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Generated: Nov 13, 2019 10:08 PM
Post last updated: Nov 13, 2019 10:06 PM
some only had hearts that were brave and true
in which karen teller saves expat fairy celegorm from zombies
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Karen Teller is having a really, really, really terrible month.

(In the privacy of her own brain, she is willing to admit that if ever there were a month that was downright shitty, this would be it.)

Her sister is dead. Not, like, gone to heaven dead, stuck on earth as a ghost dead. Her niece is still a werewolf, and is making progress on her apparent goal of scratching up every piece of furniture in the house. Also she got a D on a history test. Just straight-up got a D, on a history test, because she's been too dead all month to even listen during lectures. And she's too - proud, or scared, or something, to call in her parents for help, so she's just living in this house with a ghost and a tiny werewolf and an elementary schooler and hoping that nothing goes horribly horribly wrong before she graduates.

She has a job. It even pays enough to hire the nanny all day. Which is, you know, super. It starts at six and ends at nine, and is all the way across town, and she can't drive, so when she's lucky she gets home around ten, and she mostly doesn't take a stab at her homework because by that time she doesn't want to do anything at all. She does manage to take a shower, usually, because she's been handling dead bodies, because, oh yeah, she works at a cemetery, which is why it pays so well.

Also, she finds out today, there are zombies. Just, y'know, actual zombies, wandering around the catacombs under the mausoleum, which is probably why the caretaker gave her a mace, although honestly this is a thoroughly ridiculous way to handle this problem and you would THINK, if you knew that there were zombies infesting your catacombs, you would be able to seal them off and move your business somewhere safer, or at least come up with a solution that's less completely stupid than arming sixteen-year-olds with medieval weaponry and expecting them to fend for themselves.

This is mostly what she's thinking about when she takes out the zombie that's about to take a bite out of her coworker's shoulder. She has to assume that the actual contact is, like, instinct, or something. She hits it again, after, for good measure, and again, until its face is completely smashed in, because maybe she can't beat the crap out of this horrible, horrible month, but at least she can make sure this fricking literal walking corpse isn't going to make anything any worse.

 

"There. Dead zombie. Hopefully it stays that way this time."

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If she is busy smashing the zombie into a pulp she won't have noticed that her coworker is standing very still against the wall staring at her.

"You saved my life," he says, not entirely happily.

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"I guess," she says, very tiredly. She picks up her flashlight. Doesn't see any others hiding in the shadows. "Well that goes a long way in explaining why this job pays so well, I guess."

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"I...guess? What d'you want, or should my parents sort it out -"

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Now that the adrenaline has sorted out the problem she mostly feels really tired and shaky. She sits down against the wall and breathes, still scanning the tunnels with her flashlight in case she missed any others.

It takes her a few seconds to process what he has said.

"...what?"

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"You saved my life," he says again, slowly. "Uh, where I'm from, that's very important, and I owe you something worth just as much."

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"Okay, well, I dunno if anything's worth as much as a life is? So I don't really know what - I guess if another zombie comes by you can yell?"

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"You can add stuff up until you get there but it takes a while. I'll just tell my parents to deal with it. If there's not - more zombies."

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"Okay," she says, even though she has basically no idea what this means. "Should we - get somebody, I don't really know what the zombie procedure is." She glances at her watch. "Shift's almost over anyway."

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"I think there's paperwork we're supposed to fill out for workplace safety incide - on the other hand, we could just go home."

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"Ugh. You go home, I'll fill it out."

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Twitch. "I owe you my life."

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"...okay?"

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"So I should stay and you should go home."

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"You really wanna fill out the paperwork?"

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"I just -  this is already bad enough, I should at least be trying."

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"Okay. I don't really know if it's even safe to ride my bike home until the adrenaline goes away, though, so like, whichever way."

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"Could call you a taxi."

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"Nooo, no no no. I'll be good in a few minutes. Probably. Never killed a zombie before."

She stands up and gathers her stuff.

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He...attempts paperwork.

As he cannot read, this goes poorly.

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She is still hanging out waiting for her shift to be over, because actually she feels really weird about leaving before the clock says she can.

 

"....you sure you got that?"

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He's written his name in the first blank and the date in the second blank and his address on the next row and is writing 'we were attacked by zombies' in all the remaining spaces. "Yeah. I bet they don't even read these."

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"...okay. See you tomorrow, I guess."

She bikes home.

Connor's watching Zana, because Connor is eight, but she doesn't have a lot of better options, and most stuff can get done by an eight year old with hands and a twenty-four-year-old ghost without them. She puts them both to bed and reads them a story. She showers. She's kind of scared of the dark right now, so she actually does her homework, for once, instead of going to bed.

She wakes up at dawn over the kitchen table, face smashed into her half-finished geometry homework.

She feels like it's not gonna be a great day. She writes some random nonsense for the rest of the problems and makes herself a microwaveable burrito and feeds her niblings breakfast and gets on the bus when it comes.

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Connor's not in school but he ditches school around half the time anyway so that doesn't mean much.

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Yeah whatever. She would ask one of his siblings if he's okay about the zombie attack, and stuff, but that would require talking to people about all the bullshit that happens in this town during school, which is impossible, and would relatedly require talking to people, which is only slightly less impossible.

She doesn't go home between work and school, because school is a lot closer to work. She does journalism club stuff, and then she spends a while pretending to herself that any minute now she's going to stop reading about ancient Sumerian burial rites and is going to get started on her chemistry homework. 

Eventually she bikes to work.

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He is at work.

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So is his father. 

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....okay.

".....hi."

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"Hello," he says. "I wanted to compensate you for saving my son's life last night. This is a check for eight hundred twelve thousand, six hundred and two dollars."

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.....what.

This is terrible.

Why that number, specifically.

"Um, thank you, but that's - not really necessary. Sir."

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He looks annoyed. "You want something else?"

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"...no? Um, like, thank you, and stuff, but it's not really - I don't need anything for it."

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He stands there looking frustrated for a moment. Then he turns and walks away.

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"What, you thought of something you want even more?"

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"...no? I like you better alive. That's all. And, like, I wanna respect your - cultural - whatever, but like, you can't just accept hundreds of thousands of dollars from people you haven't met, that's a terrible idea."

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"He's not - it's not a trick, it's exactly the right amount. All it'd do it get us even."

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"All it would do is mean that I'm, like, super indebted to your dad, who I don't know anything about, and who also goes around writing checks for eight hundred thousand dollars, apparently, which is terrifying? And just - look, not that your life isn't worth that much, but I didn't save you from cancer or anything, I killed a zombie because it was gonna bite you, and it took like twelve seconds, and I didn't do it for a reward, or anything, okay, I did it because zombies eating people is bad, and I'm against it. Heroism is its own reward. - I gotta get to work."

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"You wouldn't be indebted to my dad," he objects, "that's what I just said." 

But fine. 

They can get to work.

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Fine.

She's not very talkative most of the time, but she's even less talkative today, because she did something weird and she doesn't understand it and the way she deals with weird social things is mostly by hoping they go away. 

She buries people. There are no zombies. After work she finds the paperwork and fills out a proper incident report about yesterday that says stuff like where the attack occurred and that nobody was actually injured (except the zombie), because probably that's useful information to actually have on file, or something.

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After work he goes home.

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"Did she say what she wanted?"

