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 ESTRACE.

Ratty’s spiro.

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.

Sett’s amoxicillin.

Eleanor’s ESTRACE.

Eleanor’s spiro.

Eleanor’s lexapro.

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. 

“Ratty speaking.”

“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’.”

“You asked!”

“I expected you to say no!”

“Hang on, I see you.” Ratty waved from across the street. “Is that the guy?”

“Don’t stare.”

“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.

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.

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.]


“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.

Let’s talk.

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 waitin

Your Ad Here - 2017

And it got stuck. The van, containing Ratty, Sett and Eleanor’s mask thudded slowly into a digital facsimile of subspace as though sinking to the bottom of a river, rocking gently back and forth as though being brought across the gap by ferry. It took a few seconds to figure out the difference between the darkened garage and wherever they had ended up.

“Is this- are we okay?” Ratty asked.

“This is normal. It is usually much faster than this, but yes. We will end up in range of Burbank within three-to-four hours. There will be time to correct once I start to see parts of the world form around us.”

“So wait, if we were just gonna be teleporting for four hours, why didn’t you tell us so we could just, like, get a plane ticket?” Ratty leaned over the driver’s seat, distracted from examining the source of Angel’s smoke by a full view of the tar-like ropes of wire that surrounded them.

“Yes Ratty.” Angel turned, the extra power relieved from her teleportation subsystem bolstering her lifelike movement. “Let’s - four people with very little money - get same day plane tickets to California, on New Years Eve, on a time limit. Then, we will get a hotel room in Burbank California, on New Years Eve, with - again - no money.”

Ratty glared, incredulous at the robot for a moment. “Alright, you don’t have to be a shit about it.” 

“I didn’t know, is your answer. Sett thought it was funny.” Angel turned to single out the goat.

“That’s not fair!” They protested, “I was trying very hard to hide that.”

“Are we- are you guys not too tense for jokes, right now?”

“Oh, come on! When have you ever been too tense for jokes?”

“I’m going through character development! I’m figuring out if it’s still okay to goof off when our lives are in danger.”

“Yes. It’s always going to be okay.”

“Okay, well, good. I’m gonna nap or some shit.” She stuck her tongue out at Angel and started towards the back of the van. “Sap, I love you. Tell Eleanor I also love her when she wakes up.” She said, staring pointedly at Angel as she did so.

“Aw, I love you too, grump.” Sett teased, kicking back with Eleanor’s mask on their chest. “I’ll wake you up so we can finalize when she gets back.”

“I love you also, Ratty.” Angel said, turning back to the wheel and staring - blank - out the inky blackness of the front window.

“For sure.”

Eleanor made her way back from the ghostzone in record time. While the overworld missed her for a little less than half an hour, she was exhausted when she came up to breathe, and quietly asked Sett not to wake Ratty. There would be plenty of time to brief her, and she needed some quiet time with her partner’s partner. 

The pair watched as - like stars - flecks of passing townships and cities shot past the windows: bright little flecks of people's lives. The ghost slipped through the door once holes in the metal siding became too small to see through, hovering above the rushing current below and staring up and letting the weightlessness of their body hold them like the soft curve of a grassy hill under the false sky. She turned as Sett sat down on the stairs, doing their best to see past the lip of the van up at the same sky. 

“Sorry for freaking out the other day.” She said.

“It was justified. You saved lives.” The goat smiled up at their friend.

“Yeah… I feel like, whatever that was kinda like… unblocked my mental sinuses, and now if I push at the edge of a memory it just kinda, like- it’s less invisible wall and more fog-of-war, y’know?”

“What kind of memories?” Sett prodded, dropping down another step and cautiously poking their hooves into the current below. Eleanor’s eye shifted, now more into the back of her own head than the sky above.

“I had a girlfriend in high school. I was out, and popular, and I used to fix teacher’s cars.” She started, just following a train of thought until it dropped off. No matter, it would come back if it was important. There was a comfort to being able to remember at one's leisure, not fighting for every scrap of biography. 

