Green Tea - 33-1989
It was generally frowned upon to cancel a ceremony half way through. Even more frowned upon was sprinting out of their temple, wrapped in nothing but a sheet and flinging off bits of gold and silver tribute as they went. Hard to care about what was and wasn’t frowned upon, Sett thought, as their own heartbeat roared in their ears. They felt heads turn as they sprinted through market towards the part of town they knew to be less populated, hiding their eyes and relying on their other senses to guide them. It didn’t matter if they ran headlong off a cliff at this point, they just needed to get away.
It was not a cliff that ended their sprint, but the heavy wooden door of a small, two-story stone building, held together more with thick vines and the pressure of time than with the decaying mortar.
Abandoned. Perfect. They pulled on the door handle and gave a small sigh as it clicked. It slammed behind them as they fell against it, bracing shut with their back and slumping to the floor. They buried their face in their hooves, feeling an angry blush rise in their cheeks as they noticed for the first time the deep tear-streaks soaking their snout.
“Stupid.” They growled at themselves. “Stupid. Idiot. Awful.” They sat there, their breath refusing to calm any further as they tried to choke down bleating sobs. It had not been long enough since the last time they panicked like that, but it was the first time in recent memory they let it get the better of them. They kicked themselves, there was nowhere to run to, absolutely no point to the ache in their chest as they struggled to normalize their breathing.
Sett was shocked out of their self-loathing as an old floorboard creaked just beyond their claws. They looked up from their palms slowly, expecting some variety of monster, met instead with an elderly woman, her head tilted in concerned curiosity as she gazed down on the tiny goddexx at her feet. Sett jumped to their feet, pressing themselves deeper against the grain of the door.
“We apologize— we thought-” The woman held her hand up, palm out.
“Your thoughts loud little goat.” She signed deftly, her gnarled fingers moving steadily. Sett watched, suddenly calmed by the effort of focusing on a language they had fallen out of practice with. They raised their own hand tentatively, suddenly conscious of their limited knowledge, making a mental note to practice more when the opportunity arose.
“S O R R Y” They spelled clumsily. “T H O U G H T A B A N D O N E D” The woman laughed, gentle and encouraging.
“Mute, not deaf.” She signed “Speak normal.”
“Of course.” Sett’s voice shook as they stood. They were not used to towering over anyone, it was a very strange sensation to be gazed up at. “We’re terribly sorry,” the goat took a step forward, reaching for the door handle and steeling themselves to walk out into the world. “We’ll leave you be, then.”
“Like this?” The woman asked, shaking her head and gesturing to the strings of blanket hanging off of them. She turned on her heel and doddered across the room, reaching over her counter pulling some spare clothes from behind: a proper mantle, and long skirt to go underneath. Sett nodded graciously as the clothes were all but forced upon them, dropping what was left of their tattered sheet and wrapping themselves in the carefully kept fabric. They fit perfectly, draped around their waist and ankles, protecting them from perception.
“Thank you.” They said, dabbing their tears on the corner of the hood. “If there's any way we can-” They stopped to watch the woman sign.
“Yes, you help pick leaves.” She shooed Sett away from the door, filling the dark room with light as they stepped out with very little room for negotiation. Sett took a moment before following, still hesitant to be seen. They swallowed what little anxiety they had left under the pretense that they owed this woman, and followed her around the side of her home.
Her garden was overrun with bright green bushels of waxy-looking leaves. They chose their footsteps carefully, increasingly overwhelmed by the smell of green tea as they breathed more and more of the springy air. The older woman smiled as they caught sight of Sett, looking only for a long moment before returning to their work.
Sett set to work picking what seemed from their limited knowledge of herbology like the best leaves. Deep green? But not too deep green? Like… spinach coloured, maybe? They took a moment to admit to themselves that they were guessing, and for the second time that day made a mental note to study. The woman stepped out in front of them, placing a firm but gentle hand on the back of their own.
“Don’t pick good leaves. All good leaves. I grow them good.” She smiled, demonstrating by diving in with both hands and grabbing the leaves by fistfuls. Sett laughed quietly at her fervour, like years of doing only this had conditioned her into the perfect tea-picking machine.
“What’s your name?” They asked, splitting their attention between watching and mimicking. More leaves seemed to end up on the ground than in the bucket, but the woman didn’t look like she minded.
“Green Cat.” She signed, taking the sign for green and twisting it along her whisker. “Fur used to be green. All fell out.”
“Stress!” She grinned. “Stress like you. Stress makes your fur fall out. Now I make tea, no stress in making tea.” Sett’s hands faltered in their motion as they remembered the anxiety quietly crumbling away at their insides. Cat slapped their wrist.
“Stop! You think too much. Work instead.” She signed, more encouraging than chastising. “Your name?”
“We are- we’re Sapphomet, of the mountains, and chaos, and um, love… also…”
“S A P P H O M E T?” Cat spelled. Sett nodded. “I am not going to spell that every time. I will call you-” she took the sign for little and flicked it up into a pair of goat horns. “Little Goat.” Sett smiled at their new nickname. It was cute, but…
“What about-” the goat brought a closed fist down on the back of their hand. “Set?”
“Both.” Cat nodded. “Little goat: Sett.”
The two of them worked in silence until their shared bucket was full well past the brim with leaves, Sett carried it back inside as the sun began to set. They sat quietly by the fire, taking turns tending to the large bundle of leaves in the steamer pot. Sett took over when it came to spreading the leaves out for drying, their hardened hooves more used to handling something with the potential to scald.
The two shared a few glasses of the runoff when all was done, it’s potent flavor coating the goat’s throat the same way it seemed to stain into every inch of their arms up to the rope burns on their wrists. As night dragged on into the early hours of morning, Cat insisted that Sett stay.
“Too dangerous to travel at night little goat.” She signed. “You stay long enough to taste your work.”
