Containment Breach - 2017
“Pickup for uh, Sloth-Bunny, Sett and Vermington.” Eleanor popped an earbud out as she approached the counter, doing her best to minimize her time spent having to exist in the world outside of her music. Being in public, talking, at the front of a line compounded her nerves into a dense puck of existential ache. She felt every second of space she took up, like she was an unwelcome intrusion, and the good people of Toronto would turn on her at any moment if she held the line.
“Address?” The pharmacist asked, already rummaging through the ‘S’ and ‘V’ drawers.
“They’re all the same. 212 Dundas. It’ll- sorry.” Eleanor leant over the counter. “I don’t know why, but mine is always filed under ‘B’ for Bunny.”
“Uh-huh.” The pharmacist muttered, not bothering to take his nose out of the ‘S’ drawer. “Just give me one quick second here.”
“No rush.” The rabbit sighed, preparing herself for the same delay, the same surprised ‘ah!’, the same ‘It’s so weird, Sloth-Bunny was under B.’ The smaller pharmacy around the corner closed down half a year ago and she had yet to find one that was both locally owned and not terrified of the paranormal. People stared here. Some combination of the fact that she was six feet tall, noticeably transgender, and undead eroded the social contract and turned Eleanor into an icon of the unknowably different.
It was hard to see the world through black eyes; eyes that couldn’t be seen to be staring back.
“This is so weird-” The pharmacist popped up, dropping an armload of eight different little paper bags on the table and zapping through them. “Sloth-Bunny was filed under B.”
“Crazy.” Eleanor watched as each prescription popped up on the monitor:
Ratty’s lexapro - which would sit in her medicine cabinet until it expired.
Sett’s lexapro - which would not.
Ratty’s inhaler - which Eleanor had never actually seen her use.
It helped - or at the very least was distracting - to count them. It would have been a lie to say putting them in eight separate bags was odd, this pharmacy had never done what would have been convenient.
“Can I get a plastic bag to put these all in?” Eleanor asked.
“Bags are 5 cents.” The pharmacist glared, annoyed, down at the pin pad as though either giving away one five cent bag or cancelling the pin pad to add five cents to Eleanor’s total was tantamount to stopping and re-starting his own heart.
“Wh- why are bags five cents?”
“I dunno. Environment. probably.”
“Well, you could have just like, put them all in one paper bag, considering they’re part of the same order.”
“Sorry sir, company policy.”
“Sir? Really? I’m walking away with- you can read my name!” She picked up one of the estrogen bags and held it up next to her face, pointing back and forth between her name - Eleanor - and her incredulous expression. The pharmacist seemed incapable of reaction, instead glancing around the ghost as if to say “now who’s failing the social contract?” She stuffed the paper bags into her pocket as a hot rush of shame shot up from the back of the line and took her over.
She missed Dr. Shepherd from the walk-in, missed - even though they had annoyed her at first - the little bible verse cards he put in the bottom of each bag. There was safety in a small, under-performing business, but that kind of thing didn’t last downtown for long.
“You still-” The pharmacist started.
“Yeah, I know. I still have to pay for it. No shit.” She took a plastic bag full of change out of her pocket. With the pharmacist paid by the company and the actual product paid for by the government, these fees - coming out of her laundry budget - were essentially paying for nothing, which made it worse when she realized she would have to empty her change bag to cover it.
Worse still when she began to feel the eyes on her back, heard the subtle tapping of a rubber-soled shoe. She wanted to turn and scream, that - if there was any other choice - she would not be wasting anyone’s time. She needed her medicine, the sooner she could roll herself up in her covers, put on some music, and fall asleep, the better for everyone.
She turned to leave, picturing the soft down of her duvet, jumping as someone tapped low on her shoulder.
“Sorry, miss.” She turned, ready to burst into tears at the smallest inconvenience, and came face to face with sunglasses, an upturned collar, and a duck bill, all badly hidden under an oversized trench coat. “You dropped this.” The trench coat held out a paper bag.