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"She was worried it was too much and you were trying to indebt her? And she said some stuff about heroism? - and she said she liked me better alive."

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"Ah."

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"I'm not a little kid anymore."

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"You're not. I'll think about it."

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He's at school for the rest of the week. 

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Well, she's still super ignoring him. This isn't actually a change from normal, during school, since she mostly ignores other students all the time and ignores her teachers about half the time. Some of this is because she's reading, and some of this is because she's always doing homework during lunch and during lecture classes where she can pass it off as taking notes, and some of this is because social interaction is terrifying, unless you're in the stupid catacombs under the mausoleum, where it used to be less terrifying but is now about equally terrifying. Which does, on the whole, work out to ignoring him way more than she used to.

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This makes everything significantly more confusing. On the other hand confusing things are precisely the sort of things they're here to learn about, in principle. 

On Saturday her doorbell rings.

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She tells the ghost to hide herself and gets the door. 

" - hi."

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"Hello," he says. "You've refused other compensation, so I have no choice but to offer you this; the life you saved. I hope you're worthy of it."

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He avoids looking at her. 

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"Obey her," he says to his son. "You can return home when your debt is repaid."

 

And he leaves.

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"I would've taken the money," he says.

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What???????

 

"....what just happened?"

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"Well, you saved my life, and then you refused to accept a substitute for my service as payment, so now here we are."

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"I don't want payment!"

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"...well, you could kill me, and then it'd be like you never saved me in the first place?"

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"Okay, well, what can we do that isn't horrible and stupid and illegal?"

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"You could let me in and tell me to do stuff until we're even like a normal person."

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"That's not what normal people do! Normal people who save their coworkers from workplace hazards get told 'wow, I don't know how I can ever thank you', and then they say 'it's cool, anybody would have done the same thing', and then they go file OSHA violations or something because they're not so desperate for work that they still think their job is a good deal even when it involves literal zombies. I don't know what you're doing, over there, but whatever it is it's not normal."

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"Fine! But it's the only thing that's going to solve this problem here so you'd better do it unless I guess you want me to sleep on your porch forever!"

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She rolls her eyes.

"What do I have to tell you to do."

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"I don't know, what stuff do you want someone to do?"

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"I dunno? I have homework, but I gotta do that. I already made breakfast. Don't have any dishes anymore because my nephew did them. All the furniture is scratched up but we can't really fix that without money, and it'd just get wrecked again anyway until we figure out how to get her to stop... teething.

"You could... take out the trash, I guess?"

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"Okay? - oh, you also get my money. I don't have that much of it - well, I guess you know exactly what I make - but it's yours now."

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"Seriously?"

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"Yes."

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"That just seems, like, really - I guess if you were staying here we could call it rent, but I don't actually want you to stay here, that's - really weird."

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"My understanding was that sleeping on the porch is also really weird but obviously it's your call."

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" - your parents are literally not going to let you come home until you've done whatever it is they need you to do? Isn't that illegal?"

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"Maybe? I don't really know much about the law."

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"Well, unfortunately I can't call the police on them for you, because then there would be an investigation, and - man, I don't know if I'm even allowed to have boys over overnight - ?"

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"Oh, for God's sake, Kare, you are so," says the closet.

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" - would you just shut up? Okay? For ten minutes?"

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"Nah," says the ghost, wafting through the door at this second. "I mean, like, yeah, if you had, like, normal friends over? But as far as I can tell this whole thing is on my side of the weirdness line."

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"- hi. Are you Karen's mother?"

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 "No," says Karen. "This is my sister. She's terrible, and also dead."

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"Hi!"

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He bows. "I'm honored to meet you."

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"Aww, he's cute."

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"Stop it! Stop! Both of you - just - stop making this weirder than however weird it has to be."

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He straightens up and stands still and does not talk.

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" - oh come on. Sorry. Whatever. Just - do whatever you want, okay, I don't know how this works, I'm not gonna get in trouble with your parents, just - the ghost is stupid and harmless and you don't have to care about her."

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"think she's nice."

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"Thank you. Well, if you had to save somebody who does weird fantasy life debt stuff, Karen, I think you could have done much worse."

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Ugh.

" - just - take the trash out, if that helps you somehow, or don't, if it doesn't. I'll set you up in the living room until we figure this out. I guess."

The living room is currently her room but in principle there's no reason she can't share with the toddler. Probably. Still has Azalea's bed in it.

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He takes the trash out. He observes the furniture with interest. "You have a dog? - a beaver?"

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"A toddler. Since you already know all the other nonsense, we think she's a werewolf. Or something."

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"Huh. Have you tried a scratching post?"

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"......no. Maybe that'd be smart."

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"They're pretty easy to make, you just need wood and the right kind of carpet. I could pick those up at the store - d'you want me to go to school?"

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"I - guess? If you don't go to school the truant officers're gonna come for you at some point, and it looks like we're fresh out of qualified parents for them to hand you over to, so."

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Sigh. "Okay."

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"What do you even do all day?"

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"When I don't go to school? Run around in the woods, mostly. But I wasn't expecting you to allow that."

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"I mean, it's not - I don't wanna tell you what you can and can't do, it's just, if you get caught - I mean I guess they'll probably just hand you back over to your parents, and maybe that'd be fine?"

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"Yeah, I could just come back over here once they've gone."

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"Okay. Then - whatever, I guess."

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" - see, "you have to go to school" is actually better than "whatever" because it means school counts towards the debt."

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"I don't know how the debt thing works. I just want you to be, like, okay, and not cause additional problems, and figure out how to get your parents to take you back, except actually it seems like your parents kind of suck, and I guess conceivably you'd be better off without them, if you could manage that."

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"My parents are great!"

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"They're refusing to let you come home until you do some weird ridiculous debt bondage thing!"

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" - I mean I could've told my dad I was too young and then he'd have figured something else out but I'm not, and you saved my life, and it's not like want that sitting there between us any more than they do!"

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"It's really not that big a deal."

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"It's my life! I think it's a big deal."

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"I mean, yeah, sorry, just, it doesn't have to mean you owe anybody that much? It's your life, and I saved it 'cause I wanted to, and I didn't, like, think about it, or anything, and - I just don't think smashing a zombie's head in makes me, like, entitled to anything from you. Maybe a thank you. Then we'd be good."

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"I mean we could try that. 

Thank you. 

 

 - nope, didn't do anything. I'm sorry."

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"I don't think you gotta be sorry about any of this. Just - I dunno, please tell me if I'm being a jerk about anything, I'm not trying to be. We'll figure something out that works for you and then you can go home.

"D'you... want some lunch, or anything?"

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"I should probably eat but I can find things in the woods if you don't want the added expense."

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"We are not going to make you live off of scavenging stuff in the woods. Apparently I have to take your money anyway, I'm sure that more than covers it."

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"Okay, okay. I'll have lunch."

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Oh good, an other than miserable face. 

She'll make everybody sandwiches. That's nice and easy.

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She's really pretty bad at having a slave but probably it takes practice or something.

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Well, she's still something like eighty percent unaware that she has a slave, that's probably part of it.

"So I gotta go to the library in a bit, would it help the situation if you, like, played with Zana until I get home?"

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"If it's a favor to you, yes."

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"...yeah, it'd be a favor."

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"Then yes."

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"Okay. Thanks."