Sett could hardly argue, having to hide a yawn every few minutes. They cleared a space in the attic and strung a hammock across a pair of beams. As they struggled to sleep, as their senses were made void and left room for thoughts to return, they found themselves raising the back of their hand to their snout and focusing on the seemingly impossible-to-wash-out smell of green tea.
They sighed, contented with every inhalation as they drifted off.
They stayed in that attic a lot longer than the week it took their first batch of leaves to dry. It was comfortable here, far more comfortable than the alternative to say the least. Though it was impossible to put an exact number of days on it, Sett stayed in that attic long enough to think of it as a home. Long enough to sneak out at night and feel safe coming back, long enough to occasionally butt heads with Cat and stay housed.
It always smelled constantly like green tea and tobacco smoke. They had carved a path through the old sacks of dried leaves, checking them on their way in and out each morning and evening for signs of rot. Cat brought in a friend of hers from market to build a small desk into the attic, and Sett quickly filled it with books.
They kept a small mirror next to their collection, and their favourite tributes next to that: some thick gold bangles that they had been meaning to sell off, a set of beautifully crafted clay teacups, a small wooden carving of themselves and a dozen small bottles of wine from the carpenter. They received one just about every time they held tribute, always from the same long haired lamb. Jacob, or James, or something. A biblical name for sure. They quietly hoped they would see him again today.
Market day was always exciting. Sett had become a shut-in since the day they met Cat, humiliated to go anywhere if there was not a good reason. Going out to sell off the home’s excess tea and going out to be the subject of worship were just about the only times they interacted with other people, and it was much easier to make friends bartering than it was when having semi-public religion based psudo-sex with them.
They tied their hair up with a short length of cord as they went downstairs. Sett glided up next to their mentor at the counter, quietly focused on putting freshly chopped leaves into small silk bags. Part of what made a good market day was having a little something to give away.
“Good morning.” Sett signed, drawing focus to their claws with a little wave. Cat smiled, signing back.
“Getting there. I still prefer your voice.”
“Well if we don't practice we’re not going to get better.” Sett teased, nabbing half of the silk squares and setting to work making their own bags.
“Fair enough,” Cat nodded. “Will the Lamb Carpenter be there today?”
“I don't know why you would expect me to know that.” Sett said, successfully keeping down a blush. Cat laughed her quiet, breathy laugh.
“Good boy. Makes good wine. I'll get you a bed if you want to bring him around.”
“We’re not sure it would work, his dad and our… uh...” Sett trailed off. It wasn't worth talking about.
“The man who makes our jars, you know him?” Cat asked, prodding the goat. Sett nodded, focusing on their work. “He tells me his daughter asks about you. Maybe I will find my wine somewhere else.”
“Maybe both.” Sett smiled softly.
“Maybe!” Cat signed, reaching up to pat the goat as she finished up her tea bags. “No time to think about the past. Market day is a busy day.” Sett took a deep breath, sliding their pile into a small crate and handing it off to Cat. They swept the unused leaves back into their sack and slung it over their shoulder.
“Ready?” They asked.
“Ready!” Cat answered.
Very little money actually changed hands
Market day was about community
Like, a secret santa
There were those that came from out of town who brought whatever currency their nation used
Sett's influence attracts people who hear about the tea leaves that sparkle gold in the morning sun
When the romans came by they were up-charged
For cat's personal proclivities than anything else
Understandable, considering what they did to some of her favourite customers
But most people just traded
Grain and fish
And little things
Sett intentionally timed their absence to when the carpenter showed up
Not to avoid him for any other reason than
He was cute
Of course why would it be that simple
Sett jumped as they were grabbed by their dress
Turns to look at cat
What are you doing
Dragged out in front od
Obviously the carpenter
God he was fucking cute
Dumb as a bag of rocks but
That fucking smile
I'm sorry! I was just asking your mother if you were around.
We are around
Trying to contain their beating little heart
Tail short enough to flick nervously entirely behind their back
Did you need help with um, anything, today?
Was it possible for him to be glowing
Thank you, I was just hoping I might take a walk with you
Turns to cat
We suppose yes, we could use a break
Takes off their apron
Follows the lamb
So fucking tall
Shortened his strides so they could keep up
They walked in contented silence until they were out of market
Towards the north end of town
Whats on your mind sett
Uh, its nothing
Woke up with a sense of dread
Like they did every day
Are you sure?
Stopped at the near abandoned plaza in front of their temple
Too much for them
I'm not sure, no…
Shall we sit?
Opens the door
Sits in their usual spot
A few feet away from their stone slab
Smelled like blood
The carpenter sat down on the first pew
Something to smoke?
Takes a drag
Smoke caught in the sunbeams
Everything about this place was too beautiful
I don't want to go back
Neither do I
We’re so happy here
I don't know if I've ever had to chance to think about myself
I love me
As much as we have learned about everything else
We am finally getting the opportunity to learn about me
None of this makes sense
Stands up and sits next to sett
The perfect warmness
They scoot over
I understand completely
It's hard to be part of something when you can't get close to it
Harder when you know its all going to go away
People are lucky.
They pass on, and get the chance to forget all the good they forgot to do
It's much harder when you could always risk going back
Enjoys the lamb's warmth
I hope I'm not being too forward
No, of course not
Its hard to touch anything knowing it'll be gone
So, we appreciate your company actually.
Do you know what i think we owe during our time here
Shakes their head
The best we can do
Every time god sets before us a chance to do good, we should take it.
That's what the people who don't live forever do
Seems only right that we follow their lead.