“Oh… thanks.” That was, less shitty than expected. She took it, nodded as graciously as she could muster, and left.
Pills rattling in her pockets, she took off due east, practically begging to get home as quickly as possible. The bus ran on a 15 minute schedule, she could power-walk the same distance in seven.
There was no way of telling whether that was what it was like in Oakland, but fuck. It was a wonder anyone in this city held down a job with the amount of time they just spent gawking at strangers. Most people were curious, sure, but there would be times - looking for a seat on the streetcar, waiting in line, doing the most mundane shit - that people would glare like they wanted to kill her, as though she could get any more dead.
She wished she was dead-er, honestly. Outside people were scary, the people at T35 were scary, Ratty - Eleanor’s only friend, essentially - had started acting scary. It was difficult to communicate. Difficult to make friends.
Distant scary turned into immediately scary as Eleanor caught something behind her in a mirrored window: sunglasses, trench coat, duck bill was following her. Fucking great.
She dialed Ratty on instinct, checking windows each block and becoming progressively more certain that - yeah - she was being followed.
“Hey, it’s El. Someone is following me.” No use beating around the bush.
“Where are you?” She asked.
“I’m just crossing Church.”
“Okay, turn left. I’ll meet you at the university. Don’t hang up. Make small talk.” Right, of course, small talk. What did people small talk about? Ratty took the burden of answering that off of Eleanor: “How’s your day been?”
“Good.” She said on pure, cordial instinct. “Uh, well, wait. Not great actually.”
“No, yeah I imagine not.”
“What about you?”
“I’m fine… they wanted me to come consult on this- Okay, actually can I rant?”
“Please, go ahead.” There was something calming in the normalcy of the possum’s voice.
“Not that it matters but I feel like any time that I’m like, called in on my academic merits anywhere its because someone has like, already died, and they’re worried that the fucking X-files unit is gonna come down on their head.” Eleanor stopped at the curb, using the cover of looking both ways while crossing to check. Sure enough, sunglasses was still about a block behind her. “And it’s like, your priorities are so fuckin’ out there that- like nobody would be dead if you just called me to begin with, y’know?”
“Is that- Is there really an X-files unit?” Eleanor had gotten hung up on that part of the monologue.
“What? No? It’s a TV show. I mean, like Angelcorp, I guess? The FBI has it’s Unexplained Phenomenon department - they actually just got a bump in their funding… plus I mean the freelance scene…”
“Okay, cool. Thank you Ratty. Really setting me at ease when I am literally being followed home by a ‘men in black’.”
“I expected you to say no!”
“Hang on, I see you.” Ratty waved from across the street. “Is that the guy?”
“I’m not staring. Hold on.” Ratty hung up, her posture changing from tense concern to open excitement. “Oh my god! Eleanor? Is that you?” She pranced across the street, exaggerating the amount she had to get on her tiptoes to come to eye level with the ghost. She watched as the stalker, suddenly panicked, ducked down an alley and disappeared.
“Is he gone?” Eleanor asked.
“Yeah.” Ratty let go of Eleanor, looking up at her friend, each letting a silent moment of ‘how about that, the life of an undead transgender’ pass between them. “Thank you for calling me.” Ratty said.
“Thanks for picking up.” Eleanor smiled, however weakly.
“Wanna get a burg?” Ratty prodded, looking for a way to cheer El up.
“Yeah, sure. That’d be cool.”
“God. I fucking love this place.” Ratty said through a mouth full of wet bread and recently unfrozen ground beef. Eleanor watched as the possum - cursed by her species with an unsophisticated mouth - struggled to keep the mess between her teeth. She sucked quietly on her own milkshake, enjoying the taste even as the chill tested the corporeality of her throat.
It was worth it. Lactose intolerant people sometimes drank milkshakes, there was no reason that the same reckless disregard for what your body can handle couldn’t apply to her as well. Plus, there was no real risk of an upset tummy for Eleanor. Her worst case scenario was spending an afternoon with her uncle.
