Emily listened, her neck craned at an uncomfortable angle to catch the sound as the newly installed black pedestal in her foyer pushed a low bass tone out from its flawless surface. Somewhere a few inches from the top, some arcane bullshit tugged on the thread that kept the mask bound to her, and tied on just enough slack for her to wander around the building.
When she focused on trying to breathe, the noise mimicked what would be her in-and-out. When she focused on her music, the bass abided by the tempo. It was designed to make her feel comfortable here, and it did. There was a physical aura of welcoming comfort every time she came in and dropped the paper mask into its slot.
Being welcome here complicated things significantly. She had kind of failed to integrate so far. Ratty called it a rough transition, but it was really just having to be chaperoned around by her landlord or answer “I don’t know” to any questions about her. Everything felt impermanent: she couldn’t remember her past life, and hadn’t started living this one.
Emily jumped as - somewhere deep in her perpetually pulled out couch - her phone buzzed up against the metal frame. She caught a glimpse of the screen down between the mattress and the rest of the couch just as it shut itself off.
✉️ 6:09pm: New Message - RV🐀: “Hey Em, mind if I come visit?”
That was another thing. Ratty was just letting her stay here for free, paying out of pocket for basically anything she wanted. Normally she wouldn’t feel bad for taking advantage of that, but Ratty was almost too kind about it. If she wasn’t ‘getting one over’ on some asshole, freeloading felt kind of shitty.
✉️ 6:10pm: New Message - Emily SB Jr. 🐇: “Be my guest.”
“Cool.” Ratty said from the other side of the door, coming in as soon as the text went through.
“Were you waiting outside?” Emily asked, pulling at her underwear and trying to make herself decent without actually getting up. Ratty nodded, her eyes going right to the bright red y-fronts.
“Too hot for pants.” Emily shrugged. Ratty blinked, taking in the array of space heaters that - in conjunction with her obelisk - made the rabbit feel just about real.
“Yeah.” She nodded. “It would be.”
Emily rolled out of bed for the first time today and kicked the record player on her floor, centering the needle. The tonearm picked itself up and set itself down in its cradle. She pulled her phone from its new home in her waistband and put something with fewer words on.
“Was that Gangsta’s Paradise before?”
“Yeah, I’m, uh, working on a song.”
“Like a toastmaster thing?”
“Kinda.” Ratty watched Emily plug her phone into the mess of cables that made up her hi-fi system. Ratty shut her eyes as the song picked up, her fangs poking through as a gentle smile touched her lips.
“This is smooth.” She said.
“You like this?”
“Love it.” She muttered, flicking her hands in time with the beat. “Do you always have to be playing something?”
“Is it annoying?” Emily asked, suddenly feeling a little tight in her chest.
“Not at all, I’m just…” Ratty met Emily’s gaze. “...curious about you.” She said, a subtle wink in her voice. One of the fortunate things about being a ghost was that translucent skin hid a blush pretty well. What it could not hide was the goofy, scrunched up smirk Sloth-Bunny was now all too conscious of pulling.
“You a fag or something?” Emily teased, trying to recover.
“Hard not to be." Ratty doubled down, throwing up a quick hand-horns as though to accent her sharp edge. Emily froze, trying and failing to come up with a comeback for long enough for her phone to phase through her hand.
She settled on a shakey "Shut up, oh my god." The two stood for a moment, each enjoying the flustered silence in their own way.
"So, what's up?" Emily was the first to break the silence.
"Oh right, sorry. I was just enraptured by your… design sense." Ratty gestured without looking to the absolute mess of an apartment. "We found your family."
"What?" The rabbit's blood ran cold. She stopped herself just short of checking her wrists to see if blue was running through her veins. It was - as usual - not running at all. The pair stood there in silence for a few seconds, Emily’s mind struggling to scrape up any scrap memories that didn’t consist of smug shit-shooting with her Uncle A.
“So... yeah.” Ratty clapped her hands, not sure how to end this conversation. “Angel is gonna come up and portal us over, and I am going to leave so you can put pants on, I guess.”
“Well, wait. Hold on.” Emily grabbed at the possum. “We should make it a road trip.”
“You don’t even know how far it is Em’.” Ratty said, staring down as the hand whiffed through her wrist. “Please don’t, like… grab me aggressively, also.”
“Right, sorry.” Emily pulled back, scrambling for an excuse. “You said Angel’s thing has been, like, messing up or something, right?”
“Did I say that?” Ratty asked, coming back down from the miniature panic attack any sort of physical contact sent her into lately.
“It could have been you or somebody else, I don’t actually remember.” Emily forced a grin, struggling to hold down the rising bile. Something clicked in Ratty’s mind as a silent ‘oh’ crossed her lips.