“What else… what else… There was this burrito place I used to go to like, once a week. The owner's name was Rick Black, he had six kids in college at once. I think he offered to pay for me too. He taught me- Oh FUCK, it’s in my glove box!!!” Eleanor’s arms shot up in the air, startling Sett and sending her spinning. “I have a like, recipe book thing! I couldn’t find it when we were there because the little door was stuck but if I- I-” she worked herself up with excitement, fumbling over her words as they came up too fast to say.

“That’s exciting! Ratty has our kitchen very well stocked, you two could-” Sett bit their metaphysical tongue as the rabbit stopped spinning. They let out a soft ‘ah’ as they realized Eleanor hadn’t gotten her closure yet. She had only barely overheard their conversation after the containment breach and probably hadn’t spoken to Ratty since.

“What's uh... can you fill me in on her deal?” Eleanor asked, doing her best to phrase it as neutrally as possible.

“You…” Sett sighed. “You met Ratty at a very weird time in her life, to say the least. She was trying very hard to kill herself, and I think- I mean, I actually don’t know why. Not yet. We’re doing therapy together to try and figure that out.”

Eleanor nodded, chewing her next question. “So was I like… am I…”

“Like a fling?” Sett asked, receiving a cautious nod from Eleanor. “No, Eleanor. Ratty has had more than her fair share of flings, and if she didn’t care about you she would have just cut you off. She was a bad wife for a moment there, I can’t imagine how garbage of a girlfriend she must’ve been, but you’re definitely not a fling.”

“Cool.” Eleanor nodded, going back to her stargazing. “Cool…”

“You can… go talk to her… if you want?” Sett poked.

“I might do that later.”

“Good. Good.”

Eleanor took a moment to push out on another memory that’d been troubling her: her mother. There wasn’t a lot there. Iffy around trans stuff, pushy, kind of selfish. Sr. wasn’t the kind of person Jr. was going to reconnect with, and that was fine, but it also left her feeling - well, to be frank - incredibly lonely. She had to secure the few people she did have in her life.

“Do you hate me Sett?” She asked.

“No, Eleanor. I don’t hate you. I really like you, actually. You’re smart, funny, creative, I’m still dying to write something with you. I would say you’re one of my closer friends.” Sett’s eyes conveyed a genuine eagerness to answer that question, something few people ever did. “Secondary to all of that, you also make Ratty happy, which in turn makes me happy.”

“Yeah?” Eleanor took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then let it out. She of course pantomimed these things, and didn’t actually breathe, but because you’re an attentive reader, you understood what I was trying to say. “What kind of music do you want to make?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t heard any of yours yet.” The goat slid off the bottom stair tentatively, satisfied as their hoof found solid ground below the river. It ran dry around their ankles, a gentle push towards the front of the van. They watched the ghosts shimmering reflection as it intermingled with their own, then - in a moment of instinct - looked up and told Eleanor: “I love you.”

“I love you too, Sett.” The ghost smiled, only a half-second of happy silence behind.

“I don’t think people tell their friends that they love them enough, and so I’m going to start doing that.” They nodded as if to lock in their resolve.

“Fuck yes. I can absolutely get behind that.” The ghost touched down in the stream, now relatively sure it was safe, shocked as her glow seemed to infect the world around her. Every fluid cable she touched lit up a bright blue, sending power through the rest of the system.

“Oh, wow.” Sett mused, running their claws through the stream. They spent the next moments quietly listening to the music of their environment, watching the stream react to different paranormal phenomena, to their presence, to unknowable forces as parts of their destination seemed to thread themselves onto the wires like beads.

“Does Ratty ever tell you stories about what we were like before you met us?” They asked, watching the stars whiz by.


“Mm. That’s in character. She tries to avoid dwelling on the past.”