So she can head to her other job, the one she's had for several months and didn't get specifically to pay for food and keep the lights on. 

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Zana wants to play with blocks. The way you play with blocks is that you stack them, and then you knock them over, and then you gnaw on them, and then you gnaw on the couch, and then you scratch at the couch cushions with your alarmingly sharp and hard fingernails.

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Does she want to go outside in the forest and play beavers, which is like that except you gnaw on trees and build a beaver lodge of sticks?

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This is acceptable.

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Oh good. They can build such a good beaver lodge.

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They can!! This is excellent.

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The other Connor hangs out in the backyard and does his homework and watches them.

 

"So are you gonna be spending the night?"

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"I think so? If Karen can find somewhere to put me."

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"She put a sleeping bag out in the living room. I guess maybe she's gonna sleep in Zana'a room, or something."

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"I guess that works."

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"How long are you gonna stay?"

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"At this rate, forever? But probably she'll get better at this."

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"Better at what?"

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"Letting people repay debts to you."

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"How does that work?"

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"Well, some things make people indebted to you, like saving their life or making them sandwiches or giving them a place to live, and some things make people less indebted to you, like if they watch your toddler or give you their money or clean your house or - I don't know, give you a massage, or there's grownup stuff - and once you're even then you can go home."

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"So you can't go home?"

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"I mean I could but then I'd still be indebted to her and everything would be an enormous mess and my parents would be angry and disappointed and anyway I like it here."

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"Huh.

 

"I guess I like it here, too. I think it'd be easier with parents, though. Maybe not with parents who don't want to take care of you."

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"My parents are good to me but they know I need to do this and they'd be disappointed if I didn't. They'd feel like they hadn't raised me right. They wouldn't have raised me right."

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"It's that important to not be indebted to people?"

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"If you're indebted to people then everything you do reflects on them, and vice versa. And humans are dangerous to be indebted to because they tell lies and make foolish promises."

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"...what is there besides humans? I mean, and ghosts, but I don't think ghosts are any more careful."

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"Faeries! Faeries are careful. Not that I've met any other than my father."

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"Huh. I guess I haven't either."

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"Most faeries are so fast that humans can't see them. My family's slow because my father doesn't get along with his family and he slowed down to do research and met a human and married her."

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He nods.

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"But there are probably fairies in the woods, we just can't see them. If you ever walk into a fairy circle - circles of mushrooms, they grow in the woods - and you meet one you should not say your name and not ask any questions and not take any food and try to leave as soon as you can."

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Nodnod.

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"So do you need, like... help paying off your stuff...?"

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"I need stuff to do. You can't help with doing the stuff because then I'm not repaying her, but you could help her think of stuff that needs doing."

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"Oh. Well, watching Zana's good, right? Karen's too tired to play with her most of the time."

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"Yeah, watching Zana counts. I can do that whenever I'm home."

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"Well, that's good. Though I guess you'll mostly be away from home when she is, if you guys have the same job. Well, one of the same jobs."

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"Maybe she'll want me to quit once it occurs to her that she's allowed to tell me to do that."

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"Do you wanna quit?"

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"No? What if there are more zombies and she can't handle them all?"

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"Then she's not gonna tell you to."

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"She's gonna have a hard time getting paid back while never telling me to do anything I don't want to do."

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"I think she probably doesn't care about actually getting anything. Just if you, like, think you're even.

"And I think if she had to do cemetery stuff alone it would make her sad."

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"Then probably I shouldn't quit."

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"Yeah. I guess not."

 

He plays with Zana for a couple minutes and then packs up his homework and heads inside.

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He'll stay out here with Zana until they're called in to bed, he guesses.

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She gets home around sunset. She calls them in to dinner. It's Saturday, so they're having spaghetti, because spaghetti is one of like three kinds of real meals she knows how to make.

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He eats spaghetti. "I can cook, you know."

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"That'd be cool. We're mostly living off TV dinners right now. I used to think Zales couldn't cook, but it turns out I'm even worse than her."

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"Well, then, you should let me cook dinner and it'll count for a lot and we'll have dinners. Win-win."

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"Sure. You can cook dinner from now on."

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She's pretty confused about which things make him happy. Maybe just anything that pays off his debt? But apparently school would pay it off and he definitely wasn't happy about school.

"I would count it as a favor if you did the dishes." There, that's not an order, that's at least thirty-seven percent less sketchy than giving orders. Still kind of sketchy but she's still working out how to be actually not sketchy about whatever this thing that he insists she has to do is.

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He'll do the dishes.

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Okay then.

"So, do you have, like, any stuff you need to get from your parents' house if you're going to be staying here a while?"

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"I brought clothes and shoes. My books are all at school, I never bring them home."

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"......so are you gonna need, like, a toothbrush?"

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"What's that?"

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"I'm really concerned about you on multiple levels." She heads back to the bathroom to get a toothbrush. "This is a toothbrush. You put toothpaste on it and then you brush your teeth with it, and it keeps your teeth from smelling weird and rotting."

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"Do my teeth smell weird?"

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"I dunno! It's how, like, eating works, the food particles get in and they rot and rotting things smell. Normal parents teach people to brush their teeth when they're Zana's age."

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"Maybe it's a human thing."

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" - what're you?"

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"I'm a fairy."

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"Is this a magical debt bondage thing?"

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"- did you think it was just because we thought it was funny?"

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"I thought you were, like, recent immigrants from some place in eastern Europe I've probably never heard of who were, like, bizarrely hardcore about not forgetting the old ways, or something. How am I supposed to get 'fairies', just because I know zombies and ghosts and werewolves exist doesn't mean I automatically assume that, I dunno, Santa Claus and frost giants and vampires and mermaids and androids passing for human are all real, I don't just know everything already - "

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"Okay! Well, I don't know if those things exist. But fairies do. My dad's a fairy. That makes me half a fairy technically but I'll be able to live normally among fairies once I'm grown up."

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"Okay! Well! Good to know!"

She sits at the table and rests her head in her hands.

"How does the magical debt thing work."

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"Well, when people do things for each other, they create debt. Debt ties peoples' fates together. You mostly don't want to be in debt to people who you barely know, and you mostly don't want to have people you barely know in your debt either. - I'm not a bad person to have, though. I haven't done something wrong since I was five."

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"I'm pretty sure everybody does wrong things? No offense."

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"I mean things the universe cares about, not - ditching school, or whatever. Lying. Stealing. Destroying things that aren't yours. Hurting someone you're indebted to. Breaking promises."

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"I'm pretty sure everybody does wrong things even if we ignore legality as a criterion. But - whatever, in what sense does it tie people's fates together?"

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"If you do something bad, you get misfortune, and so does everyone who is entangled with you - by debt, or among full fairies by knowing your real name. If you do something good, you get good fortune and the universe is a little friendlier to you."

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"Good like what?"

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"Mostly just not doing anything bad. Courts have good fortune when they go a long time without any members doing bad things."

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"Okay. Well. Fine. Where I come from saving people's lives is a good thing and you do it just because it's good, not because you expect stuff, but we'll - see if we can figure this out. Do you know how much it is in dollars right now?"

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"It's not much different than it was when my father offered."

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"Is it any different?"

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"It's a couple dollars less, I think? I can't guess how much it is in dollars as precisely as he can. I played with Zana and took out the trash but you made lunch and dinner. Maybe ten dollars less."