“It is within driving distance.” She said, nodding slowly.
“Yeah, see, cool.”
“And we could get the big van out of storage.”
“See, absolutely, big van road trip.”
“Alright, cool.” Ratty nodded, turning to leave. “Big van road trip.”
The big van was a dusty, 40-year-old motorhome. The old interior had been gutted - save for the original maroon carpet and the stink of mildew, cigarette smoke, and the backside of duct tape that carpet brought with it.
The seats had been torn out and replaced with the kind of thing a teenager might see for sale at a thrift store and call a ‘sick deal’, horrifying their mom with their ‘renovations’. It was at the very least, more comfortable than the half-inch of foam that probably came stock.
Angel sat in the driver's seat, a bundle of fibre-optic cables interfacing with the motorhome’s custom console. Ratty meanwhile, knelt in the reversed navigator seat, trying to jimmy a tape player open with a butterknife. The whole machine had very clearly been thrown together from parts.
“Ratty, that one doesn’t work, remember?” Sapphomet said, gesturing to a newer looking sound system mounted above the couch. Emily threw herself down across the worn leather and snatched the dangling aux cord.
“You guys don’t mind if I DJ, do you?” Emily asked, already a little anxious in the pause between unplugging her headphones and hooking into the stereo.
“Go ahead.” Sapphomet said, catching their wife’s eye for a quick nod.
“We will have to stop around midnight so we can swap to a backup battery.” Angel explained, her voice briefly taking over the speaker system. She hid her face as she noticed the error, retracting a few of the cables bound her to the vehicle.
"Should be there in two shakes of a paper plate." Ratty said, reclining as Sapphomet dropped into the adjacent seat and tossed their hooves onto their wife’s lap.
"Two what?" Emily asked, incredulous.
"Eh, listen. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
“I liked it.” Sapphomet smiled. “I can picture two shakes of a paper plate going by pretty quickly.”
“It’s a strong visual for sure.”
MARCH 19 2011
South of Hudson Bay
The van rolled to a stop after a few hours, on a coastal road edging the South end of Hudson Bay. Even in March, it was too cold this late at night for Emily to swim without risking a return to the GhostZone. The temperature, however, did not stop Ratty from tackling her screaming wife into the freezing water. The goat humoured her for exactly three seconds, using one of those to shove their wife, and the other two to trudge grumpily out of the lake. They started a small fire close enough to watch Ratty float, wrapped themselves in a blanket, and sat, content to drip dry.
Ratty spent another half-hour soaking before she got either too bored or too cold. She got out, slogging her way up the beach to stand shivering by her wife. It was weird seeing them from this far away. Ratty wasn’t good with contact: she had this way of tensely hovering whenever she had to talk to someone she didn’t know. When she talked to Sapphomet there was usually softness to her posture, like she was ready to collapse into a hug at any point. Tonight, even a few feet away, despite being good at hiding it, the same facade that became obvious around strangers radiated from the possum. There was something wrong between them.
She kissed her wife, trying and failing not to drip on them before continuing towards the motorhome. Stomping through the brush, her mostly untied boots hung loose around her ankles as they stopped on the gravel curb.
“Hey Em.” She smiled, all tuckered out as she gazed up at the sloth-bunny’s rooftop perch.
“Hey Ratty.” Emily nodded. “Sorry for making you swim in like, negative degrees.”
“You didn’t make me do anything, dummy.” She teased, pulling a towel from a little compartment inside the door and wrapped herself in it. “Mind if I come up?”
“Be my guest.” Emily shrugged. Ratty took a half step back and jumped, rocking the van as she dug the toe of her boot into the corrugated metal siding.
“Too good for ladders?” Emily watched the possum push herself up the rest of the way.
"If you ever see me use a ladder, you have my full permission to shoot me dead. What’re we listening to?" Ratty asked, scooching in closer and holding out her hand for an earbud. Emily handed over her spare, turning the music down slightly so they could talk. It wasn’t something she listened to regularly, just some random combination of simple piano and simple beats. Not complex, just filler.
“Are they okay?” Emily asked, nodding to Sapphomet.
“They’re just mad cus’ I got them wet.”
Ratty stopped in place at this. Not frozen, just distant as her eyes went out of focus.
"Shouldn’t have done that." She muttered, almost forgetting the rabbit sitting next to her. She caught Emily’s eye, faltering as she noticed a legitimate twinge of concern. “Only joking.” It was far from her usual comedic deadpan.
Emily watched as Ratty’s eyes refocused on the distant goat, her mischievous grin softening. The pair let the next few songs pass, Ratty rocking back and forth gently in time with the beat, the motorhome squeaking beneath the two of them. She closed her eyes during a particularly interesting little melody. A pure, unironic enjoyment of this kind of crummy music spread across her face.