“So fucking good.” Her throat waved as it struggled to stick to this plane of existence. “I love food that’s just like, soft and wet.”
“Five soft wet dudes made me this hamburger and I am going to cherish it for the rest of my life.” Ratty smiled. That was rare nowadays. Even now, there was more than her usual tiredness behind her eyes. Eleanor chose to ignore it, instead choosing to let the moment sit for the time being.
“Amen.” She sighed, sucking back the last dregs of peanut butter ice cream and whipped milk. She stared down into the empty cup, running over the day's events in her mind as the parts of the medium-brown slurry too fine to be sucked up by her straw swirled around the bottom. “Do you… worry about me?”
“I- you can take care of yourself.” Ratty put her food down, meeting Eleanor’s eyes. “I would come looking for you if you didn’t come home a couple nights in a row without saying anything, but you’re smart.”
Cool. So that probably wasn’t it. She tried again: “How are things with Sett?”
“Oh, I dunno.” It wasn’t uncommon for Ratty to break a gaze like that. It offered no clues as to what was going on inside her head. “They’ve been really weird lately. I haven’t seen them.” An inaccurate way of saying something that was technically true.
“I’m not... pulling you two apart at all?” Surely, if something was wrong, it had to be her fault.
“I want to spend time with you, El.” Ratty smiled, her eyes remaining hollow and sad. “We- me and Sett have been married for like, what, 60 years now? I’m sure they’re fine with my little girlfriend.”
Girlfriend was a new word. Eleanor wished it had cropped up under less disappointing circumstances, and coupled with the word ‘little’ it felt kind of diminutive, but it was new, and didn’t feel terrible. It felt like Eleanor wanted Ratty to be in a healthier mindset, or at the very least understood why she wasn’t.
“Okay.” Eleanor sighed. “I just like them and I like, don’t want to be a problem for you two, y’know?”
“Yeah, nah. If there's a problem, it’s not sitting at this table.” That was an inaccurate way to say something completely flat out false. Ratty is an idiot and kind of a jackass at this point. Let's all hope she gets the opportunity to reflect soon.
“Okay.” Eleanor said, a few tense moments passing between the two before Ratty - always uncomfortable with silences - rose to speak again.
“I’m not like, avoiding them or anything.” There was an undercurrent of frustration in her voice, the dark circles under her eyes growing darker as her expression shadowed them.
“That’s- really none of my business, actually.” Eleanor watched for a moment as Ratty processed what she just said, her eyes flickering with stress and confusion. “You really kinda tipped your hand there, huh bud?”
“I- no? I literally am saying that I’m not.”
“Did something happen between you two?”
“No? I don’t know what would make you think something like that.”
“Okay.” Eleanor said, trying to calm the situation back down as she felt her throat beginning to clog. “Sorry I brought it up.”
A few more beats passed in silence, Eleanor no less anxious than when she had started down this line of questioning, wondering if Ratty would take it as a personal offence if she got up to throw out her milkshake cup. She chanced it, and was pleasantly unsurprised when the possum kept staring at her half eaten burger.
She popped the top off, put the plastic straw and lid into one container, then dropped the paper cup into another. She stood there for just a moment, took a deep breath, and went to sit back down.
“Even if I did want to-”
“You are being a huge bitch right now.” Eleanor cut her off.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m just- I just want to chill, y’know?” Eleanor felt the chill run out from her throat, knew the weather outside wouldn’t help as her fur prickled. She sat, feeling it stand up on end as the static of the plastic bench clung to it. “Either you want to talk about Sett or you don’t.”
“I don’t!” Ratty snapped.
“Well good!” Eleanor snapped back. With a bang ten times louder than and completely unfit for the outburst, every light in the restaurant went out, leaving Eleanor as the sole source of light in the dark. She didn’t have to open her eyes to know she had made herself the sudden centre of attention.