I wish we had more chances
I mean I-
we don't know what makes me happy
Or I didn't
we thought it was
Pulls a thread from the air
Wraps it around their claw
I don't know what i thought it was
Making myself better? Maybe
I really like making tea
And i love the books you and everyone else brings me
And people- jesus christ, I love people
The carpenter laughs
Oh I just- didn't know that jesus christ was an expression
Please go on
But like in a way where someone is attractive
Want to be a part of it
Helping them is- don't get me wrong- so beautiful and very attractive of you
And i want to be that too
But i think
At the most, base level of this feeling
I just want to be a part of it
Wraps sett's tiny, shaking form
Not a girl
The lamb nods
I didn't think you were
Glad I'm putting that out, at least
The lamb laughs
Glad that, even by the standards of biblical Bethlehem I'm still putting off "gender vibes"
Wait hold on
Are you going forward?
Maybe save the spoilers, little goat.
Did you um
Were you just inviting me on a walk?
I don't know if it would be appropriate, I feel like the mood is…
Can i kiss you?
It was dark by the time they got home. It was always dark after a good day at market, their arms loaded up with gifts, groceries, and a few pouches of roman coins. Sett walked with an excited bounce in their step, turning today over in their mind. The act of knowing what they wanted made it feel so much closer.
That is of course, only what it felt like. Sett got to the door first by a couple seconds, and eager to go up and read for a few hours before a well earned rest. Something light probably, perhaps a treatise on-
Their horns thunked against a hard, familiar chest as they crossed the threshold. Cat’s heart raced as she rounded the corner, answering in a terrible instant why Sett had stopped on the doorstep. They saw an illustration first: a harsh black and white illustration of their face, no doubt commissioned that day in the market.
They followed the mass upwards: a fitted, all black suit. He was dressed far too modernly for the era they were in. His black fur gave away seamlessly to a short black pair of horns, his solid white eyes too focused on Cat to watch Sett drop what they were holding and trip over it, scrambling for safety.
John had cut the pull-cord to the attic ladder.
“Hi Sapph!” The demon grinned, staring down at the goat like a predator playing with their next meal. “I was actually just looking for you, isn’t that wild?”
Cat barged past him, putting herself between John and Sett and signing furiously in his face.
“What is she trying to say to me?” He asked, leaning around the small and steady frame.
“She’s-” The goat’s voice broke in their throat. “She is asking you nicely to leave.” John cocked an eyebrow, glancing back and forth between his charge and the cat’s paws. By the looks of things, the way she was asking could not be described as ‘nicely’. John gave a short, impatient sigh as he tried to step around the smaller woman, earning him a firm stomp on the toe of his polished black loafers.
He stopped, sucking his gums as he stared down at the scuff of dust. He rolled his eyes and shoved her to the side with roughly the same effort as swatting a bug out of his face. Sett winced as the back of their head thumped against the floor. They planted their hand on the counter top and pulled themselves up from the floor, blindly fumbling for the knife they knew would be waiting for them. They stepped in-between John and Cat, the blade shaking in it’s guard.
There was nothing to be done. John was not leaving here. Stabbing him would make things worse, and again in this dark home they felt so stupid for daring to give a fuck about anything.
Their heart stopped as he spoke again: “Sapphomet, come on home.” if there was a worse context under which to be winked at, Sett couldn’t think of one. Their gaze fell, suddenly unable to meet John’s gaze, instead trying to focus on what little of Cat they could see. Something in her leg was clearly broken. She tried desperately to push herself off the ground with one hand, signing with the other, pulling on Sett’s dress with the other. They turned, using what would surely be their last moments on earth to heal the break, and simultaneously feeling their heart snap as they caught sight of what Cat was signing, less than a foot from their face
“Love you.” She was crying. “Always love you, little goat.” Sett felt the bone snap back into place just as John took them by the wrist. It was only as his claw clamp down around their wrist that they noticed how badly they were shaking.
“C’mon, Hell just isn’t the same without you.” He teased.
And then it was gone. Their last thought on earth was a quiet estimate on how badly their shaking hands might have worsened Cat’s wound.
The plain facade of Sett’s shop was not designed to attract customers and those who made it inside rarely recognized it for its intended purpose. The warm interior was decorated more like a specialty shop than an active tea counter: fitting, considering the better half of their customers were daring collectors looking for cursed antiquities.
This wasn’t an issue. It served mainly as a place to deal with cursed shit far enough away that it didn’t affect their home life, and close enough to get to by subway. Beyond that, it was very rarely a place they spent the night to get away from the noise of downtown.
Tonight was not any of those kinds of nights though; tonight was just a get out of the house night, and it was now over.
They spent the last few minutes after finishing today’s paper watching the downpour outside seep under the front door’s bent kick-plate, their eyes flicking once in a while to the crumpled form of a young lizard in a heavily worn parka clearly sleeping at one of their tables. Pokey often spent whole days in the shop.
They checked the time again, cycling Ratty’s watch around to the correct timezone: 9:54pm.
There was really no point in staying open any later than they wanted to. No one was going to come in in those last six minutes. They let out a deep sigh, meandering around the counter and pulling the plug on the worn “Open” sign.
“Do you have an umbrella, Pokey?” They asked, startling the only other occupant out of her nap as they pulled on a raincoat. She re-hid her eyes almost instantly, trying and failing to conceal the fact that she had noticed being noticed. “I can call you a cab if your place is too far to walk.” Sett offered. Pokey buried her face deeper into her arms. The goat blinked, set their jacket back on the hook and crossed the room to sit across from Pokey.
“Pokey?” Sett tugged on the sleeve of her parka, not entirely sure if they had actually seen her wake up. She shot up, blinking through the light.
“Yeah, sorry- I just,” The lizard bit her tongue, “I just thought I could stay, I guess? Like hang out for a little bit?” Her eyes lulled closed for a moment as she spoke. She stuck her thumb through a hole in her hood, rubbing the cotton inside as a reflexive move of comfort.
She looked so tired. Even through her scales the deep purple discoloration of her pale green skin made it look like she had pressed a crumpled piece of newspaper against her eyes. That same discoloration stained just about everything she was wearing, the left sleeve of her jacket worst of all: nearly black in some places.