“So…” She broke the silence. “You nervous?”
"To meet your mom, I mean."
"Why would I be?" Emily bluffed.
"I'm sure we got along."
Ratty took a moment to think before leaning hard into her next “Emily…”
"Alright. Fuck." The rabbit took a deep breath. "She moved away and changed her number, and all I have of her are some fucking texts like ‘can you get milk on your way home’ or ‘happy birthday’ or whatever, and I’m obsessed with those.” Ratty pulled her in closer, dropping her towel in favour of holding onto her friend. Emily felt the tension in this little show of intimacy, but it was better than being alone right now.
“I read those texts over and over again for years, Ratty.” Emily sniffed. “And, it seems like I really loved her- or alive Emily loved her, or whatever. It’s crazy enough having your fucking-” Emily choked, trying to pull air into her non-existant lungs. “...having your daughter come back from the fucking dead, but having your daughter come back from the dead and not remember you? She's gonna hate me. I'm a different person. I'm gonna have to give up on anything ever being normal again.” Ratty nodded along, pulling Emily in as tight as she could without putting her hand through her body.
“The uh, the first time my mom met me, I had just escaped from some dude’s basement.” Ratty started. It had been a long time since she thought about her second kidnapper. She decided not to dwell on it. It served no purpose in this anecdote anyway.
“Let me finish. She was a private investigator looking into my disappearance. I was naked and covered in blood and I ran into her on this private trail leading up to this fuckin’ murder cottage. A dead-and-a-half pair of bodies behind me, and I fell into her arms, and I called her mom, and I told her in 10 years she would meet my dad, and a few years after that she would get pregnant with me.” Ratty laughed quietly at herself. “She handed this dying stranger off to Sap’, all the while listening to me babble. She didn't know me. I was a complete stranger to her. I think I might have even been older than her, and yet, as she and Sap’ carried me home, she said: ‘I look forward to meeting you, Ratty.’”
A second passed between the two before Emily decided to probe further; “And?”
“I dunno Em’, I feel like most moms understand.” Ratty shrugged. “Plus like, you both know you exist, you get a leg up on me for that at least.” Another handful of quiet moments passed as Emily turned the story over in her mind.
“Wait, is your mom a cop?”
“Nah, Sapphomet put out a bounty. She was just chasing it.”
“Huh. That’s fuckin wild.”
“Yeah. Y’know what's also wild? I was the very first trans person my mom ever met, 15 years before I was born.” Ratty laughed.
“Wild.” Emily muttered. Another moment passed.
“No problem. It’s not easy being dead.”
“Yeah… does it ever like, get normal?” Emily asked.
“Honestly Em’, you were already pretty special before you died.”
“Yeah?” Emily laughed, catching Ratty’s eye again. “Like, beyond 'everyone is special' or…” She trailed off as she processed the look in Ratty’s eyes. Distracted by the way her eyes explored her own. Distracted by the cold, damp fur against her bare arms, by the tip of Ratty’s tail resting gently against her opposite thigh. Distracted - in spite of herself - by the gentle slope of the front of Ratty’s swimsuit. She quietly hoped her eyes were dark enough not to be seen.
“Sorry about this morning.” Emily muttered.
“Oh, don’t worry about it.” Ratty smiled softly.
They sat like that for a moment, a different kind of silence sitting comfortably between the two of them. Ratty was incredibly comfortable to sit with and for a moment, Emily imagined how much more comfortable they could get together.
“If- I mean, I don’t want to be fatalistic about this, but… if things don’t go well, we could always be your family.” Ratty said, her low-tone voice taking on a slight crackle as she hovered just above a whisper.
“I-” Emily started, watching Ratty’s lips part as she leant in.
“Ratty.” The rabbit jumped as Angel poked her head over the front of the motorhome, scaring the bejeezus out of her. Ratty on the other hand looked completely unfazed, almost as though she wasn’t about to go in for the kill. “The other battery doesn't have enough charge to finish the journey. I will walk to the nearest garage and find a replacement. You will have to sleep here.”
“Alright, sounds good.” Ratty said, the intimate softness suddenly gone from her voice. “Is there anything in the new one?”
“There is enough for you to be able to run the heater and the radio. You might be able to charge a cell phone, but it would interfere with everything else.”
“Cool.” Ratty dropped down off the roof. “I’m gonna dry off, fill Sap’ in for me?”
“Yeah.” Emily was stunned by the sudden change. “Yeah, for sure.” She let her eyes unfocus as Ratty went inside, listening to the heater thrum to life. Another second to collect her thoughts, then a hop down to the curb.