Ratty turned, a sudden cold wash extinguishing her anger as she took in Eleanor’s face: on the verge of tears, eyes jammed shut spilling over. She opened them on the possum, the only way to avoid the fact that everyone was staring at her.
“I’m getting more and more afraid of days like this one.” She choked. “I don’t want to fuck up my friendship with you because you and Sett are the only people I feel even close to safe around.”
“I’m- I’m sorry.”
“YEAH WELL WHATEVER.” And with that, Eleanor stormed out.
Ratty is in her office
Shares an office with angel’s big ol server thing
She waited there for the next job,
figured it was simpler than moving back and forth from a bed to her desk.
Ratty had fallen asleep to the sound of muffled conversation, occasional laughter echoing through the vents.
That was good.
She stayed up here, they stayed down there, the whole system worked as long as everyone got what they needed.
It was not the first time her phone woke her up in this room. She blinked awake slowly, ignoring the ache in her back, and neck, and face, as she opened the notification. It was an automated ping from downstairs: Fern - who had to be put away for the night - had breached containment.
Ratty got up,
shrugging off the winter jacket she had been using to keep herself warm in the poorly insulated corner of this building.
You should get some help
Are you doing to do it?
Angel was barely in a state to make it up the stairs
Sett is available.
Sett is in group.
Fern is available.
No, they are not.
Forget about it, angel.
She made her way down the frigid stairwell,
Puts a brick in the door
Fern struggling to do anything but get mad in the cramped hallway
“It’s bedtime, c’mon Fern.”
Mess of parts seemed to be organized around its sight line on the possum
Ratty sighed, rolling some of the ache out of her shoulder as she too charged. Fern was always the same. They went for the throat, Ratty ducked low, up-tackle, and-
Actually not this time Ratty.
Fern braces against the ceiling
stalled upright on their hind legs,
still basically completely in control.
They took Ratty by the scruff of the neck in their teeth, thrashing like a predator does with wounded-but-not-dead pray.
Ratty kicked against the tearing sensation in the back of her neck.
Thrown deeper into the basement
Fern, seemingly in pain
Knocks the brick out of the door.
[Ratty checks her phone.]
No signal in the basement
Fern probably wouldn’t get far before someone else stopped them. This is still fine. It would have been a fine time to examine where this all went wrong. Maybe if she wasn’t needlessly self destructive this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe her self flagellation is harming others more than it's actually harming the evil in her life. Did any of that occur to Ratty?
No, why would it?
Ratty felt bad. She sat down on the cold concrete and stared at the door.
[The faded tile of T35’s lobby whizzes by below a pair of oversized dress shoes.]
[The view raises slightly, barely crossing the floor level trim as the operator of this hidden camera attempts to film the room.]
[A voice pants from out of frame.]
“I am- this is a special episode of the Dark Side Podcast. I am… in the office… of the real life X-files department: Team 35 Logistics.”
“Hi, sorry, can I help you?”
[The frame whips around and centres Becca, sitting at her desk.]
[The off-camera voice is startled.]
“IS IT TRUE THAT THIS FACILITY HOUSES CREATURES OF A PARANORMAL NATURE?”
“Uh, yes… We prefer if you don’t… film… actually.”
[The frame goes dark as a hand covers the lens]
[The off-camera voice whispers directly into the microphone.]
“It appears that the receptionist has some variety of mind-reading augmentation.”
“No, it’s just not that good of a hidden camera. You really can’t-”
[A chair screeches against the tile.]
[The off-camera voice yelps.]
[Oversized dress shoes clap down a hallway.]
“Hey! C’mon, kid. You can’t-”
[The slam of a metal door reverberates up a stairwell.]
[Oversized dress shoes click up concrete steps.]
[A blue glow appears on camera, projected against a cement wall.]
“It’s the- the spectral form from this morning’s report.” A weedy little voice caught Eleanor off guard. No one took the stairs in this building, they were cold and wet in the winter, and almost too steep to climb if you actually weighed anything. She hadn’t expected to run into anyone but Becca, who was fantastic at keeping her nose out of other people’s business.