“Is something going on?” Sett prodded.
“I don't see why there has to be something going on. This is a public store right?”
“It is a closed store at the moment. I can walk you to the train station if-” Sett cut themselves off. “That’s beside the point. If you need- I mean if there’s - for example - an ‘is everything alright at home’, kind of thing going on...” The goat danced around the word ‘homeless’ as Pokey swallowed what little spit they had, mostly awake, staring empty at the uneven floorboards.
“I assume everything is great at home I just uh… I don't live there.” Pokey said. Sett nodded quietly, taking the smaller woman’s hand in their own.
Pokey kept to herself generally, always making a point to deflect when their usually limited conversations turned to personal questions.
It wasn’t long enough ago that Sett remembered hearing about an eighteenth birthday
They got up abruptly, closed the blinds over their front window and stamped down the latch on the front door. They lifted the cushions from a seldom used old couch in the corner and unfolded the temporary bed underneath. Pokey watched the flurry with a mixture of fear and hope.
“What are you doing?” She asked. Sett ducked behind the counter and clicked on the plastic kettle underneath. The floor kicked up a layer of dirt and dust as it gave way to a hidden compartment with a pair of dusty milk crates: one containing some fresh, if a little dusty sheets, a space heater, and some pillows, and several sealed jars of tea and thick textbooks in the other. Sett plucked a jar from one and rested it gently on top of the other, hoisting it out of the hole and dropping it onto the counter.
“Grab that.” They nodded at the basket of sheets, popping the seal on their jar. Pokey obliged, shaking the dust from the duvet and holding it awkwardly just off the floor, waiting for instructions. Sett went to work chopping the leaves into flakes as the pot began to steam behind her, stopping only as they noticed Pokey: frozen.
“Go on, you are staying here tonight.” They pointed at the pull-out with their knife in one hand while pinching the tea leaves into a strainer with the other.
“And!” A rare interruption from the little goat. “As long as you want until we find somewhere better.” Pokey stared for a moment, stunned, still holding the duvet like a flag in front of her. She took a moment to dry her eyes with the corner of the blanket before going to work making her bed.
“Thank you.” She croaked, not one to cry in front of strangers. “Thank you, really, thank you.”
“Of course.” Sett said, barely phased as they coated every dry leaf with a stream of boiling water. Pokey plugged in the space heater, all but falling to pieces as she slipped off her parka and submitted to the orange electronic hum.
“Can I shower here?”
“I would need to have someone come fix the hot-”
“Oh! I know how to do that!”
“Well, good then, as soon as that’s fixed you can use my place upstairs to get washed up.” Sett tapped the last few drips out of the strainer and brought the mug over to the shivering lizard. She stared into the green, confused for a split second before realizing she was being offered tea, and accepted it graciously.
“I apologize. I understand that having a relative stranger lock you into their store is probably a little hard on the nerves.”
“Better than being locked out.” Pokey barely finished their sentence before taking a long, throat scalding sip. Her guarded posture fell as the last shivers slipped gently from her bunched shoulders. She took a deep breath. “Thank you, really.” She stared up at the goat, her eyes watering.
“It really is the least I could do, Pokey.” They took a long, deep breath and started towards the apartment above the store.
“Wait, hang on.” Pokey set her tea down, nabbing the hem of Sett’s shawl before they got out of reach. Her gaze fell to the floor as the goat gave her a puzzled - although not at all upset - stare. That was going to be a weird thing that Pokey would remember forever, and everyone else would forget about within a few minutes. “You’re like, an alien, right?” She drew a line across her mouth with her finger as if to say ‘I noticed you look kind of weird.’
Sett laughed, then caught themselves: “You know, actually, I might be… I would not call myself an alien in the traditional sense, but… that is something to think about.” They smiled to themselves, seemingly content with this answer.
“Well, no. Hold on,” Pokey scooched closer on the bed. “You have to understand that that raises way more questions than it answers.” She said, incredulous.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Raising yet more questions. A wry smile formed beneath their skin. They gave Pokey just a half-second to scoot closer to the edge of her seat before: “I’m a demon, actually.”
“Retired demon?” She asked.
“Oh, yes.” With the joke now over, Sett’s smile fell back into its distant contentment.
“But like, thoroughly paranormal though?”
“Yes, very. So is my wife.” The admission came from Sett with an ease that Pokey desperately yearned for.
“Cool… so…” Pokey started, their voice shaking. “Right… that’s not cus like, I was kicked out by my parents or anything. It’s more cus like- I’m, uh- so-” The lizard faltered, struggling to figure out where to start with her story. She reached for her mug, cancelling the action as she noticed just how badly her hands were shaking. “A bunch of my friends- paranormal friends, have started like- like I can’t find them? I can’t- That’s why I can’t go home.”
Sett sat back down on the bed next to Pokey, a slight twinge of regret colouring their teasing. It would have been weird to hug a relative stranger, but Pokey was really just a kid. There was absolutely nothing wrong when she broke down and dove into Sett’s arms, holding them like a surprise third parent, wandering out of the crowd at the other two’s funeral.
“I can’t go home.” The words fell from her mouth. “I’ve been running for so long, and my friends keep disappearing, and I can’t go home, and I don’t know what to do, because every time I find somewhere to say-” she shuddered into the goat’s embrace as the ability to speak left her.
“Shh, shh. It’s alright. Nobody is going to hurt you here Pokey. I promise you that.”
Sett struggled to leave that night.
They sat with Pokey until the lizard fell asleep in their arms and slipped out quietly, forgetting their jacket in favour of triple checking the locks. It was an effort to walk calmly to the bus station, an effort too great to actually wait for it. They charged through the night, absolutely drenched as they all but slammed into their apartment.