Sapphomet had left an empty spot next to them on the piece of driftwood they were using as a bench. They smiled invitingly up at Emily, scooting over even further to make sure the rabbit was comfortable.
“Evening, Emily.” Sapphomet said, their quiet voice all-consuming in the silence.
“Hey, Angel says we're gonna be stuck overnight.”
“I figured as much, have a seat.” Emily complied, folding her hands in her lap and also trying her best to act like she had not recently tried to kiss their wife.
The goat’s fur puffed up in the process of drying, giving them the appearance of a plush toy. They had tried and failed to slick their fur back down around their cheeks, leaving it frizzled in a uniform direction and giving them the appearance of mutton chops.
“We should talk more.” They said.
“Yeah. We should, I really appreciate all the, uh, like arcane-”
“We have something very important in common.” Sapphomet cut her off, the hint of a smile creeping into their voice. Their eyes appeared to be twinkling under their usual glow.
“What uh, what’s that?” Emily asked.
“Similar taste in women.” Sapphomet smirked.
“I-” Emily started, stunned for the second time in ten minutes. “Shut up, no way. No way, no way, no way.”
“It's fine Emily,” Sapphomet said, trying to wave away their quiet laughter. “I’m only teasing.”
“How did you-”
“Oh don’t act coy. I know what it looks like when my wife flirts with another woman.” Sapphomet teased, deflating Emily’s ego just a tad.
“I'm not- it was her- she started it.” The rabbit stammered.
“Calm down Emily. Ratty and I have been married for sixty years, I can definitely understand the appeal.” Emily was quiet for a moment as she chewed on her next thought.
“Is it like… a closed thing?” She asked. Sapphomet stifled a snort at this, raising a hand to hide their rumpled snout.
“What kind of prude do you take me for Emily?” Sapphomet managed between stifled giggles. “I couldn’t be an icon of sexuality if I only slept with one person.”
“Wait, okay so you’re the one that sleeps around?”
“Rude!” Sapphomet gasped, rocking into the ghost and bumping her with their shoulder. “We both ‘sleep around’ you silly rabbit.”
“So- but, like, it’s not a closed thing then?” A weird light wormed its way into her heart.
“The two of us are very secure in our union, Emily.” Sapphomet said. “As soon as you apologize for calling me a prude, you are absolutely free to try and ‘get in on this’.”
“Right, of course. Sorry for calling you a prude.”
“Apology accepted.” Sapphomet said, their chin raised in mock triumph.
The moment passed as both women focused in on the last embers of the fire, still warm enough to force weight into Emily’s body. It occurred to her for a moment she could be stabbed right now; a knife would totally stick into her when she was this warm.
“How do you guys pay taxes?” Emily asked, plucking a thought out of the air. “Like y’all- I guess it’s more Ratty’s problem but like... Y’all came back from Hell, right?”
“Yes. It’s quite easy, actually. Have you really never noticed the ‘escaped from Hell’ option on, um, well, every tax program?” Sapphomet asked.
“Here.” The demon fished through a pocket in the folds of their dress and produced a small red wallet. From that, they fished out a reddish-pink ID card with the government of Ontario logo on it. Next to the image: the initials E.O.H. “You put in this-”
“The Canadian government knows about hell!?” Emily snatched the card from their hand, scrutinizing it in the dying light.
“Yes, of course. We took a lot of pointers from them when we were setting it up.”
“What other governments know?”
“Uh, I'm not sure. There are countries we're not allowed to immigrate to. France is actually- Sorry, could you not put that so close to the fire?”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
“It’s not a problem, I just have to pay a fine if I lose it.”
“What were you saying about France?”
“Oh, right. They’re actually very welcoming! they were the first to have a plan in place for E.O.H.’s.” They said with all the tone and cadence of someone discussing their vacation plans. Emily handed the card back, content to quietly come to terms with this revelation.
The next little while passed in relative silence, interrupted only by Emily’s phone buzzing: 15% battery. Sapphomet stood silently once the fire had gone out, smiled sleepily at Emily, and made their way back to the motorhome.
Emily watched smoke rise from the still-warm coals, taking their time to flicker and die as she cranked her music. It did very little to drown out her thoughts.
Ratty was strange. There was definitely something between them beyond just having Ratty pay for all of her stuff, but it was a hell of a risk to make a move considering the circumstances. It was also hard to tell whether there was a legitimate attraction there, or her brain - devoid of the context from the rest of her life - just latched onto any pretty girl that was nice to her. Sapphomet was pretty and nice, and there wasn’t really anything there... Right?