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Ugh.

"So you have to generate more than eight hundred thousand dollars of net value before you're allowed to go home?"

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"it's not - money's not the best unit for the thing. Some things you wouldn't pay a hundred dollars for count for well more than a hundred dollars. But - a lot, yeah. It's a life."

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"I guess that makes sense," she says, tiredly. 

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"I can watch Zana and cook things."

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"How much of that before you can go home?"

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"I mean, at this rate it'll be your whole life but probably we'll think of more things before then."

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She rests her head on the table and sighs.

"D'you need anything else while you're here?"

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"Nah."

Permalink Eye

"D'you want anything else while you're here?"

Permalink Eye

"...kinda want you to be like 'oh I forgot that I'm really into people collecting rare exotic herbs from the woods and you should do that instead of going to school'."

Permalink Eye

"Not super into that. But you don't have to go to school if you really don't want to."

Permalink Eye

"It'll be fine."

Permalink Eye

"I have a ridiculous fairy classmate with a ridiculous magical life debt stuck in my house, who doesn't know what a toothbrush is, and who can't go home until I think of something I need eight hundred thousand dollars of, and my sister is dead, and my niece is a werewolf, and I'm sitting in this increasingly run-down house that I can't take care of, because I'm too proud or scared or stubborn or whatever to call my parents for help, and my second job sometimes throws zombies at us and tries to kill us, and I can't even talk to you about that because everything is weird now, and nothing about that is fine, actually."

Permalink Eye

"I can take care of the house. And the sister. And hopefully the zombies, most of the time. And I don't see why you stopped talking to me but if that's the problem maybe you could just...start talking to me again!"

Permalink Eye

 

"Whatever."

She grabs a hat and a scarf out of the closet and puts them on. "The shower doesn't do hot water and you can only access the bathroom through the bedrooms, so if you wanna shower or pee or investigate brushing your teeth then you gotta do it before little Connor goes to bed. I would count it as a favor if you put the baby to bed at nine, Zales can tell you how. I'm sorry for being a jerk. I need to - think."

Permalink Eye

"Kare, there's curfew soon - "

Permalink Eye

"I don't care," she says, and slams the outside door behind her.

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

He will shower, and pee, and investigate brushing his teeth and conclude it seems like being human would be a hassle, and put the baby down at nine if the ghost can explain how this is done. 

Permalink Eye

Yep. You get her some milk and you help her brush her teeth and you put her in the crib and you tell her a story. She can do the story part if he doesn't wanna.

Permalink Eye

Stories are good, they count for debt. He tells her a story about clever fairies entrapping a silly mortal and bringing her away to their court to dance until she's too tired to stand.

Permalink Eye

That's kind of a fucked up story but okay.

Permalink Eye

Gotta teach kids to be wary of strange fairies.

Permalink Eye

Fair enough.

Karen's still not back when little Connor goes to bed at nine thirty. She's still not back at ten.

"I think she meant to leave you the living room."

Permalink Eye

Nod. 

 

He finds the sleeping bag and goes to sleep.

Permalink Eye

She gets home around one and locks her bike up. She doesn't head inside, just sits down with her back against the side of the house and mopes.

Permalink Eye

The ghost wafts over and pretends to sit.

 

"They offered you money?"

Permalink Eye

"Check for eight hundred and twelve thousand something dollars, yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Would it solve anything for you to take it?"

Permalink Eye

"I dunno. Probably. Wouldn't have a used-to-be-work-friends fairy person hanging out anymore. Have to figure out what to even do with it without making mom and dad suspicious."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"I could accept the check and throw it in a river or something."

Permalink Eye

"Would that even help? If it's a check?"

Permalink Eye

"I dunno. I guess I could ask him. This would require talking to him."

Permalink Eye

 

"Don't be an ass, Karen, it doesn't suit you."

Permalink Eye

Sigh.

 

"You know what really bites? It would help. Him or the money, if we could figure out how to access the money in a sensible way. It's more than our house. Way more. And he could do a bunch of stuff. Like, there's the income, so we don't get wiped out the next time we need to call a repair man, and there's the - having anyone else around to do stuff, and play with Zana, and the thing about the scratching post, and what it says about him that he immediately thought of making a scratching post, and -

" - and here I am throwing a tantrum after midnight in the backyard because I don't wanna - I don't even know, because it - feels wrong to cede to the fairies that if you save somebody's life then they have to - do stuff. Any stuff. And - I don't know what he thinks we are, but it's creepy, and it's not like being friends, and I'm mad about it, 'cause I don't have any other friends, you know, and I wanted to maybe be friends with him, and it sucks if you're not even friends with people who live in your house, but I dunno how to fix it now, because everything's - "

She gestures helplessly.

Permalink Eye

"Well, I'm sure you've thought of this, but you could probably try talking to him about any of this. Just a shot in the dark there."

Permalink Eye

"I guess. It's gonna be weird and awkward."

Permalink Eye

"These are the dangers we brave, kid. Now, you gonna go inside and get half a good night's sleep, or are you gonna sit out here moping all night?"

Permalink Eye

"Kinda leaning towards the second one."

Permalink Eye

"You are so melodramatic."

Permalink Eye

"Having him in the house is weird."

Permalink Eye

"Well don't make yourself homeless over it. Talk stuff over with him and give it three nights and if you're still miserable about it we can revisit the topic and see what makes you both happy. But 'I guess I'm just gonna live in the backyard now' is not a plan A."

Permalink Eye

"Fine."

She veeeery quietly opens the door and heads inside.

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

She successfully makes it to her room and locks the door and makes it to bed without waking the baby.

At dawn she makes waffles, not because she wants to indebt him any more but because making sure that breakfast exists is, like, sort of a stress response.

Permalink Eye

When he wakes up he'll eat waffles. "You can wake me, you know."

Permalink Eye

"Why would I do that? Unless you wanna get up at some specific time."

Permalink Eye

"So I can make you waffles?"

Permalink Eye

"I like making waffles. It's calming. You can make lunches and dinners and non-waffle breakfasts if I don't feel like waffles or cereal. Also I don't want you to end up getting not enough sleep."

Permalink Eye

She's the one who didn't come home by the time he went to bed last night. 

"...okay."

Permalink Eye

 

"M'sorry about getting upset last night."

Permalink Eye

"I don't really get why you don't like me any more but I just figure hey, maybe you'll change your mind, or maybe you'll get mad enough to hit me, and those're both good news, so, none of my business really."

Permalink Eye

" - I'm not gonna hit you."

Permalink Eye

"I don't mean, like, with a car, I mean, like," he punches himself on the arm. 

Permalink Eye

"I'm not gonna do that!"

Permalink Eye

"Okay then. I'm not complaining, just, when you get mad, I think that even if you did it wouldn't be a big deal so I shouldn't care if you're mad."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I think it would be horrible, and I'm not gonna do it. Anyway. I don't dislike you. I just, like - you keep expecting me to treat you horribly and being sad when I have standards for people that are not that, and saying things like 'I shouldn't care if you're mad', and it's depressing, and I don't know how to deal with it and I don't want to make things - harder - for you, but, like - it's really weird and uncomfortable, talking to somebody who expects you to be awful and doesn't tell you when they want things and doesn't seem to have any standards for their own treatment besides not wanting to go to school."

Permalink Eye

"- okay."