“I would like to hear about that kind of thing, though.” Eleanor prodded. The goat smiled, scraping the rotting walls of their mind, watching memories curl off like rings of dried mud. What a weird metaphor. Wasn’t that fun? Sett cupped a few amber grounds of tobacco in the hollow of their claw as they simultaneously prepared a paper cone and rummaged through the memories.

“Give me a theme.” They said, pinching, rolling and lighting in one smooth motion. “Any theme, and I can tell you about a Rett adventure.”


“Yeah like, Ratty and Sett.”

They spent the rest of that hour telling stories. Each with their own warm and weightless hue of memory. Each somehow conveying the feeling directly opposite to having a stake through ones chest.

“Hey. Hey, Ratty.” Eleanor nudged the possum with the tips of her fingers, toeing the line between waking her up and not startling her. She turned over, blinking as her eyes faced the full force glow of her girlfriend. “Sorry.” Eleanor said reflexively.

“It’s chill.” The possum yawned. “What’s up?”

“Can we talk?” As if waking someone up out of the blue after they stormed off faux-angry wasn’t tense enough. 

“Yeah, we should probably get you caught up on the-” 

“No, I mean... not about that.”

“Oh, okay.” Ratty’s smile put a small dent in the atmosphere. “Shoot, Tex.”

Eleanor nodded, rocking on the balls of her feet with her hands in her jeans’ pockets.

“So…” She started, “Aha… uh… this whole thing sure is wild.” Okay. C’mon Jr., you can do better than that.

“Yeah, for sure.” Ratty posted her own air ball. She sat, equally awkward, trying to hide how tightly her shoulders were bunched.

“How long do you think we’ve actually known each other at this point.” Eleanor asked.

“I really couldn’t tell you.” Ratty rolled to one side to make room for Eleanor. “Does this feel like a ten year long friendship?”

“No.” Eleanor stared down at the empty spot. “I mean no offence, but like, for sure not.”

“Yeah, no I agree. Six months tops.”

“Okay.” She dropped onto the thin mattress, a weak crackle rising up from the wood beneath. “I mean like, a pretty decent six months, but…” She loosened her core, lying back across the foam and watching Ratty’s eyes lull slowly open and closed.

“I’m not gonna fall asleep,” she said.

“I didn’t expect you to.” Eleanor ribbed.

“No, watch.” Ratty rolled over, propped herself up against the side of the van, and - for good measure - shook whatever sleep was left out of her head. She tossed her legs over Eleanor’s lap for a little extra comfort, then snapped her eyes open, fully awake.


“So?” Her fangs popped out from below her smile.

“So what uh- what are we?” Eleanor asked the version of the question that was least likely to have a painful answer.

“I dunno El, what are we?” Ratty had a way of talking that seemed confrontational, but was more curious than anything. Her gaze was the same, if a little hopeful. Eleanor held it for as long as she could, trying to read the perfect answer out of her friend’s eyes. When nothing came, she stared up at the ceiling, a broken push-lamp she had never seen before, and chewed the question in her mind.

What were they?

“Remember when you called me your girlfriend?” Eleanor asked. Ratty nodded, unseen. “Like at the burger place, I mean. It would be cool to have you do that when you’re not angry and trying to prove a point.”

Ratty nodded, breaking her gaze to stare down at her feet and just ponder. She held still, her chest rising and falling more and more slowly as the detritus of guilt settled on her in layers. “I really kind of did some weird shit to you, huh?”

“A little bit.” Eleanor nodded, letting her head slump back and staring at the beige ceiling. “Things have been kind of weird. I guess like, I don’t really blame you. I just think like - my relationship with the healthy version of Ratty would be a pretty kick-ass one.”

“Yeah.” Ratty nodded. “I don’t want to turn this into a pity party but… it’s been a rough one. For both of us, I think.”

“Oh yeah.” Eleanor sat up, only now noticing how close Ratty had pulled herself in. She had wrapped her tail around Eleanor, helping the rabbit stay upright. When all was settled, only a few inches of air remained between their faces. “It’s- It’s gonna start getting better though. We’re gonna take a break from all of this, I think. Once we stop the world from ending-” she turned to face Eleanor. “It’s fuckin’ vacation time.”