She wondered if things between them were always kind of… tense… like this. Before she came back from the Ghostzone everything seemed pretty much fine. Sapphomet would get snippy whenever Ratty injured herself, Ratty would throw herself over her wife, apologize profusely - either sarcastically or genuinely depending on the situation - and things would be resolved. Emily hoped quietly that she wasn’t coming between them, they were like - what - a hundred and a million years old respectively? It was conceivable that she was the first new friend they had in a few decades.
All of this to distract from the real issue at hand: her mother, and the prospect of trying to have a family again. Memories came to her in flashes; the feeling of being excited to sit in the front seat, forgetting about how aggressively she had been buckled in. A small apartment. Screaming next door. Rough carpet against her face as she listened to heavy bass tones in the room below.
Her conversation with Uncle A hadn’t helped either. The best it did was help to put a name to a song that some piracy program had mislabelled as “1syWDl7H016.mp3” in her phone. She remembered that track being her favourite song, remembered wandering down a floor, counting the doors, and knocking politely, asking question after question after question about this music, learning to navigate an iPod with a non-functioning screen. She remembered getting an earful from her mother, seeing her downstairs neighbour again and again before the apartment was cordoned off with yellow tape.
Uncle A and the downstairs neighbor were probably the same person. That’s what made sense, at least.
A woeful note in her mother’s voice as Emily fought back against going on vacation for all the responsibility she had. A swimming pool at a small New Zealand resort. A bartender with white fur and red eyes, having a sleepover with her kids while their mom had a sleepover with hers.
“Wait, is my mom a lesbian?” Emily realized out loud, solving the memory like a puzzle. Of course she was. There was a family structure in her head: Mom, the bartender, the bartender’s kids, and her. Or, step-siblings, if this new theory was to be believed. After spending so much time avoiding thinking about this, there was an exhilaration in finally confronting it.
Until her music died. A black fog dropped just feet from her as she felt her chest tighten. The fire had gone out, the only light came from the barely illuminated waning moon. She stood, turned in the direction she assumed the motorhome to be and saw nothing. Ratty and Sapphomet had probably gone to sleep, they probably also turned the lights out. So Emily walked, focusing on keeping the motorhome ahead of her. The walk turned into a jog, which turned into a run, which turned into a painful bang as she ran headlong into a corrugated metal wall. She braced herself against it, felt the cabin’s radiator just on the other side, took a moment to recognize how lucky she was to have buzzed herself off of the only part of the van that she wouldn’t just go right through, then felt along the wall for the door. Sapphomet was lying on the couch, just barely awake as Emily floated up through the door.
“Everything okay Emily?” They asked, their glowing eyes squinting through the dark.
“My- my music died.” Emily admitted, feeling stupid once she said it out loud.
“Oh, I'm sorry. Is the radio loud enough?” Emily took a moment to focus in on what was already playing, it was hard to decipher, not necessarily complex, but alien. She shook her head.
“I need my music.”
“Alright.” Sapphomet reached up above the couch and clicked the radio off. They motioned Emily over, ducking so she had room to plug her phone into the cigarette lighter. The heater dimmed slightly as the screen lit up and in a second, the cabin was filled with the same slow, soft hip-hop as before.
“I’m sorry.” Emily said, taking stock of her actions in her newfound calm.
“It's okay. We all have our things.” Sapphomet said, turning back over and snuggling into the couch.
“Wait, why are you on the couch?” She whispered, realizing Ratty was still asleep on the bed at the back of the trailer.
“Go for it…” The goat mumbled into their cushions before falling back asleep. A new, calm kind of panic set in at the back of her mind as she took stock of her options: She could sit in the navigator's seat, or she could take up the extra room in Ratty’s bed. Her body made the decision before she did, trying her best not to creep as she prepared to climb into bed with a sleeping woman.
From the first step up to the bunk, Ratty came up to just about eye level with Emily, chewing holes into the collar of a worn-out t-shirt. It was only for one night. If Ratty got mad she could just say she didn't want to wake Sapphomet up. It was a big bed too, she could just take the other side. Emily focused on the beat as she very carefully hoisted herself onto the little loft, hovering slightly as she tried to climb over Ratty without touching her, and nestled under the blankets. The bed creaked as Ratty rolled over, her snout just inches from Emily’s. This was such a bad idea. Ratty opened one eye for a moment, squinting against the ghost’s blue glow as she lazily took in Emily's dark eyes.
"Hey Em." Ratty smiled.
"Sap’ on the couch?"
Ratty smiled, shutting her eye again and rolling over once more to slot herself neatly into the taller woman. A chill went up Emily's spine as Ratty wove her tail between their legs, wrapping it neatly around her ankles. It took an awkward moment to settle in, Emily’s hands hovering - afraid to trigger the possum’s PTSD - until Ratty took them and held them close to her chest. She felt the rise and fall of the smaller woman’s lungs through her own chest, and for a moment, it almost felt like she was breathing again.