“Ratty.” Sett panted. The possum stood, stunned, with a half-cracked egg in one hand and a pan in the other.
“You’re- you’re all wet.” She set the egg down in the pan, not thinking to remove the shell as she barged past Sett into the linen closet. “You’re so cold.” She murmured, wrapping the goat in their thickest towel. “Did you want spicy beans and rice, it’s nice and-”
“We should buy the rest of this building.” Sett interrupted, leaning on the counter for support as their lungs seized. Ratty blinked back at them, tryin
Team 35 Logistics - 1989
The goat drops the chairs they were moving
Turning the first floor common area into a little meeting space
Wanna- whose this with you?
Sett kneels to get on eye level with a little girl holding pokeys hand
The tigers gaze falls to sett's shoes
Go on Pri
You just said it
“It’s so nice to meet you.”
Their heart melted as the tiger - however sheepishly - returned that smile.
My name is um, Prisha
“I- do I have to- um.”
“Pri is worried you’re going to make her speak.”
Pokey nudged gently.
“Oh, goodness, no. If you don’t want to talk when we come to you, just say you want to skip, and I’m sure everyone will understand.”
This seemed to bolster Prisha’s confidence,
enough for her to recount what had happened to her with Pokey’s help when the circle landed on the two of them for the second time.
“I actually- um. I think this is off topic but…”
The meek little tiger trailed off.
“It's okay Prisha,”
Sapphomet nudged gently, catching Pokey’s eye as the lizard comforted her little sister.
“Go ahead, we're all here to support you.”
She wrung her hands as she processed the memory.
She was so young, too young to be scared and alone in the world.
“I uh- Pokey,”
Prisha addressed her teenage caretaker directly.
“do you remember um- Miss Nelly? She was paranormal too and… I tried to go meet her at school, and she wasn't there, and I asked the office and they said she disappeared too.”
The tiger cried at this, struggling like no child should ever struggle to hold back tears.
“And- she said that- She said that she would take care of us if- and we can’t go home, and-”
Forces themselves to stay in the chair until prisha finishes
Stands up quietly as someone else steps in to offer words of comfort
Finds a spot in the stairwell below the concrete
Lights a cigarette
Blows into the vent
Jumps as ratty steps out
Holding back tears
Dabs the corner of their eyes with the hem of their sweater
Watches the tears fade to nothing in the thick black weave
heavy shit, huh?”
Sett laughs, catching a cry in their throat and mixing with it.
It's never going to be enough
Ratty sidles up next to them
We kinda just started
Its been, what, a couple weeks?
And like, the support group is secondary to like, giving people who cant find one a place to live
If Pokey and Prisha didn’t happen to stumble upon the exact right tea shop, they would be scared, alone, and homeless.
That was the reality for anyone outside the greater Toronto area, outside any of the small communities that had their little clubs.
“It’s not enough.”
It'll get better
It's one shelter in one city
Ratty bumps sett
And you're one goat.
Sapphomet stopped crying for just a moment, somehow stunned by that.
“One goat - if I might be so bold - with your own paranormal trauma. You’re doing way more than can be expected of you.”
You wanna get back in there?
Right behind you.
5:43 in the morning.
Fern rolled over in bed, not sure why they ever tried to sleep on the night before a full-moon day as they slapped the space-bar on their computer: 5:44am. They had developed an impeccable sense of time.
The butcher would be open in three hours, but wouldn’t be selling their off cuts for another eight. They would have to spend the entirety of today thinking about tonight.
Might as well open the store.
They spent the morning normally, sipping coffee and glaring at a chorus of angels on monochrome monitors across their little hybrid shop. People wanted Angel computers, the best thing Fern could do for those people was rip out the surveillance chips and sell them next to some alternative literature.
As if on cue, a little kirin rapped on the front door, pressing his face against the glass.
“Gonna watch the store for me today?”
“Yep, gotta warn you though, I have a thing around four.”
“What kind of thing?”
“There’s this new shelter, I’m gonna see if me and Walt can get a room there.”
“I thought the shelter system didn’t take…” Fern set their coffee down, poking Davy’s horn.
“These guys are independents.”
“Huh, cool.” The borzoi gazed out over their shop as their coffee maker finished filling up a travel mug. That was their exit. “See you, I guess tonight?”
“Yeah, for sure. I’ll meet you back here tonight.”
And then it was 5:43 in the afternoon. They had cut it too close for the end of October.
Pats their pockets for keys
Double checks bag
Stands on their tiptoes to reach into the lamp above the door
Double checks pockets
No fucking keys
Room mate out of town
Davy nowhere to be found
Hesitates as they decide whether or not to drop their ‘shopping’
Drops the bags of meat and runs
Eva had keys at her office but
Fuck that was far
Stops in their tracks
Turns on their heel
An abnormal number of paranormal incident reports surrounding a small apartment building downtown
Might be something
Sprints that way
Already feeling the pull of the moon
30 minutes east
That was time
Didn't feel like 30 minutes
They slammed into the glass door
“I know what you do here. I need help.”
Becca jumps, dropping their rubik's cube
Looks over the desk
Its a pull door
Sure enough, a little sign that says pull
They pull it open
Starting to feel the fur on the back of their neck stand up
“Hi, welcome to Team 35 logist-”
“I know it's a front.” The borzoi interrupted. “My name is Fern, I’m a werewolf, I need you to lock me up for the night.”
Fern checks their watch again
I dunno if I’ve ever met a werewolf before.
I’ll call someone down.
Fern turned to see a possum
Sitting across from
Oh hey Fern
Sorry I guess I lost track of time
Ratty gets up
Tell Sett to meet us in the basement, okay?
Fern is astonished they’ve been able to hold it back this long
Had to brace themselves against the concrete walls
You’re sure that door is thick enough
Sett will just want to meet you before-
Why are we doing this in here
Fern suffers from lycanthropy
“Werewolf is fine.”