Permalink Eye

 

" - anyway, I don't know what to do about this, because you can't really just ask people to grow standards if they don't have them, but that's what it is. And it's weird having people in my house that I don't know how to talk to without it being awkward and terrible. But I don't think it's your fault, really."

Permalink Eye

"No, I think it's your fault, for not just taking the money."

Permalink Eye

"Well, sorry. I don't even think I could do anything with it if I did. Would it help if I just, like, accepted a check and then burned it, would that make you happy?"

Permalink Eye

"That wouldn't help, no. You could get it in cash and burn it, if you really want to burn money for some stupid reason."

Permalink Eye

"I don't want to burn money, I just - I want to be able to save people from zombies sometimes without this making everything terrible for them. And, I dunno, to ever be able to talk without this giant - whatever it is, here. Debt. And I don't wanna do anything that's - you can't just accept hundreds of thousands of dollars from people if you didn't, like, win a Nobel Prize or something."

Permalink Eye

"This isn't terrible. It's kind of frustrating but like - school is way worse and we make everyone do that for twelve years not even to save them from zombies just for no reason. And you can just talk, I won't bring it up if you don't."

Permalink Eye

Sigh.

 

"I think you're supposed to learn stuff at school. In theory."

Permalink Eye

"Then maybe they should make it have less torture?"

Permalink Eye

"Like what?"

Permalink Eye

"It could be outside. The teachers could sit under trees and you could go find one who was talking about something you wanted to learn. And there could be no tests or homework."

Permalink Eye

Much more wistful sigh.

"Yeah. That'd be nice. Seems like a bunch of people wouldn't learn anything, though."

Permalink Eye

"A bunch of people already don't learn anything and right now they get tortured!"

Permalink Eye

"I don't think school is torture. I would say your standards for torture are too low, except apparently you don't care if people hit you, so  - maybe it's just, like, way worse for fairies than for humans."

Permalink Eye

"I guess it might be."

Permalink Eye

"...do your brothers all think it's torture?"

Permalink Eye

"No, but they're really smart and do well in all their classes and their teachers all like them."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. I guess that'd make it easier."

Permalink Eye

"It really would."

Permalink Eye

Sigh.

"If I just keep saying 'I'd consider it a favor' every time I want something, can I, like, trust you to do the ones that are worth it to you for however much debt forgiveness they give you and not do the ones you think are awful?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Good. I'd consider it a favor if you put together a scratching post for Zana. I gotta head out and probably won't get back until late again, so I'd consider it a favor if you played with Zana more, but if you want to head to the store and buy whatever then llittle Connor is totally competent to watch her for a couple hours at a time."

Permalink Eye

"Can I take her to the store?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, that's fine. She'd probably like it."

Permalink Eye

"Cool."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. ...thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Sure thing."

Permalink Eye

Everything is weird and terrible, but it's less weird and terrible than it was last night, so that's something. 

She goes to mass. There's one weird old Catholic church in this town, and it's usually next to empty, but she goes anyway. And then she spends the rest of the day at the library, because as of about a month ago Karen doesn't really get days off. Maybe she can sit down and figure out their shared income and expenses at some point and see if this can be fixed with two high schoolers who have unusually lucrative after-school jobs.

Or maybe she will come around to asking for a bunch of money and then burning it. Hard to say.

Permalink Eye

He takes Zana to the store and lets her test materials for her scratching post and buys the materials and goes home and puts the scratching post together. It is fun. It sucks that Karen won't talk to him anymore but in every other respect things are okay.

Permalink Eye

She's not aware that this is something that he's experiencing as a problem, even though she could probably get it if she thought about it or knew more about what was happening, because firstly she barely understands what's happening, and secondly it has never actually occurred to her that anyone who isn't related to her might ever want to talk to her for more than purely logistical reasons.

She does tell him that it's a pretty great scratching post.

Permalink Eye

"Thanks! We'll see if she likes it enough to use it instead of the couch."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. We can hope. What's dinner?"

Permalink Eye

Dinner is chicken nuggets with ketchup and barbecue sauce and several other odd sauces that go well with chicken nuggets.

Permalink Eye

Cools.

On Monday morning she gets ready for school and then makes herself cereal. She doesn't wake him.

Permalink Eye

Then he won't be at school.

Permalink Eye

But she will be. And so will his older brother. Not the weirdly perfect one who was creepy even before she knew he was a fairy, the one who goes around in a jacket that says that his most prominent personality trait is being a musician. 

"I need to talk to you about stuff. And also need to not get entangled with any more fairies. Is there anything I can give you for talking that isn't, like, terrible?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know, what's terrible? Traditionally people pay fairies in kisses."

Permalink Eye

"That's terrible."

Permalink Eye

"You could do my Spanish homework."

Permalink Eye

 

"Yeah, okay."

Permalink Eye

"What do you want to know?"

Permalink Eye

"So a week ago I saved your brother from zombies, and I didn't think this was a big deal, apart from part where zombies are real and the cemetery has completely inadequate safety procedures regarding them? But apparently your parents and whatever magical debt system they adhere to thought it was a super big deal, because first they tried to pay me eight hundred thousand dollars, and then they dropped your brother off at my house and said he couldn't come home until whatever debt he's incurred has been paid off, and this is really weird, and not what I wanted, because now we're not, like, friends anymore, we're some weird thing where he bows to my family members and when I tell him not to he acts like I invoked some kind of magical leash or something, and it's weird, and creepy, and I don't know how to interact with him anymore, and I don't actually know that you have any insight into this at all, but it seemed worth a shot, you know, before we get cemented into some kind of weird - thing, and then we can never be friends because I and the zombies messed everything up. Did that make sense?"

Permalink Eye

"I guess?

Look, if I told you that you were in a lot of my debt right now because there's a secret fairy rule against saying the word 'cemetery', which would be scarier, if I was like "and now I want you to do jumping jacks and also stand next to the window' or if I was like 'this is very tragic! now we can't be friends anymore!"

Permalink Eye

" - well, we're not friends, so the first one, easily, but assuming we were, we wouldn't be anymore if you started ordering me around, because firstly that's not a - friend way to interact? And secondly a minute ago you didn't know that asking people to pay debts with kissing was terrible, so I feel like the situation would end up pretty bad pretty fast."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. See, to me, the first one's friendlier, because the first one's - we have a problem, we're going to solve it together. And the second one's - we have a problem, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Permalink Eye

" - okay, but if you're ordering people, or implying that you're ordering people - I'm really unclear on how much fairies have to do stuff for people they're indebted to, I just know that the thing happened and also that your father said 'obey her' and it was really concerning - if you're giving people orders, and there's something that's making them follow them, that's not solving things together, that's just, like, solving whatever your problem with them is by giving them less control over their lives? And if they don't want to be friends with you, that's - fine, I guess, but also not what the situation is here, because if I didn't want to be friends with your brother then I guess I wouldn't care that much that talking to him is weird now."

Permalink Eye

"He's not forced to obey you, it's just more debt if he doesn't. He can choose to ignore you if he wants, if he doesn't care that much about being more in your debt."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. That's - better, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"And you can't, like - friendships have to survive debt changing directions because sometimes it'll do that. And hopefully you'll still be pretty much trying to achieve the same things, and still like each other. I don't know if there's a human equivalent - if you were trying to teach him to do something you knew how to do, say, you'd give him lots of instructions but just because you were the person who knew how to do that particular thing."