MARCH 20 2011
Still South of Hudson Bay
Sapphomet had hiked to the nearest town for coffee. Two red cups full of cheap tasting basically-water and a warm chocolate milk for the possum still snoozing in the van’s back bunk. It was at the very least hot enough to taste if Emily strained. That was something the two of them shared: Sapphomet through their lack of mouth, and Emily through her ethereally dulled senses.
Ratty only barely stirred when Emily climbed back over her again to get out of bed, and Angel was nowhere to be found - although probably safe according to Sapphomet.
“She’s probably doing the task in a very specific way. Knowing her, she probably got a part-time job in order to buy the exact right battery off of Kijiji.” They explained, sniffing at the coffee. It was barely drinkable, Emily couldn’t fathom smelling it on purpose. It was at the very least, something. Almost-nothing tasted better than nothing-nothing, so Emily drank.
“You do poetry, right Emily?” Sapphomet asked.
“I uh- kind of. I did slam poetry for a bit in high school and then started rapping after- hey!” Emily realized what she was saying.
“Hey! Memory! That’s exciting.” Sapphomet confirmed.
“I uh- yeah, I started rapping after I graduated.”
“We should do a team piece.”
“Yeah?” The rabbit smiled. “Like a poetry thing?”
“I think that would be good for you. I mean, it’s already being good for you and we haven’t even started.”
“Is the slam poetry scene in Toronto big on ghosts and demons?”
“Oh, they love it. It’s all theatrics. I tear the lips open and the crowd goes wild.” Sapphomet said, trying to pick their teeth through the skin covering their mouth.
“You do what?” Emily asked.
“Oh goodness, have I never shown you this before?” Sapphomet asked, a quiet excitement in their eyes. They shifted their jaw with their hands as though rubbing some soreness out of it, stretching the skin enough to thin their fur. Then, with one eye jammed shut in concentration, opened their mouth wide and tore the skin that covered it like a zipper. Behind it was a row of normal-looking teeth, an upper gum, tongue, throat, and all the other fixings of a regular mouth.
“This is what my real voice sounds like.” The words hissed from their throat, barely audible.
“Okay. That’s sickening.” Emily said, trying her best to convey ‘no offence’ with tone. “Please put it back.”
“Does it make you uncomfortable?” They asked, their telepathy taking over as they produced a glowing needle and thread from thin air. They went to work patching up the hole, keeping their eyes on Emily as they effortlessly put it back together.
“It just looks really painful.”
“I promise it’s not.” The goat smiled. The wound had already just about healed over, the only evidence of its existence a few flecks of blood on their pristine white fur.
Ratty wandered tiredly from the back of the van in the silence. In one fluid motion and without opening her eyes, she tipped her wife’s chin up, lifted her hot chocolate from the cup-holder in their lap, and gave a gentle good-morning kiss to the spot where their mouth had been a second ago.
“You got your mouth out without me?” Ratty asked, still half-asleep as she licked the blood from her lips and dropped into the couch across from Emily.
“Emily had never seen it before!” Sapphomet explained, consoling their wife. Ratty seemed to accept this, shuffling their position on the cough and slotting herself neatly under the sloth-bunny’s outstretched paws.
“Beautiful smile, huh?” She said, not a trace of irony in her voice. Again, she stopped, the same distance coming across her face as something pushed her into outer-space.
Sapphomet noticed too, catching Emily’s nervous gaze and seemingly snapping Ratty out of it. The possum and the rabbit locked eyes for a single tense moment, Ratty suddenly conscious again, trying - as she usually did - to say ‘don’t worry about me’ with her eyes.
“Hey, Ratty.” Emily said. Ratty smiled.
“Hi Em.” Ratty said. Em smiled back.
“We good?” She asked.
“So good,” Ratty replied. “Good as Gandhi, silly rabbit.”
“Oh, hun, Gandhi sucked.” Sapphomet interjected.
“I kinda know, I just thought maybe I could say that and get away with it. Kinda, Indiana Jones my way under the slowly descending stone door of my wife telling me which historical figures secretly suck.” She explained, making a motion like sliding under a door with her hands.
“Dude, Gandhi did not secretly suck. It was like, in books and stuff.”
“Emily is right, and I simply can't stay married to a woman who refuses to append a historical callout to her riffs.”
“Yeah Ratty, that was kind of fucked-up of you.” Emily piled on.
“Oh fuck, I’m being exiled.” The possum said, fighting back a grin in an effort to amp up the drama. “I'm getting Romeo'd out of Stratford on Avon.”
“Romeo wasn't-” Sapphomet started.
“Fuck! You’re right!!! That was Shakespeare!!!” Ratty interrupted, struggling to fight down laughter.