And of course. Of fucking course: why wouldn’t it be sunglasses, trench coat, duck bill? Her heart would race if it wasn’t completely dormant. As is, it rose into her throat, completely halting any pantomime of breathing she had gotten used to.
“Stop fucking following me!” She blew through the nearest door into the second floor common area. Evidently, a ghost sighting was not the first interruption to Sett’s support group tonight. Pokey stood in front of a huddled mass of traumatized paranormals, hunched into a defensive stance, their eyes locked on the massive ball of dull, oxygen deprived fur in the middle of the room.
At the other end of the lizard’s gaze, Sett wrestled with a crackling length of rope, struggling to keep it tight around Fern’s snout.
“Hi Eleanor!” Sett called, their hooves lifted for a half-second as the creature thrashed. “I need-” Fern flung their head backwards, sending Sett rolling across the room as their ropes snapped. “Would you help me with this, please?” They jumped back into the frey and pulled a rope into Fern’s maw like a piece of floss, somehow maintaining composure through it all.
“Yeah that’s not-” All the ways Fern could tear her apart flashed behind Eleanor’s eyes in sequence, ignoring for a moment the fact that she wasn’t solid enough for that to actually happen. “That’s not in my wheelhouse, I don’t think.” She had begun to back up, only noticing as the duck-billed stalker passed through her lower chest.
“They can’t hurt you.” Fern snapped their jaw, failing to slip free as Sett repositioned and took them by the neck.
“N- no, yeah-” The rabbit’s blood roared in her ears, officially crossing the threshold where keeping it together was at all possible. Tears floated away from her eyes as she blinked, blurring her vision. Each eye went dark in sequence, plunging her into the rot of her former home as a new level of panicked hell overtook her body. The snow she had spent so much time clearing from her memory began to settle again. Mouth moving on instinct, she tried desperately to form anything but a wordless stammering: the first and last bastion of ‘being Eleanor’.
Sett slid to a stop at Eleanor’s feet, the stink of carpet burn only adding to Eleanor’s panic as the two locked eyes. “It’s okay, Eleanor.”
“I- I c- c- can’t br- breathe.”
“It’s okay.” They got to their knees, trying to shortcut what would likely have been an hour of gentle coaxing in the short seconds available between Fern’s moves. “It’s okay. You’re here. Your name is Eleanor Sloth-Bunny Jr. You- where’s your music?”
As though on cue, the half-second between the compressed voice of Ted Taylor gave way to a hard snare, and she was back.
Some recognition flashed behind Sett’s eyes. They gave a short “good job” nod, then stood, brushed the dust from their sweater, and charged back into it.
The stalker stepped forward into the void, her hidden camera now fully and unabashedly visible. In that single moment of hyper-clarity, Eleanor grabbed the duck by the back of her trench coat and tossed her back into the protected area behind her back.
“What the fuck are you doing?” She snapped, “Don’t be fucking stupid.”
“This is fascinating. I’ve never-” The two were cut off as Sett crashed through a sheet of drywall, blinking, tired, as they once again got back up. “Two telepaths, a fully formed spectre, some variety of dog-beast-hybrid. This is fantastic! This is the best day of my life! What is this place?”
“This place is fucking- not a tourist attraction, is what it is.” Eleanor finally squared up her stalker. The trench coat hung loose around her wrists, dirty in places where it had dragged along the dusty edge of the staircase. Splattered across the chest were an extensive collection of “I WANT TO BELIEVE” style patches and buttons, now not hidden by the duck’s raised arms. Eleanor snatched the sunglasses off her face: she looked barely old enough to be let out of the house alone, too short to see over most counters, a set of green-banded braces slurring her speech.
Just a kid, familiar in her wide eyed fascination.
“You look like a creep with the sunglasses-” Eleanor was unsure of what to say.
“Eleanor!” Sett shouted from across the room. She turned to see Fern charging, the full force of their fangs ready to strike. Shit.
