red? And I do expect you to pay me back for that drink one of these days. I filed a complaint with the Royal Guards. You’re Kit of Team Satin. I’ll have it on your permanent record.”
We watched her heave herself out of the sand and begin a methodical journey up the grassy hills that overlooked the lake. It was a long process, so before she’d gotten far, I glanced at Rudy.
“You certainly get around, kid. I’ll say that much. First Team Plum Pudding, and now this prick in the tail.”
He smiled wearily. “The gods look out for their own.” Then his slanted shoulders gave a jolt. That smile faded again. “W-when Rory hit me - she attacked me the day after the great statue attack- I felt this… I don’t know. This weird strength. There’s a- a target on her back. It shouldn’t be there. It’s meant for someone else.”
I thought back to the kiss I’d sort of shared with the Chimchar while I’d sat half-fat in Roland’s head at the market, the first day I’d met her, just after I’d almost blown my Shadow Sneaking cover by knocking all those little seeds into the road. “Yes… That’s understandable. Thanks for the tip, man.”
“What can I say except ‘You’re welcome’?”
My mask slipped from my face then and landed in the sand with a chuff. Rudy picked it up and rubbed the snout with his elbow before he handed it to me. “Sorry this broke. I try, but you don’t know what they’re like.”
I took it back, hoping he couldn’t sense my annoyance when our fingertips brushed. “It’s okay, dude. I’ll just make a new one. I’m overdue for a shed anyway.” My gaze slid away from his. I clenched the mask tighter. “Since we’re on the subject of Team Plum Pudding and bad impressions, I… I tried to talk to Aurora - Rory - at the party.”
“Hey, me too,” he chirped.
“Yep. I wanted to find out if I could stay at the Pudding place for the winter. I… possessed Roland’s body for my mouthpiece, and asked her if she’d care to dance. She was pretty chill with it all until she found out I was a Ghost.” Upturning one hand, I fixed him with my one eye and sputtered to a finish with, “You’re whack, but apparently she likes you well enough, if Linette implied she once defended you. How can I make her accept me for who I am?”
Rudy’s pupils slid upwards. One finger tapped against his cheek. “Have you tried the Alabama peanut bars?”
“Tch.” I positioned the inner lip of my mask beneath my hood. My ghostly skin melded around its edges instantly, despite the massive crack down the center. “Why do I even bother with you?”
Because I couldn’t decide yet whether I wanted to turn Rudy over to the Royal Guards for a quick starcoin or take advantage of his kindness out here, I elected to make the choice later and spent the night with him after all. Just the both of us, zonked out in the shallows where any psycho or Ducklett-killer could have come along and slashed us in the guts. “Do Ghosts sleep?” he asked in surprise when I tentatively asked if I might stay.
“Not often,” I admitted. “But today was certainly exciting, and I could use the energy boost.”
My sleep was fitful after that crazy evening, and I had to think of a new winter survival plan. I could sleep when I was dead.
I checked in with him and Marissa every few hours, but I had my own stuff to do. My accidental adventure down Marissa’s throat had only confirmed that I didn’t want to spend my winter with Team Zeppelin. Linette had tracked me down easily enough. Robin might send Hunters after me, or the Royal Guard could show up to give me flak for tossing my kudzu vines into the field behind the Explorers Guild. It was too exposed, and I wasn’t good with confrontation. I couldn’t just go around broadcasting that I was hanging out with Rudy. No, I couldn’t handle the hateful eyes that would turn towards me then. And on top of that, living out on the lake didn’t offer me protection from the winter snows. I needed shelter.
Plus, absence makes the heart grow fonder, playing hard to get, I mean, come on. It worked for Roland. I’m officially calling dibs, by the way. I’m gonna stalk this child so hard. Thanks to his species he gets three c-year birthdays each season cycle, so I only have to wait fourteen months before he’s mentally eighteen by common count, and then he’s all mine.
It was three days before I worked up the courage to approach the Puddings. Every year, the snow hits Shiver Pass up on the hill long before any other street. Technically this phenomenon is “unexplained”, but personally I blame the Snoverkind. But if I were in charge of housing in this city, I’d try to place them all in the same general location too. The frost had come back faintly to glisten on the grass blades. Guilt-trip weather was coming on. Aurora and Adrian were distant descendents of one of my sibs. Blood is thicker than water. They had a door I could knock on. Simple enough, shouldn’t it be?
Of course not. I’m Kit. I don’t just go knocking on people’s doors unannounced. That would be rude. I let myself straight in instead.
But all the doors were sealed, and the windows were fitted with shutters. And I couldn’t just phase myself into a building I hadn’t been explicitly invited into.
“Radical,” I muttered on my umpteenth circle of the quaint little house. “So how am I supposed to get in without…” Then I brought one hand up to my mouth. “Hello.”