“Shakespeare?” Sapphomet said, the corner of a fit of giggles poking into their voice. Ratty shut up immediately, turning to her wife with an open-mouth grin. “I barely-” They cut themselves off as they caught Ratty’s eye.
“Babe, please. I need this.”
“Babe. Sapphomet. Love of my life. I need you to finish this.”
“I barely-” They stopped again, waving away a fit of giggles.
“Babe. Please. Goddess Sapphomet, I need this good good goof from you, you sweet beautiful shining star of my life.” Ratty was practically begging at this point. Sapphomet cleared their throat and straightened their back, putting on a very convincing ‘serious face’.
“Shake spear?” Their voice shook with the effort of keeping it together. “I barely know her.”
Alright, this was it. Emily wove her fingers through a length glowing red thread. Burning bright against her knuckles, Sapphomet’s magic kept her grounded and corporeal as the morning sun threatened to shatter her. Despite the long leash, she felt Sapphomet’s presence behind her, felt the excited encouragement bubbling up in her friends.
It was hard to know what she herself was feeling.
No use putting it off. She raised her hand, the thread making it just physical enough to hit the wooden door, took a deep breath, and knocked.
The wait dragged on as something shuffled closer to the other side of the door. The something then stopped, leaving a few seconds of silence before the lock clicked and the door thunked open against its chain.
“You had better have a damn good reason for-” Something wooden and hollow-sounding clattered to the floor on the other side as the woman recognized her daughter’s face.
There she was; Emily Sloth-Bunny Sr., her namesake. She was shorter than expected, the strands of grey in her dark purple-brown fur highlighted in the subtle glow of Emily Jr.
"Junie?" The older woman’s voice shook.
“Hey mama.” Emily responded, not missing a beat. It felt like she had just come home from work. Like her mother had put the chain across without realizing she was still out. She raised a trembling hand to her lips, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Hey baby.” The door shut for just a moment before swinging wide and crashing into the metal fence that edged the small landing. Emily Sr. stood, stunned as her daughter pulled her in. She was still for just a moment before throwing her arms up around Emily Jr., her thin frame trying to crush the life back into her daughter.
“Missed you.” Emily murmured into the top of her mother’s head.
“I missed you too, baby.”
There was something weird about not remembering her own car, something about it being the second most valuable thing most people ever own and simultaneously just not existing in her memory. All of this felt so distant. The moment Emily Sr. realized that her daughter was, and was going to keep being dead, something changed.
It was a nice car though: A thoroughly gutted second-generation Pontiac Firebird. There were memories in this car, picking out its boxy silhouette against the orange light of a scrapyard at night, sprinting home and begging Uncle A to beg a friend to beg another friend who owned a towing business to pick it up for her, the summer afternoons spent with her nose in repair guides, sneaking back into the scrapyard for parts.
It was really a wonder her mom had dragged it all the way here from Oakland. The engine staunchly refused to turn over, the undercarriage had started to rust out, and weirdest of all, the passenger seat was just gone - not like it had been removed, the entire structure that would indicate there ever having been a passenger seat was gone.
Apparently, this was her baby. Stranger still was the sensation of wandering out to the garage, taking a chest of tools from the trunk, and setting to work on instinct as though she had never put it down. She couldn’t sleep, not like this: the disappointed look in her mother’s eyes, the barely hidden tone as though she was in trouble, playing over and over again in her mind as though having come back from the dead in any form was somehow not good enough for her.
Suffice to say, was not conducive to sleep.
So, it was car time, and music time. Emily had no memory of how this car worked, or really how any car worked, but somehow it all fell together like Tetris pieces. No shimmying, no forcing or bending. Ostensibly, she knew how to do this.
She jumped, smacking her head off of the hood of the car as the sound of the garage opening behind her overpowered her headphones. She spun, hiding the heavy wrench the was holding just behind the car’s front bumper, ready to surprise whoever with it.
It was Ratty, groggy, holding a steel baton, dressed in her usual sleep clothes: bright red boxer shorts and a baggy band t-shirt.
“...scared the shit out of me, Em’.” She finished as the rabbit slipped off her headphones, her soft morning grumble tinged with annoyance. “Saw the garage light and…” She trailed off.
“Nice undies.” Emily prodded, going back to her work.
Ratty pulled up a stool, watching Emily work, occasionally handing her tools and becoming tiredly fascinated with a smudge of grease that somehow found its way onto the back of her hand.
“So, you do cars?” She asked once the stain had gotten boring.
“Mind if I sit in it?”
"You gonna spin the wheel and make driving noises?" Emily teased.
“Only if you want me to.” Ratty teased back, in a more flirty tone than sitting in a car and pretending to drive warranted.