Eleanor - her heart pounding, actually pounding - flinched as the lights snapped off around her. She had shifted in an instant into her terrorform, letting her eyes - still full of tears - take over her face, and charged.
Fern stopped just shy of the duck as they crashed into the smaller rabbit, half-barking half-whining as the ghost phased through them and took their throat by the interior. She dropped through the floor, not knowing at the time that she could do that, and brought Fern down with a crash.
The creature struggled for breath as it’s body recovered from the equivalent of a hard jab in the throat. Eleanor climbed back through the floor, still holding Fern’s neck, her eyes locking on the duck when she was sure they wouldn’t move.
“Pokey! The thing!” The words had barely left Sett’s mouth before a light yellow vial had left the lizards hand and landed in theirs. They jabbed it into Fern’s neck, their rapid breathing falling in tandem as the drug worked its way through the creature’s system. Sett caught Eleanor’s eye as the room returned to a tense normal, and let out a long sigh.
“You did it.” They smiled.
“Yeah, for sure.”
“Okay-” Sett sat up between breaths. “Who’s hurt?”
To her credit, Ratty had endeavoured to make the staunch refusal to perform any kind of introspection marginally more interesting. Now, not only had she spent a stupid amount of time staring at the door, but she was currently exploring endeavours in staring at the ceiling.
There was something going on upstairs. She could hear the building settling and resettling, vents creaking against each other as somewhere, a few floors up, the old floor bowed and unbowed. Perhaps coincidentally, Ratty could no longer hear Fern fucking around in the stairwell.
She desperately wished for the cement walls around her to turn their usual maroon red.
So, c’mon Ratty.
She stood up, further ramping up the excitement as she paced the length of the hallway. Was ‘why did I let this happen?’ even the right place to start? No. She knew why she let this happen. There was a very clear line of motivation stretching back to the core belief that Sett either hated her or should hate her.
If, from the moment she woke up in her office, the universe gave her 1000 different opportunities to repeat tonight with her memory wiped, there was no random component that would have intervened and made anything better than this outcome happen. It wasn’t as though Ratty had let it happen. It had happened, and would always have had happened.
So why did it happen?
“There’s never an amount of self sacrifice I should be able to do that doesn’t solve the problem. There is infinite Ratty, ergo, there should be enough Ratty to be burned to fix anything - everything, even.” She said aloud, inviting the room to queer that line of thought.
The most obvious, but perhaps least interesting flaw being that there was not ‘infinite Ratty’. Why then was destroying Ratty the only solution to her problems.
“I don’t know how to fix things without hurting myself.” She tried. Not quite.
“There’s something wrong with me.” That was the core of that thought. “Is that my fault?”
The obvious answer was no. She woke up one day in the middle of the desert with a head full of someone else’s memories. The cop out answer would be to say that she was doomed to misery from that moment, but she had had so much joy in her afterlife, even with the spectre of guilt hovering over her.
She had only seen her father once past age 18, at her older sister’s wedding. She contextualized that day through one terse interaction, wherein the elder god of time accidentally misgendered her.
He was probably even older now.
Ratty fell onto her back, cushioned slightly by the nest of torn sheets.
There was a small window. She could probably break it if there was anything around hard enough.
Her sister’s wedding would be coming up soon, actually. The fall of 2020, delayed only slightly by that year’s pandemic.
Ratty sat up abruptly as a clump of dust fell into her eye, the tremors back again.
“Fucking- god damn it.” She jammed the heel of her palm into the socket.
Sett was handling it. They would have been able to get out of this room. It was more likely that Sett wouldn’t have gotten stuck in the first place.
She began to rub the other eye as she told herself another clump of dust caught her in the eye. She stopped abruptly, just letting the sting sit, letting the tears well up and roll down her cheeks, hating herself for every one.
“That’s a good thing.” She said, the sticky urge not to sob clinging to her voice like a cancerous tumour. She let the silence hang, sat up, stared around blankly, as though she could see the absence of sound, as though waiting for someone to speak.