Permalink Eye

"Teaching somebody is different, it's not - you're not doing it for yourself. And humans don't do the debt thing. Or possibly only do it about things that are - uh, not killing zombies. And it just - feels really incorrect to say that he should do a bunch of stuff for me just because I killed a zombie."

Permalink Eye

"Is it more correct to say he should do a bunch of stuff for you because he is a fairy?"

Permalink Eye

 

"I guess that's less terrible," she says, although she is kind of suspicious about it.

Permalink Eye

"Well, he is a fairy and that's really the underlying thing."

Permalink Eye

"...okay. If I do your Spanish homework will we be even?"

Permalink Eye

"You could ask another question if you want."

Permalink Eye

"....I don't think I know what questions to ask to figure out anything else I wanna know."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Then you should only do, like, four pages of my Spanish homework."

Permalink Eye

"You have four pages of Spanish homework? - fine. I'll get it to you tomorrow."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Thanks for the moderately enlightening conversation."

 

Karen is not, in fact, in Spanish. She is in Latin. She is definitely not in third-or-whatever-year of Spanish.

Her plan for dealing with this is to spend all night looking up every piece of unfamiliar grammar and vocabulary in the textbook and on the internet, laboriously figuring out how to write passable sentences that fit the given parameters.

She is way more careful than she ever is about her own homework.

She does not get any sleep.

Permalink Eye

He sleeps fine. He makes breakfast in the morning.

Permalink Eye

That's great, because she's incredibly tired. Way too tired to make breakfast, let alone have any complicated conversations about anything else. She writes absolute nonsense on her geometry homework while she eats, wondering whether her math teacher thinks that she's just, like, really really stupid, or incredibly stubborn, or incapable of reading English, or what.

Permalink Eye

"You okay?"

Permalink Eye

"I made poor decisions. Probably."

Permalink Eye

"Could always skip school."

Permalink Eye

"No, then people would come looking for me, and they'd figure out I don't have any parents to report me to, and somebody would call CPS, and I don't know what happens from there but I'm worried I won't like it."

Permalink Eye

"We could go to fairyland."

Permalink Eye

"What?"

Permalink Eye

"Instead of school. And hang out there for a couple days and you could get all caught up on your homework and then we could come back and it'd be no time at all, since fairies are fast."

Permalink Eye

" - what, before school? And still make it there in time?"

Permalink Eye

"Fairyland's fast."

Permalink Eye

"Are we gonna, like, end up indebted to different fairies and then have to go to their houses and not go home until we've paid it back?"

Permalink Eye

"We shouldn't talk to fairies or take their stuff, and we should bring our own food."

Permalink Eye

 

"Are you sure this is a good idea?"

Permalink Eye

"No."

Permalink Eye

She rests her head on the table and then realizes that this is going to result in her falling asleep. She picks her head up and stares miserably at her breakfast.

 

"I guess we probably won't get in trouble just for sleeping and doing homework."

Permalink Eye

"I wouldn't expect us to, no."

Permalink Eye

Well, on the one hand, going to fairyland is a terrible idea.

On the other hand, if she goes to school like this she will probably actually fall asleep in class, and it will be embarrassing, and it will suck, and the teacher will talk to her and tell her that they are Concerned About Her in a tone of voice that makes her want to sink into the floor.

 

" - okay. I would consider it a favor if you threw some food into a backpack and showed me how to get to fairyland."

Permalink Eye

He throws some food in a backpack and darts out the door.

Permalink Eye

She throws her textbooks and some granola bars and trail mix and gatorade in her backpack, and then exhaustedly follows after him.

Permalink Eye

They tromp through the woods for a while and then he points it out. "We should try to walk through together."

Permalink Eye

" - what, like, hold hands, or count of three, or - ?"

Permalink Eye

"Just, the closer we are the less time whoever's first has to wait. Holding hands won't help. Count of three should. One, two, three."

Permalink Eye

She steps over.

Permalink Eye

It's suddenly quiet. Nothing else is immediately obviously different, except that for a second he seems to hang there in the air, before he steps forward and smiles at her.

Permalink Eye

"So we're.... fast, now?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. And now you can take a nap or whatever and we won't get back later than we started."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. - are you gonna, like, get bored or anything?"

Permalink Eye

"I mean, maybe?"

Permalink Eye

"Well. That seems bad.

 

"M'too tired to solve this problem," she says apologetically, after a moment, and curls up in the grass to sleep.

Permalink Eye

It doesn't really seem like that much of a problem. He lies on the grass and climbs some trees and explores the immediate area and is not really very bored.

Permalink Eye

She wakes up nine hours later, kind of sore from sleeping on the ground but all in all a lot less exhausted than before. She looks around.

Permalink Eye

He is not immediately visible.

Permalink Eye

Well that's just super.

She breaks into her trail mix and starts a new page of geometry homework and tries writing something that isn't complete nonsense this time.

Permalink Eye

He comes back in the middle of this, flops on the ground.

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Hi."

Permalink Eye

"Hi."

Permalink Eye

"Did you wanna go home?"

Permalink Eye

"I thought the plan was to stay here until you were all rested and caught up?"

Permalink Eye

"I mean, yeah, but if you did want to go home sooner we could?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, okay. I'm fine with the plan."

Permalink Eye

"...okay."

Permalink Eye

"I kinda want a nap myself but you can wake me when you want to leave."

He lies down and closes his eyes.

Permalink Eye

"Cool."

She's not gonna wake him. She's gonna sit here alternating between doing homework and writing or doodling in her notebook. She has a lot of unfinished homework, and even more homework that'll be due some time in the future, so she doesn't expect to actually run out, ever. It's pretty much a law of the universe that there's always more homework to do.

Permalink Eye

He's not actually asleep she was just making him nervous for some reason. But eventually he'll yawn and stretch and open his eyes and get himself food.

Permalink Eye

Cool.

She takes a break and flops on the grass and stares at the sky.

"'S pretty nice. Time not passing."

Permalink Eye

"Isn't it?"

Permalink Eye

"Haven't gotten to just not feel bad about the passage of time in - I dunno how long."

Permalink Eye

"I'm excited to go back and be a fairy for real."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that makes sense. Will you not get to interact with humans, then, you'll just go be fast forever?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, we can have a fairy circle within our court's territory, and then we'll meet humans sometimes, when they come to us."

Permalink Eye

"I guess."

Permalink Eye

"You could come when you really need a nap."

Permalink Eye

Pff. "I guess."

Permalink Eye

"You get more humans in, like, war zones, though, not in nice places. Dunno where we'll set up."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. - I mean, it's not just talking to any human in general, I just feel like if I'd grown up with humans doing human things then I'd miss a lot about it. I mean, maybe I'd still go, but like - do fairies have TV?"

Permalink Eye

"No. My dad's trying to figure out how to build electronics that work fast, but we can't watch TV anyway unless everyone who worked on it is dead."

Permalink Eye

"You can't watch TV?"

Permalink Eye

"Unless everyone who worked on it is dead. Otherwise we get debt."

Permalink Eye

"That seems like it'd really suck. I guess you could try old movies, but it seems like you wouldn't wanna try it until movies have existed for another fifty years or so, because they have so many people who work on them and maybe one of them happened to live to be really old. - can you read books?"