“What comes after this?”

“Oh I dunno. Like afterlife wise I barely even knew when I was inside of it but-”

“No, I mean like… we kill Ellen DeGeneres. Cool. Job Done. What’s life after revenge?

“Oh! Yeah, I still don’t know. I haven’t really gotten revenge yet. I will say that uh- for Sett at least it seems kind of comfortable? I guess the thing about AngelCorp is that- I mean especially after we kick their ass here, they’re the kind of arch nemesis that you can really put down and pick up. They’re like, bigger than Apple at this point, so it’s not like I’m ever really going to stop them, I kind of just get the opportunity to stop some of their more dastardly schemes.”

Dastardly schemes. What a fucking dork. Such a fucking dork that it made what Eleanor was about to do all the more unlikely, but fuck it. People don’t always make sense. She sat forward abruptly and set a gentle kiss on Ratty’s lips. The possum sat stunned for a moment, processed it, and tried to force down the shivering blush that rose on her cheeks.

“I’m- uh- more used to being the forward one.”

“Shut the fuck up, nerd.” Eleanor bumped the possum. “That was an advance on healthy Rattily.”


“Yeah, like Eleanor and Ratty as a gay thing.”

“Oh, rock on. Cool.” Ratty nodded down at her feet, then - never be outdone - kissed Eleanor, shifting her weight so the spectre could feel her warmth. 

“Couldn’t let that one hang, huh?” Eleanor giggled.

“Nope.” Ratty grinned, bumping their foreheads together. Ratty was pretty cool, all things considered. It was going to get better.

In the live TV game it was almost too easy to get thirty seconds confused with thirty minutes and vice versa. Not for Ellen, of course, but for her drove of anguish-pollinating worker bees. Her top down view of everything gave her minute control down to the very smallest decimal point. DeGeneres was the worst boss ever in a way very few people could actually articulate.

And that was so much fun.

Fun too was the oncoming surprise so rarely did she look to the future with anything but bored disinterest. Assassination attempts came and went, the summation of some great conquest for most, braggarts who couldn’t help but make their presence known and died of old age within moments of meeting her.

But today, there was going to be a surprise: precious little Eleanor would pay them a visit this afternoon, then something would happen to interrupt their foresight. She could hardly wait to have a real conversation again.

Sett was also there. Sett’s girlfriend was not.

“Where’s your other friend, Eleanor?” It was so fun to ask questions she didn’t know the answer to. A rush of adrenaline, almost.

“Ratty’s not coming.” The little demon stepped forward. Right, of course. They were the defacto leader. That wasn’t going to change, no use fighting it.

“Well okay!” The god gave a cold smile. “Weird to cripple yourself for the ‘big bad’, and y’know- I really hate to cheat, but I don’t remember not seeing her...” she spun on her heels. “Surely she must be SOMEWHERE!”

She had made her audience a little more than uncomfortable at this point. Most people that go in for a live taping of The Ellen DeGeneres Show end up coming back obsessively if they could afford it, or in therapy if they couldn’t, but this was shaping up to be a very special New Years Eve :).

Ellen stood from her expensive little host couch, probably better maintained and more per-month than the homes of most of her fans, and handed today's production schedule off to her doting personal assistant: another rabbit, funnily enough.

“Could you push back my meeting with Eden, it doesn’t really need to be too long.” She said, creating a moment of privacy on the stage; the kind of politeness expressly designed to isolate. Ellen’s assistant nodded tersely and took the excuse to power-walk out of the god’s aura of influence. 

“I really thought it would be nice- I mean it doesn’t matter but Eden is coming down to watch the show today, talk about the fruits of our labour.” The god was disappointed when her surprise stayed silent. “Come on, are we fighting? I-”

Ah, that was what that flash was. The possum, the bright red steel of her axe. Odd - everyone in attendance thought in exact unison - how similarly a head and a bowling ball sounded when dropped.