Yeah, a few months ago
Fern felt satisfied with that,
finding a comfortable spot in the centre of the room and sitting.
They jumped as the weird edge of an electric blanket touched the nape of their back where their shirt was riding up.
“Oh, sorry. I just assumed you would want to- uh- change.”
“Are you two going to stay in here with me?”
Fern tried their best to impart the spin of ‘you shouldn’t be here when I transform’ into their voice.
Ratty and Sett spoke at the same time
Ratty stepped back, letting the goat take charge
I will stay to make sure the transition is as comfortable as possible
Like ‘ur funeral lady’
The fur on the back of Fern’s neck began to bristle as they stripped down -
fear of ripping up one of their favourite outfits far overpowering the fear of being seen naked.
It was coming on a lot faster this time
Fern felt her bones ache as they struggled to elongate their limbs
"I-- You need to leave."
They struggled to get the words out as a canine form took over their skeleton,
throwing them to the ground with a symphony of sickening crackles.
Sapphomet wrapped threads around the newly forming creature, doing their best to siphon pain off into the cosmos as sharp claws grew from the borzoi’s paws.
Their fur faded from a lustrous beige to a dull, deep, purple.
Creature turns on Ratty
Ratty came to realize she was cornered opposite the door.
Equal measure excited and freaked out
Fern advanced slowly on the comparatively small possum,
keeping low to the floor and testing their new jaw with a few snaps.
Ratty gets low
Glances at Sett
Grab them when I say
sprinted as low as she could at the dog.
They pounced, overshooting the speedy marsupial and catching the full weight of Ratty’s leap into their chest.
Knocks fern upright
Sapphomet reached out with her threads and dragged them the rest of the way to the ground with a massive crash.
“Shit- sorry.” Sapphomet apologized
Ratty tries to push them out of the door
Steps in front of sett
Fern slashes her back open
Ratty overpowers sett
Slamming the door on the dog’s hungry maw, Ratty forcing it back into the room with her boot. The two fell to the floor in front of the now sealed door.
They were in pain!
Ratty struggles not to writhe
“You need to work on-- not bearing your teeth like that.”
Sapphomet said between breaths.
I was smiling
They’re really cool
Rolls over onto their front
Letting Sett stitch up her back
“Hello.” A cold, metallic voice paralyzed Sett in the same instant it woke them from sleep.
“Jesus Christ.” Ratty dove for the baton on her bedside table and rolled into a combat stance before she had fully woken up. Sett was not blessed with such instincts, they sat up in bed, shaking too much to hit the switch on their bedside lamp as they took in the creature above them:
A thin veneer of rough, clearly synthetic fur just barely covered an underworking of tightly constructed mechanisms. A black visor took the place of the creature’s eyes, and from their back was projected a matching set of holographic arms and antlers: each fumbling for a nearby surface to brace themselves off of.
“My name is-” Ratty stopped it as they turned to look at Sett, seemingly trying to press themselves into the bed.
“Let’s take it outside.” Ratty swallowed her panic, as the creature nodded, ducking through the door. “You gonna be okay, Sett?” She asked. The goat took a deep breath, nodding as they exhaled some of their nerves. “Good, try and go back to sleep, I’ll be back in a sec.”
“My name is Angel J22:4.” The creature spoke as Ratty crossed the barrier between the bedroom and living room.
“Hang on!” Ratty hushed Angel as she tried her best to shut the door without a click. Angel stared at the door handle for a few moments, then turned to Ratty for approval. “Yes, fine, now.” Ratty led the way out of their apartment.
“My name is Angel J22:4. I am a model J Angelcorp drone from the year 2900. We have met once before-”
“You shouldn’t be here.” Ratty sped up their quest towards the elevators.
“I have disabled my tracking protocol. It is my understanding that this company is currently at conflict with Angelcorp.”
“I’m currently ‘at conflict’ with Angelcorp. The rest of this company has nothing to do with that.”
“Your mission is to preserve and protect the paranormal, is it not?”
“My mission is to move boxes from one place to another.”
“You are being intentionally obtuse. You are currently at conflict with Angelcorp. It is not my intention to exacerbate this conflict. Our meeting- Please stop.” Angel put a holographic hand out in front of the tired possum. “Our meeting significantly altered my programming, I believe I am malfunctioning. I have some memory of you that is incongruous with the rest of my history. I believe I could be useful to you in this conflict, zero-one-seven.”
Ratty’s temples tightened suddenly at the use of her number. She swallowed panic for the second time that night, not coating her throat quite as well this time around.
“What- what did you just call me?”
“Zero-one-seven. Is that not your name?” Angel asked.
“No, it’s not.” A strange combination of rage and anguish played second fiddle to cracked-tongue anxiety as she examined the drone. The synthetic fur was too thin to hide it’s rubber skin. Incredibly intricate mechanical muscles twitched and pulled under the surface, giving away the otherwise incredibly convincing puppet show. Ratty stepped in closer, her throat closing as she examined each individually labelled string of flesh.
She took the drone’s wrist in her hands on a hunch, bringing it to her face and having the image of 13’s scar jump to the front of her mind. Angel had an access panel in the exact same shape.
“13?” Ratty asked, trying to stare through her opaque visor. her face remained blank, only subtle twitches of its mechanical musculature to give away that it was processing something.
“My name is Angel J22:4.” Angel said finally, her voice clicking with the effort of processing it on top of whatever else she was remembering.
“You- You need to leave.” Ratty stammered, “I’ll- I can walk you out.”
Sett checks the door to the roof
Almost trips on one of their layers
Lights a cigarette
Stares at the adjacent building
So much taller
Sheer glass against the red brick
This might have been a bad idea
Moved in a few weeks ago
He jumped, almost loosing his footing on the slippery edge of the building
It's davy, right?
Heart went from a mild panic to a galvanized rhythm
What are you doing up here?