No one here. Just Ratty, sitting miserably, alone, miserable because of her staunch refusal to face anything any way but alone. It was fate that put her through Hell. It was Ratty who decided she deserved it.
God, what a fucking mess.
“I think I deserve to be miserable.” And it sounded so ridiculous when she said it aloud.
Yeah, actually, fuck that. She stood up. Window. Something hard. All of her staring had paid off in the form of a perfect image of the door, it’s handle barely hanging on. All it would take is one good kick and-
And… it swung open.
“Oh. Huh.” This time, it really was that simple.
She held her breath, pictured her internal dial clicking into the zero position, and ran upstairs. Most obvious was Fern, lying unconscious in the middle of the room. In the corner nearest the door, Pokey presided over minor wounds, bandaging the cuts and scrapes that had resulted more from fleeing than from the actual creature. Prisha followed closely behind a duck Ratty had never met before, circling Fern’s unconscious form, frozen in the middle of a flinch from a slap on the hand they had just received. Miss Nelly, woken up by the commotion, still in her pyjamas, towered over Sett, deferring in posture to the goat’s orders.
Ratty let out her breath and all at once the chaos resumed.
“Sett!” The goat jumped as their partner snapped into existence from thin air.
“Ratty.” They composed themselves quickly enough not to fuck up their delicate stitch-work.
“I- sorry, I wanted to say, I haven’t been fair to you.”
“No, you haven't been.” Sett finished up the wound, sealing it up and moving on to the next identical claw mark. “You’re going great, by the way.” They told their patient. Davy temporarily un-bit down on the ream of printer paper he had been biting into for stability and offered a weak ‘thank you’ grunt in response.
“I want to fix that.”
“Good.” Sett turned away from their work for a moment, met Ratty’s gaze for a split second to confirm that this was exactly the kind of conversation they had wanted for years now, and dove back into their wound care. “Let’s talk about it later.”
“Yeah, absolutely.” Giddied excitement took over Ratty’s voice. “For sure.”
“Right now, go grab the big first aid kit from my- our bedroom and come back with it.”
Ratty nodded, turned to take off, and found her throat running up against the interior of her shirt-collar. She turned back, her chin landing neatly in Sett’s palm. “Hang on.” They rocked up onto the tips of their hooves and pressed their lips against Ratty’s. “Thank you.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Sett sat carefully on their shared couch, a slightly overflowing mug of green tea in one hand, a small bowl of sugar in the other. Usually they didn’t like to sully the flavor, but today was a long day. A little treat wouldn’t hurt anyone. They had spent the past few minutes searching for the tiny porcelain scoop that went along with the dish, then gave up and settled on dumping a few seconds worth of sugar into the blend.
“So…” They began. “What’s um… what is up?”
Ratty sat up, pulling the sleeves of an old college hoodie over her cold fingers. Well, ‘old’ wasn’t accurate. She had waited for her undergrad school to stock the hoodie she wore for most of her freshman year. It was a comforting ounce of normalcy, even as the new fabric required she grind the burrs off on the lap of her jeans.
She took a deep breath, and began:
“When I had that flashback… like a month ago… I saw some of this… just horrible shit.” A chill went up the possum's spine as - in spite of all the work she was doing to keep it suppressed - a few flashes of the vision flickered behind her eyes, aligning itself with Sett’s and making it hard to hold a gaze. “There was this goat, and I didn’t know their name, I- they just looked so much like you. And I think, what I thought, was that- I was worried that you weren’t safe around me, or…”
That wasn’t it.
“I- none of this to say you should feel bad for me. I just, for a long time - I guess I still do - feel unworthy of... you. So, I picked up every job that came in for the courier, and I only slept in subtime, and I don’t know if I was going to kill myself at some point, or I had just hoped that it would happen eventually, but my plan was to just to die before I made things worse, I think.”
Ratty stared at her feet, her shoulders bunched as she let that admission settle. She hadn’t noticed when she started crying, catching wise and hiding her face from Sett only as she watched something wet drop into the carpet.