And then silence.

A complete lack of reaction, as though every single member of the audience simultaneously constructed and ran through their own flow-chart of where exactly they got off on the stages of grief.

Presumably, if you made the effort to get all the way out to the Ellen DeGeneres Show, your favourite host just got beheaded in front of you. You were deathly uncomfortable up until this point, but you figured it was just pre-show jitters… now… what the fuck do you think?

If you’re a stagehand, you have to be crossing your fingers. That was a brutal chop, and Ellen has talked about Eleanor before… Maybe her friends are the ones to finally kill the tyrant that has monopolized your work-week grief… and if they aren’t… 

If you’re one of the three people in on the operation even, after enough silence you’re starting to wonder if that actually worked. You’re starting to do the math on how much planning went to waste, you start to ask your wife: “Is that-”

“So good to finally meet you, Ratty.” And of course that’s not it. The head began to laugh, flapping it’s jaw hard enough to roll back over. Enough to glare through tears at Sett, now gripping a sharpened shard of subspace in their claw. And Eleanor… poor, scared Eleanor. 

“I bet this was your plan, wasn’t it, Sett? That was really clever. I don’t mean to be patronizing, but you were always really smart, honey. You should have been leading the charge this whole time, honestly. And I totally get it too! You’re dead…” the god’s old body flung an arm towards Sett, a marionette’s cruel mockery of a point. “And you’re dead too.” The arm flung at Eleanor, “and- actually I can’t- could someone turn me over?”

That- yeah, no.

“Never mind, you’re right. It’s alright.” The head’s last action was to grin as it’s voice seemed to slip loose from its moorings. “You three are all dead, you think you’re bringing me down to your level, is what i’m saying… which is actually… really cute.”

Like a hat slipping off the top of an invisible head, Ellen’s corpse stirred it’s last, giving rise instead to the god’s true form. It’s arms materialized only as they pressed up on the hollow stage, coated in the blood of it’s former shell.

Decay - the true elder god, no longer contained by the meat it had inhabited for 20 years - stood up to its full height. It was formless, taking shape only in the drips of blood that traced their way down its limbs. Ratty shielded her eyes as she struggled to get a read on it; it was like looking into the absence of light, sucking in the same way that staring into the sun pushed the back of one's eyes.

The few audience members who had not fled had now either passed out or died in its presence, and it smiled. Anyone who could have said to have seen it would have said it was smiling.

“I’m excited to show you what real death looks like.” It spoke, it’s voice unchanged. Each trail of red dove first towards Eleanor first, the flat drips of blood transforming into thick, meat-like ropes: veins built from the inside out, as they pierced the rabbit.

In that moment it invented what creatures of that nature did to show confusion, noticed it’s weapon coated in a thin layer of a light blue paint-like veneer. 

Unable to resist a gloat as Sett tightened as snare around its ‘wrists’, Eleanor flicked on the sound booth’s reading light as her apparition dissolved around Decay. She tapped on the glass when she was sure the rope was tight, and spoke: “Hi Ellen. You missed me.” She had earned that right. Decay was trapped, having accomplished nothing. It glared up at the booth, made too solid by Sett’s abilities to lash out.

Sett kept a tight hold on the rope as the creature bucked. Their partner moved completely in subtime, vaulting off of the now ribbonified chair, unseen by what free limbs Decay had left as the heel of her boot clung to the back.

She put a second pair of hands on the rope, followed in quick succession by a third as Eleanor darted through the wall and wrapped her wrists in it. She caught Sett’s eye first, emboldened by their resolute glare. Then Ratty, whose legs seemed to be purpose built for this kind of balance. She gave a confident thumbs up.

Then, all at once, Sett and Ratty let go, and Eleanor dragged her former boss into the ghostzone.

g 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.

And Sett.

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.”

“For sure.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Alright, go.”

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.”

“Was it?”

“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.

“I know.”

“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.