Permalink Eye

"If the author's dead, yeah. Editors and publishers don't seem to matter."

Permalink Eye

"Still annoying. And no video games at all. Have you never been assigned a book with a living author in English class? A short story with a living author? Never seen a movie clip in class? Do pictures of works of art in history books do it? Do textbooks?"

Permalink Eye

"My dad reads textbooks and then makes donations to the scientists who wrote them if the cost didn't cover it. I...don't really read things honestly so it hasn't come up for me."

Permalink Eye

"I think I'm really glad I'm a human. Like, I was anyway, but being a fairy seems.... bad."

Permalink Eye

"I like it."

Permalink Eye

"How's it better?"

Permalink Eye

"I won't die. I don't have to get a job and work it full-time my entire healthy life. I get to run around in trees and see the world from lots of different angles. I don't have to think about time."

Permalink Eye

"How do fairies get by if they don't work jobs? Like, you'd still have to spend a bunch of time looking for food and stuff, right?"

Permalink Eye

"Nah. Fairies don't actually have to eat. They just like to because food tastes good."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Well, that's convenient, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"It is! Mostly fairies just run around exploring and making pretty hidden fairy courts."

Permalink Eye

"Seems like it'd get old eventually."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think so. It's a big world."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe. I don't think I'd trade getting to see the whole world for getting to appreciate all the art in it, though. Or getting to make my own art and show it to other people without expecting them to give me anything for it."

Permalink Eye

"I get to see everything, just a bit late. And I'm not great at making stuff."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I'm not great at making stuff either, but I could be, someday."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe someday I'll make woodcarvings so astonishing that any mortal who looks at them will be ensnared."

Permalink Eye

"That just sounds depressing."

Permalink Eye

" - why?"

Permalink Eye

"Because then you can't ever show your woodcarvings to people without a bunch of - stuff, between you. You can't ever just make something great and have everybody else in the world be uncomplicatedly better off for getting to see it."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, no, but you get to ensnare mortals, which is reportedly fun."

Permalink Eye

"It sounds awful."

Permalink Eye

"You don't seem like the personality type, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"Really, though! Like, either you're stuck with your fate entangled with someone you don't like, in which case you're going to spend a lot of time really annoyed, probably, or you're stuck making someone you do like pay off a bunch of magical debt to you, even if it makes them sad or scared, and maybe they won't be able to say anything about it because that'd get in the way of paying off their debts, and then you will've made this great beautiful thing for people and the main effect it'll have on the world is making people you like sad.

"Or I guess maybe you could ensnare people who you liked having around but didn't care to worry about whether anything bad happened to them as a result, but it seems like you'd have to be - not a very nice person, for that to work out."

Permalink Eye

"I think you just - tell them that now they're yours, and then they're kind of scared, and then you show them how to lick the nectar out of flowers and how to climb up to the very top of a tree and how to get really close to a bird and a bug, and then you hang out in a bird's nest and talk about their life until they're even with you, and then you send them home. And - they have something very special, then, and it's good for them."

Permalink Eye

"I guess if nothing goes wrong in all that, and they don't miss any time back home, that sounds maybe other than horrible. Except the part where fairies tell you that you're theirs now does not sound kind of scary, it sounds, like - more terrifying than zombies."

Permalink Eye

"What? But zombies look and smell terrible and they move weirdly and they're trying to kill you."

Permalink Eye

"Fairies could be trying to kill you. You wouldn't know. And they're obviously being way smarter about whatever they're doing than the zombies."

Permalink Eye

"Well maybe before I steal anyone I will tell them that I won't hurt them."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that might push it back down below zombies."

Permalink Eye

"Fairies are supposed to be a little bit scary. They're supposed to make you go, wait, I have heard about fairies, what were the rules, I know there were rules... but I wouldn't expect anyone to look back on their adventure in fairy and be sad about it. That's not the idea."

Permalink Eye

"I'm pretty sure some people in stories are sad about their journeys into fairy. I mean, I don't know whether any of the stories have anything to do with actual fairies, but I know there was a thing about people thinking that tuberculosis was caused by fairies kidnapping people every night and forcing them to dance until they wasted away for lack of proper rest, and if you run into a human you've got to figure that that might be one of the only stories they remember about fairies, and they might be terrified of dying and not being able to do anything about it.

"And - I guess there are things that can be a little bit scary and not be terrifying or horrible. Roller coasters. White water rafting. Putting on plays. But I feel like if there's another person involved, and you think the person might mean you harm, and is probably laughing to themselves at all the stupid things you're doing even if they don't, and you can't get away from them, that just sounds - horrible."

Permalink Eye

"I think most peoples' lives are horrible. And having - a little window out of it - that's important."

Permalink Eye

"I guess maybe after it'd happened they'd probably be glad that it happened. But while it was happening it sounds like it'd be - I'd probably be too upset and scared to actually enjoy any of the stuff about getting to see birds or bugs up close, or whatever, while I was doing it? But I don't really know what that works out to."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I'll practice being - not scary. Knowing humans will probably help."

Permalink Eye

"I guess."

Permalink Eye

"Are you scared of me?"

Permalink Eye

"...I dunno? Kind of? I'm scared of lots of people, though, I dunno if that even means anything."

Permalink Eye

"I can't hurt you. Like, really can't, I would get very sick if I tried."

Permalink Eye

"I am not mostly scared of people hurting me. I mean, I guess sometimes. But not - mostly. I guess. Maybe depending on what you mean by hurting."

Permalink Eye

"Then what?"

Permalink Eye

"Like - 

"I'm scared that if my parents find out my sister's dead, then they'll make me come home, and they'll give away my niece for adoption because she's obviously something really weird and creepy that they didn't sign up for, and I'll never get to see her again, ever, and I'll just live in their house for two more years feeling like I'm a failure for that, and being told through subtle implicature all the time that they think I'm in danger of becoming a failure for totally different reasons.

"I'm scared that if I take eight hundred thousand dollars from your dad it'll - get inside me, somehow, that nothing I actually have is mine, and it's actually all his, and it could all get snatched away at any moment, and of course I'll know it's irrational and that people don't actually come to repossess enormous gifts like that, the thing they do is come by in five years and remind you that you wouldn't be where you are today if not for their support, and of course you should really do thus-and-such with your career because haven't they done enough for you that you should respect their opinion, and even if that never ever happened I would always know that nothing about my life reflected on me, it just had to do with, like, getting ridiculously lucky when I was sixteen in a way that didn't really reflect on me at all, and even if nothing bad ever happened because of it I would never be able to know that it wasn't going to happen tomorrow.

"And yesterday I asked your brother some stuff about fairies and started by asking how I was gonna pay him back, and he said it was traditional to pay fairies back with kisses, and that sounded like basically the worst thing ever, and I was so scared for a second that the first question about payment had already stuck me that I went ahead and agreed to do his Spanish homework for him even though I'm not even in Spanish, and even after I'd stayed up all night doing it, and even before I knew about the fairy circle, it kind of still seemed like an OK deal, because whatever else he wanted could've been a lot worse, even if nobody would've said that I'd gotten hurt at all during it.