Every thought that crossed through Sett’s throat, waiting to be spoken, lived for barely long enough to earn a first word. Their eyes changed position, back and forth between the ground and their wife’s hardened face.
“I am… I think I’m mad at you?” They said, speaking it into reality more to ask the question than to actually make an accusation.
“That’s understandable.” Ratty let her concentration lapse, allowing herself the comfort of watching Sett’s hands in exchange for showing some outward vulnerability. It was less a latent machismo and more a guilt over the balance of pain. Sett was the one who had been wronged.
“I’m sorry, this is quite tense, but I really don’t know what to say to that.”
“That’s- I also, wouldn’t.”
“I’m glad that you’re not dead. That’s something I can say for sure.” Sett nodded, using this as a mental anchor to build out from. “Is it selfish if I say, that if you ever chose to kill yourself, that’s not something I would want you to decide without me?”
“I don’t think so. I think that’s reasonable.”
“God… I wonder if anyone has ever felt like this before.” They raised their chin to the ceiling as if to use gravity to keep their emotions from welling over. They let out a short, cough of a laugh “What you said was funny.”
“I mean- you know, it’s so… just… odd how little control I have over my feelings right now. My actual, most powerful emotion - or maybe the one I’m processing the most clearly - is that-” the goat laughed again, taking a long sniff to stabilize themselves as they turned down to meet Ratty’s eye line. “I’m a little upset that you thought you could kill me.” Both sets were glazed with tears.
“Oh, okay.” Ratty grinned through her dry anguish. “If anyone could, it would be me.”
“You- absolute fucking idiot.” The goat smiled. “How could you possibly think I could do anything but love you.”
Ratty broke the barrier she had set up, clinging to Sett like she had already died. The goat responded in kind, pressing their own ache into the possum, trying to convey through the hug a simultaneous anguish at almost losing their best friend and gratitude that they had not.
“Your poor horns…” Sett pressed their forehead against the side, feeling the side of the jagged tip against their cheek.
“I was actually going to ask if you could help me grow them back?” Ratty asked, accidentally scratching Sett’s chin as she turned to look up at them.
“I like them short, actually.”
“Aw, c’mon.” Ratty let go for a second, running her finger around the circular break. “At least help me file them down?”
The goat shrugged smugly, using the change in position to take their turn as the embraced, rather than the embracer. “I want to do couples therapy.” They muttered into their partner’s chest.
“Oh, for sure. I thought that was a given.”
“Yes, well. Good.” The pair sat in silence after that, getting acclimated once again the way their bodies fit together. It took almost no time at all for Ratty’s tired eyes to flutter closed, her half sleeping mind nesting deeper into them on instinct alone.
“You know I don’t want to go on without you, right?” Sett asked.
“And I know you feel the same way about me. And so…” The goat wove their claws through their wife’s hair, lost in the mess of dark curls and cheap conditioner. “For the time being, I’m not going to. We’re sticking around.”
“Yeah, for sure.” Ratty smiled.
“I don’t know if you got my text-”
“The other night when you went to sleep at the tea shop?”
“So- that wasn’t the other night.”
“I know. I’ve been feeling the time dilation.”
“You didn’t think to mention anything?”
“I didn’t think it was supernatural, time naturally changes speeds when shit gets worse.”
“Have you always been able to-”
“Yeah, I just have a pretty good sense of time. I could tell you exactly what time it is right now without even looking.”
“Without looking, what time is it right now?”
“Like… 12:35 in the morning.” Ratty said, her eyes still shut. Sett checked their watch, barely moving as to preserve the comfort. Sure enough: 12:34 am. “So… we kill Ellen DeGeneres?” She didn’t wait to be told she was right.
“Yes, that is probably what we are going to have to do.” Sett nodded.
“Cool.” Ratty muttered, using her last act before falling asleep to throw up a pair of horns with her free hand, completely unseen by anyone.