Do you think it would kill me if I fell?
The building is actually quite a bit taller than it looks
Would you like a smoke?
Turns to look
No, I think I'm okay
Don't think I should be around,
I guess i feel like I'm taking a lot more than I'm contributing
And on top of that everything is kind of, existentially horrible
If you know what I mean?
As though cut off from fear
I do, actually
Tell me not to jump?
Would it change anything at all if I did?
I always wondered why that never worked
You're smart, Sett
If you let other people tell you what they think makes a person worthwhile
You're going to miss out on what actually makes you worthwhile.
Stares at his reflection in the opposite building
Yeah, you're probably-
Sett dashes forward, grabs him by the shirt
Breaking from its chains
I have you.
Falls to knees
I can only feel what you're going through through the lens of my own experience.
I can promise you, you will always have a home here
Elevator doors open onto ratty
I was just walking Davy back to his room
Two in one night huh
The possum hunkered in next to her wife
“Have you been sleeping alright?”
Sett asks Ratty
“I- not really.”
Ratty thinks about balancing her job and sett’s thing
Sapphomet poked, recognizing the weird tension they had created together. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Another few moments of silence as the elevator seemingly sat still.
“I was thinking…”
Sapphomet was the one to break the silence again.
“We never really had a honeymoon.”
“No, we didn’t”
Ratty agreed, seemingly realizing this for the first time, too.
Ignores the money part in favour of fantasizing
“It’s kind of been one thing after another since we broke out, huh?”
“Yes, it really has been. But I mean, if this all goes well…”
Sapphomet examined the hem of their skirt, not totally satisfied with this look, either.
“There will probably be enough people to run the centre on its own for a little while.”
“I bet Pokey could do it, she’s kind of doing a bit of leadership.”
“Yes, I’m sure they’d be delighted.”
"And i have kind of a big job coming up…"
Sett nodded, encouraged.
Ratty slid up next to her wife on the hand rail and set her chin down on top of the goat’s head. They wiggled out from underneath to look up at their wife, her eyes still so tired. That didn’t seem to be something that was going to change.
“Where do you want to go?” Ratty asked. “Hawaii, maybe?”
“Maybe. Do you like tropical places?” Sett yawned. “Florida is cheap and similar.”
“The humidity is really good for my fur actually. Gotta be something all-inclusive.” Ratty’s eyes lulled closed, seemingly closing the discussion. She left intact the comfortable miasma of honeymoon plans. Another moment of silence as the two independently thought about how long this elevator was taking.
“Can I say something kind of weird?” Ratty prodded, her eyes flicking open as she became bored of the silent version of the box.
“No, absolutely not.” Sett said, too tired to put humour in their voice. Ratty blinked down at the goat, struggling to read them and clearly not getting it. “Yes, I’m sorry. That was a joke.”
“Oh, okay,” Ratty leaned back on the hand rail, staring up at the ceiling to hide a grin. She let the silence hang “perfect, then.” as notes of a smirk crept into her tone.
“What is it?” Sett poked the soft part of the possum’s side.
“I was uh, just gonna say that I… miss you... I feel like we spent more time together in Hell than we have on Earth so far.” She brushed the carpet with the toe of her boot.
“I was feeling the same way, oddly.” Sett watched the cheap polyester kick up dust.
“So, honeymoon for sure then.”
“Definitely.” Sett nodded, quietly following the toe of Ratty’s boot up the wrinkled crease of her pyjama pants. “and I really hate to be a perv, but-”
“Right!?” Ratty startled Sett with her sudden energy. “When was the last time we had sex, right?”
“Yes, thank you! I was holding off because I’m never quite sure when you want to, but-”
“Oh babe you know nothing gets me rowdier than hearing the words ‘want’ and ‘to’ pronounced separately.” Ratty burying her snout in the goats neck for a quick nip. Sett wriggled against the possum’s lips, suppressing a snicker.
“Tonight?” They caught the possum’s eye, their own glowing bright enough to cast the shadow of Ratty’s snout on her face.
“I mean like, not here.” Ratty said, as though late 80s elevator encounters were unheard of.
“Why not here?” Sett tugged the cord holding Ratty’s pants up.
“I- This is a really long elevator ride.” Ratty said, snapping out of the moment, her hands still hovering a half inch from her partner’s waist. Sett adjusted to the new atmosphere, ducking out from under her wife and pressing the button for their floor. The mechanism came back to life with an impatient ‘ka-thunk’, and they were moving again.
“Did you- Ratty, hun.” Sett laughed again.
“Hang on, no- there was no reason for me to think I needed to do that twice.”
“What about our floor?”
“I hit our floor when I came in!” Ratty turned, her mind racing to mount a defence as her wife burst out laughing.
“Oh don’t you lie to us!” The goat teased between fits of laughter. They wrapped their arms around the possum’s back, affectionately jamming their snout into hers “You were trying to corner us in your sex elevator!”
“I didn’t even know you were going to be here!” Ratty said, failing to hide her amusement beneath a thin veneer of annoyance. The two stood in each other's embrace as the ancient machine pulled itself through the shaft.
And then they had sex, I guess.
Ratty sat tinkering on the couch,
Having been distracted from her music by the uncomfortable way her cassette player clicked every few minutes
Having further been distracted by her music from the reading she had committed to doing
And being distracted by that from the news, which she was having trouble keeping up with.
Today was sunday
Her day off
It was frustrating
Put some thoughts here
Like maybe cliff thoughts
Sitting still thoughts
Doing something was better than doing nothing
Wiggling the screwdriver through the different parts of the mechanism,
Distracted by the tv
Struggling to be precise as her leg bounced
She jumped as, all at once
She bit through the lip she had been chewing on and - not meaning to - snapped the plastic head off of the takeup reel
Set it down, completely ignoring her books and the tv now
Her partner’s voice came from the bedroom door
Yes, I’m up, sorry.