“Alright, nerd.” Emily wiped her brow, satisfied with her work, and slowly slipping back into a non-distracted state. “I think I need a break now anyway.” She followed Ratty into the bench back-seat, stretching out in the extra legroom afforded by the missing passenger seat and cornering the possum in.
“No fair.” Ratty said.
“I’m taller, this is what makes sense.”
“I am also tall! Here...” She shimmied over, getting close enough to make Emily self conscious of her work-stench, and stretched out in the void. “There.” She winked. Emily turned away to hide a blush before realizing that her lack of skin probably hid it better. She silently cursed her tell.
"So… Why did you come sleep with me last night, Em?" The possum nudged.
"Oh god,” The blush turned cold as- well I mean, she doesn’t have blood, but if she did, it would have drained from her face. “I'm sorry. Was that crossing a line?"
"Nope. I just wanna know." Emily’s brain whurred, trying to remember why she actually did it.
“Sapphomet was on the-"
"Emily." The mischievous little marsupial drawled, the low baritone of her voice seeming to shake the windows. "Is that the only reason?"
Emily turned it over in her mind, started talking as soon as cohesive thoughts started forming: "You're- you’ve been super kind, and like caring and shit, and I'm really, like, kind of lonely right now, and I think Sapphomet like, figured that out. So she just-”
“I getcha.” Ratty interrupted. “You’ve spent the past couple years cooped up in your apartment, and like- living forever still feels like a long time ‘cause you’ve just started doing it, so… uh… yeah.” She trailed off again. “Sorry, your mom has good shit and I’m like, struggling to keep a train of thought, lol.” She explained, actually saying the ‘lol’ out loud like a big dork.
“What’s it like to be alive passing?” Emily asked, struggling not to be jealous.
“What’s it like to be cis passing?” Ratty shot back.
Ratty spent the next few minutes getting increasingly comfortable against her ghost friend, wiggling and burrowing a few inches into her body.
“Em’, listen.” She started suddenly.
“If you wanna-” Ratty rolled over, straddling Emily and groggily playing with her shirt collar. “If you want to fuck me, all you have to do is ask.”
“I mean- okay, wait.” She pulled back, dropping out of her sex persona in an instant. “If, that is what you want. I don’t- I need you to understand that like, I’m not going to kick you out or stop buying you stuff if you say no.”
“Ratty…” Emily started.
“And I'm also not going to stop being your friend."
"Ratty." She started again, more firm this time.
“I’m flattered, and like- absolutely yes at some point, but right now I have a lot on my mind, feel me?” Emily explained.
"Yeah for sure- I'm sorry, I realized as soon as I saw your face that I misread that, I just didn't like-”
“You’re good. I just- actually, do you mind if I talk at you for a minute?”
“Go ahead.” Ratty rolled back off, lying across Emily’s lap. “This good?”
“Yeah.” Emily absentmindedly wove her fingers through Ratty’s hair. “So, was your mom scared of you when she saw you?”
“Yeah, I think at first that came with the territory of like, having been almost killed again and meeting her in the middle of the woods, covered in blood, when she was searching for a spree killer, but I think it got worse when I told her about… uh, like... being undead.”
“I think my mom is feeling that.”
“I noticed that.” Ratty nodded, her eyes lulling closed. “I- the thing that I learned, is that- people want you to always be the way that you always were. Even if she’s cool about trans stuff, everybody- everybody has their breaking point, y’know?”
“It’s unfortunate, ‘cause a lot of the time, the times when we change are the times when we need the most help.”
“Weed makes you smart, huh?” Emily said, trying to push some light into the conversation.
“I’m always smart, you skank.” Ratty snapped back. “Anyway, it’ll probably go back to normal eventually, but right now it’s not something you can force. In the meantime, you got me, you got Sapphomet, we’re gonna start doing community nights at T35 again so there’s that. Sap’ said you’re doing poetry now. Plus! You got siblings you ain’t even met yet. It’s all- it’s all gonna be good buddy, I promise.”
“Thanks, buddy.” Emily let her eyes lull closed, trying to focus on how close she felt with Ratty, and trying to put out of her mind how distant she felt from her own family.
“No, it’s not your fault.” Ratty took another step forward, her eyes working overtime for any uptick in Sapphomet’s outward show of fear. They continued to shake, their eyes still overflowing, but they seemed tentatively drawn into their wife’s arms. In a moment of rushed judgement, Ratty wrapped her arms around Sapphomet. Sapphomet wrapped her arms around Ratty, and felt ever so slightly better.
Ratty, meanwhile, felt her skin crawl. She was unworthy, it was the grace of God that Sapphomet could not read her mind in this moment.