The bathroom. Their bathroom was attached to the side, easily distinguished from the rest of the place by color and smell. It was obviously not well put together. Not all of the slats fit right. Enough did that I hadn’t noticed at first. But a gap was a gap. It met the dimensional requirements to qualify as an entrance for a Ghost. I dissolved most of my particles and wriggled my way through.
I was slammed with the foreign presence before I was even fully through. Something else had claimed residence here. It tasted like an unsettled spirit- one of the kind who hadn’t formed an origin point yet. Interesting, of course, with Honehenge not too far away. Uncertainly, I reined in my particles and craned my neck.
“Um. Hello? Household spirit? I call myself Kit, and I greet you and request entrance to your home. For visitation purposes, of course.”
My mystery spirit didn’t answer. I wrinkled my snout behind my mask. Perhaps I was wrong. I’d been watching the house on and off for the past several days, but the Puddings might have invited over a friend while I wasn’t watching.
“Who are you?” I tried again for posterity. “You’re ungrounded.”
Still nothing, so I shrugged and turned back to the crack in the wall, wondering if I could get away with widening it so I might drag my new partially-carved mask through the gap. “Must be a pretty dumb spirit if you can’t find your way from here to Honehenge.”
A lantern lit the bathroom behind me, casting my shadow on the battered wall beneath my fingertips. “Are you haunting someone?”
Silence, for almost half a dozen seconds. Then I rotated around. Adrian let out a screech, green and brown fur bushing. The lantern fell from his hand and splintered in a burst. His quills shot straight up.
“Plum? What’s goin’ on?”
Aurora’s sleepy voice from down the hallway. Oh, this was not how I’d envisioned our meeting. I plastered my back to the wall, biting back my self-conscious panic. Before I could think of a retort, Adrian slammed the door, pinning me inside the bathroom alone.
So that was how he wanted to play? I did a quick backflip and zipped to the floor. But the Chespin on the door’s other side was quicker than I’d hoped. He dropped to the ground before I did, covering the gap between it and the base of the door with his whole body. I hesitated, wondering if it was worth possessing him for an instant and jumping out his other side. It would be so quick, so easy, and really only fair since I’d spent my afterlife dabbling in possession and had never learned how to phase through solid walls.
No, no… I needed all the favorable points I could get. And it wouldn’t be worth the migraine it would leave me with later tonight. Rubbing my temples, I settled myself on the counter beside the washing basin and began to work out my story about how I too had been born in Iravia and was indirectly related to the both of them near the point where their lineages crossed.
“Woman, get the incense sticks and the bread crumbs! There’s a Ghost in here!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Playin’ Sight” ~ 16,611 words!
“The Incredibles” x1
“The Looney Toons Back In Action” x1
The Fairly OddParents x4 (“Play Date of Doom”, “Wish Fixers”, “A Mile In My Shoes”, “Imagniary Gary”)
“Wreck-It Ralph” x3
Studio C x4 (“What’s In a Name?”, “Your Favorite Teen Drama”, “MPD Ruins College Party”, “Fastest Newscast Ever”)
Total Drama x6 (“Forgive and For-Gwen”, “Shawshank Ridonc-tion”, “My Way or Zimbabwe”, “Up the Creek”, “The Sucky Outdoors”, “Three Zones and a Baby”)
“The War Was In Color” song x1
The “Wonderland” computer game my brothers play that I know very little about x1
“Meet the Robinsons” x2
“My Grandfather’s Clock” song x1
“Gnomeo and Juliet” x1
Star vs. The Forces of Evil x1 (“Fortune Cookies”)
The Chaos King by Laura Ruby x1
Benjamin Franklin’s Albany Plan x1
Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede x3
Timothy and The Dragon’s Gate by Adrienne Kress x2
The City of Ember by Jeanne DePrau x1
“Finding Nemo” x1
The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker
The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby x1
Gravity Falls x1 (“Dipper vs Manliness”)
“The Emperor’s New Groove” x2
Day of the Tentacle x1
School House Rock x2 (“This For That”, “I Got Six”)
“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” song x1
“The Lego Movie” x1
Greek mythology x1 (The Persephone and Hades story to be precise)
Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress x1
Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass
“Lady and the Tramp 2” x1
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” x1
“The Lion King” x1
The Veggie Tales theme song x1
“Wayside: The Movie” x1
Diddy Kong Racing x1
Gary Larson’s Far Side x1
Dan Gutman’s “My Weird School” series x1
“The Little Mermaid” x1
“Over the Garden Wall” x1 (“The Unknown”)
“Bring Me to Life” song x1
“The Lion King 2” x1
“The Adventures of Brer Rabbit” x1
“The Scrambled States of America” x1
SOME GUYS WE SAW:
Blech, it feels wonderful to wipe my hands of this story... Okay, what's next?