It’s cool, I’m gonna go for groceries.
I love you
Love you too.
Angel was waiting in the lobby when Ratty left to run errands the next morning. She followed her out the door, hovering just beside the possum as she walked.
“You and I are similarly motivated. If Angelcorp is not disrupted before 2027, their master computer will go online and I will be taken over by the global signal. Similarly, if you don’t stop Angelcorp, they are going to continue to kidnap and exploit paranormal entities until they become unstoppable.” Angel explained.
“I didn’t know they were doing that.” That wasn’t entirely true, she had mentally done the red-string-wall and… I mean yeah, that made enough sense. This morning however she was far too tired to be anything but distantly panicked, choosing instead to devote the brainpower not taken up by this conversation to admiring a modern-for-the-time motorcycle spinning in the front window of a dealership. “How do I know you’re not a spy?”
“I understand one of the creatures under your employ is a foremost expert in cybersecurity. Have them proverbially ‘open me up’ and you will have your answer.” Angel encouraged.
“Fern is not my employee. They’re- I dunno they’re not my friend yet. I know them. You’re also from 2900, right? How is a hacker from-” Ratty faltered, not sure when Fern was actually born. “Are young people born in the 40s now? That was only like 30 years ago at this point.”
“1949 was 40 years ago. You were heralded at your funeral as an excellent judge of character. Does this not extend to your post-life?” Ratty felt a weird twinge of guilt as she realized just how much stretching her old coworkers must’ve done to find something nice to say about her. The other professors probably managed okay, but her old reporter friends… yikes.
The pair ducked into a convenience store, Ratty too caught up in picturing her own funeral to answer the question. Maybe someone took a video. She could ask her mom in about 35 years.
“Hey Harry.” She waved at the old man behind the counter, getting a newspaper ruffle and a lazy nod in return. “I can’t even look you in the eye, by the way.”
“Me?” Angel asked.
“Yes, you. You got the built-in sunglasses thing going on.”
“I hardly think that matters. My infrastructure is based on people. I am what comes from people reverse engineering themselves in an effort to build something better. I suspect your skills still apply.” Ratty once again chose to ignore this line of questioning as she pulled a carton of instant noodle mixes from a top shelf, slinging it under one arm as she picked up a pallet of canned stuff and handed it to Angel with the other. All of that and a bag of milk came to the counter with them, topped off with a tin of the intersection of Sett’s favourite and still affordable rolling tobacco from the wall behind the till.
“Harry,” Ratty started as the shorter man dragged over a stool and took down the tin. “What do you think of my friend here?”
Harry turned, squaring up the robot. “I’d feel better if I could see her eyes.”
Angel complied, taking off her glasses and revealing the significantly more obstructive black visor that covered - or maybe took the place of - her eyes.
“Ah… Well, she’s one of them supernaturals. If that’s what you’re lookin’ for.” He answered, zapping through the selection. Ratty scoffed.
“You think so?”
“Could be. What’re the stakes, Miss Vermington?”
“Well she might be a spy.” The possum did her best McCarthy impression.
“Communist?” Harry followed suit as he all but clambered onto the counter top, taking a much closer look at the mechanical woman. Angel winced, advanced enough for her mind to create a personal space bubble.
“No, much worse. She says the boys down at Angel Computers put her together.”
“Oh, nah!” He concluded, slumping back down behind his newspaper, still waiting for Ratty to pay up. “No one that pretty’d work for a computer company. Plus, if she were a spy, some old man gettin’ way too close wouldn’t make her quite so uncomfortable.”
“Alls I’m gonna say is that - if she thought I could make you trust her, she’d be putting on the charm.”
“Suppose that makes sense.” Ratty nodded. Harry sat back, satisfied with his work as Ratty got out her wallet and sorted through a small stack of rumpled bills. “Hey Harry?”
“Don’t ever do that again, please.”
“O’course. T’was outta line.”
“Does that help your judgment?” Angel asked, taking the garbage bags of food off of Ratty on instinct.
“A little. I dunno, we’ll see how you do at the…” Ratty trailed off as she noticed a new store being built across the street. A real stroke of narrative luck made today was the day they raised their sign:
Her gaze held steady as a security guard caught sight of her, unsure whether to glare directly at the possum, the spikes on her shoulders, or the passive robot-ghost thing standing behind her.
“Hey Angel… I just had an idea.”
g to split her focus between this and removing the egg shell from her egg.
“Did you run here?”
“Yes- I-” Sett panted, holding up a hand as their lungs struggled to recover. It helped only slightly as the scent of Ratty’s cooking coated their torn throat with a comforting little blanket.
“Well, okay. Eat some warm food. Calm down.” Ratty took a scalpel and a fork from the cutlery drawer and handed it to Sett along with the finished pile of food. They cut their lips open, taking a deep breath, then another, then a bite of runny egg.
“So, the landlord is taking a dive on this place. We’re the only two people who live here.” Sett started, balancing a lot as the cold burn in their lungs fought against the warm in their stomach, all while keeping their thoughts in order. Ratty nodded along.
“There are other paranormals on Earth, which I thought stopped happening, but I think we could create a place for them to belong.”
Ratty turned it over in her mind, watching Sapphomet eat as she thought of every reasonable problem with this plan. “Money would be tight.” was the first thing to jump to her lips. “We would essentially be out of money for the foreseeable future.”
“We could apply for an additional government grant based on our escapee status, Becca can push it through for us, and the courier is doing really well, and I really think we can afford it.”
“I wouldn’t be able to stop working, so I could only help-”
“I know…” Sapphomet felt hope build in their chest as the possum’s tone shifted. “Ratty, I really think this is what I was made for.”
“You fine with beans and rice?” Ratty asked. Sett nodded. “Okay. Then, yeah. Let’s do it.”