"And I'm scared that I messed up at some point, or maybe I didn't even mess up, I just got really unlucky, having to save you from a zombie, and because there wasn't a second zombie for you to save me from we're just stuck like this, which is really upsetting, because before any of this happened you were one of the only people who, like, I know we didn't talk a lot, but I didn't literally count how many words I'd said to you each day, which made you a solid fifty percent of my non-family in-person social interaction, and - I'm really scared that I messed it up, and am going to keep messing it up, and you're not going to like me anymore, and we're not going to get to be friends ever, because there's this thing here that I don't understand and that makes me annoying and affects all of your considerations in ways that I can't really see or predict, and maybe it'll be fine, but maybe it won't, and a few months from now you'll just hate me, and it'll be my fault but I won't actually know how it's my fault.

"So. Stuff like that. I guess. But obviously with fairies you find in a circle it's way worse, because I don't think my parents or your father or your brother or you actually want me to be miserable, and there's no way to know how mean the random fairy is."

Permalink Eye

...hug?

Permalink Eye

 

Yeah, okay. Hug.

Permalink Eye

That sounds like a lot of problems but maybe the hug will buy him some time to think about them.

Permalink Eye

She just sort of goes around living her life with a bunch of inaudible screaming in the background, yeah.

Hugs are okay. Like, he is not really an ideal person to get hugs from, given everything, but she hasn't had any since her sister died, and they're probably net good on the whole.

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry he scared you by mentioning kisses. I'm sure he'd have been just as happy about some other class, I don't think he was trying to - make it something you'd find difficult -"

Permalink Eye

"Nah, it's not his fault. I kinda panicked."

Permalink Eye

Hug. 

"Well I'm glad you have somebody. Even if in the short term you are panicking about that too."

Permalink Eye

"I guess.

"Sorry for being a mess."

Permalink Eye

She said it was bad when he had low standards so he shouldn't point out how much worse it could be. She was worried that he'd - 

- this is all too hard.

"I'm glad it was you."

Permalink Eye

"As opposed to anyone else who could've saved you from zombies?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Well. That makes me feel a little better."

Permalink Eye

"If you're - like that - it makes a lot of sense that you'd be scared you'd hurt me, giving orders."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"I'm not really like that, though."

Permalink Eye

"I do not really feel like this is enough of a guideline to stop worrying about it."

Permalink Eye

"Would it maybe help if I listed the things I'm stressed about?"

Permalink Eye

Nodnod.

Permalink Eye

"I have to go to school and I hate it. I feel like I should've protected you from zombies so I feel dumb for not doing that even though it sounds like actually everything would be worse if you were indebted to me. I wish I could read because then I could help you do your homework. I like you and I'm worried that's why this is awkward and if you'd gotten one of my brothers it'd be fine. I think it's kind of unfair that you don't want to be my friend anymore because you saved my life but I can't complain about that because you saved my life. I wish you thought fairies were neat.

Pretty sure that's everything."

Permalink Eye

"I don't not wanna be your friend! I just think I'm - worse at it, when things are like this, or something."

Permalink Eye

"You stopped talking to me the next day."

Permalink Eye

" - well, that's a kind of being worse at it."

Permalink Eye

"I guess."

Permalink Eye

 

"Talking to people is... hard. And it's harder when things are weird and you feel like a bunch of stuff you're saying is having effects that you can't see or account for."

Permalink Eye

"Talking to people is hard because people mostly suck. But if they don't suck, then it's not hard to talk to them. Maybe that's the same thing but if it is then - I didn't suck, and now I do, and that's kind of depressing."

Permalink Eye

"It's not just hard to talk to people because they suck! It's - hard to stop thinking about how much I suck long enough to hear what they're saying. Or something."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think I have that problem."

Permalink Eye

"I kind of have to assume most people don't, given that people do observably ever talk to each other."

Permalink Eye

"Things you said to me were always creating debt or vice versa, it's just that it was usually in small enough amounts I could keep it even without working that hard at it.And if I got behind I could pump the tires on your bike when you weren't looking or something."

Permalink Eye

Sigh.

"I guess maybe little amounts of debt aren't horrible if they don't, like, get people stuck doing stuff that they hate doing."

Permalink Eye

"Almost none of the people stuck doing stuff they hate doing is because of debt, as far as I know. Or not fairy debt. Most boys kissing girls who're scared has absolutely nothing to do with any fairies."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Lots of interactions between people are terrible. I just usually deal with this by not having any."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that's reasonable."

Permalink Eye

"So if you want me to talk to you - which seems totally reasonable, as long as you've been exiled to my house - and be happy about it, then I have to figure out how to make it not terrible, and I'm bad at this, see, even when there isn't weird magic stuff. And - I was kinda able to talk to you before I knew about the weird magic stuff, so it stands to reason that the weird magic stuff is probably part of why it keeps seeming terrible now."

Permalink Eye

"I guess."

Permalink Eye

Sigh.

She doesn't actually have a lot of immediate suggestions on this front.

 

"Really don't think it'd be going any better if it was one of your brothers."

Permalink Eye

"They could do your homework."

Permalink Eye

"I don't want anybody to do my homework. That's cheating."

Permalink Eye

"It's not wrong to cheat at school."

Permalink Eye

"Is so."

Permalink Eye

"No it's not. It's like how it's wrong to shoot people but it's not wrong to...shoot Nazis if you're in the Polish Resistance. Whether you have to follow an institution's rules depends on whether it's legitimate. And school isn't."

Permalink Eye

"In what sense is school not legitimate?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, it's like jail except you don't get sent there for doing something wrong, you get sent there even if you did nothing wrong."

Permalink Eye

"It's not like jail. Jail's a punishment. School's not a punishment, it's there because kids have to learn stuff like reading and math and civics if they want to participate in democracy and in society in general."

Permalink Eye

"It's exactly like jail. You have to be there and you get punished if you leave and you get punished if you don't obey and they don't care whether you want to participate in democracy and society in general."

Permalink Eye

"Well most kids can't run away to fairyland, so it's not like they have a lot of better options."

Permalink Eye

"And no one tries giving them any, even the ones who are clearly being made miserable by school."

Permalink Eye

 

"I think the thing that really confuses me about this is that like - your parents kicked you out of your house and told you to obey me, and you don't think me or your parents are awful, and you don't even seem to think it'd be horrible if I hit you or made you sleep out on the porch exposed to the elements even though it's gonna be winter soon, but when school leaves you stuck a place and punishes you if you don't obey, that's torture."

Permalink Eye

"You did something for me! It's fair. School has done nothing for me and still gets to treat me like I'm in its debt."

Permalink Eye

 

"I guess. But school isn't actually trying to get anything out of you, it's trying to help you be more equipped to deal with the world. Like - you obey your parents, right?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

"Well, why's that more legitimate than school?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm in their debt. Because they created me."

Permalink Eye

"So does it not matter to you that school is a part of the government, and the government, like, keeps everyone from being killed in wars, and keeps up the roads and libraries, and investigates murders, and makes sure that people don't starve to death in the streets, and is only able to do any of that because its citizens all have something resembling a basic education, and so in order to maintain this state of affairs it requires that everybody learn stuff?"

Permalink Eye

"Fairies don't have wars or murders. And people could just maintain their own roads, and libraries would be easy to have exist since people'd bring you things to trade for the books. So yes, I object to someone doing a lot of stuff that doesn't need doing and then saying that to keep doing it they need me to be shaped a certain way so they'll throw me in a box and punish me for years and years and years of my life without even checking whether they really need me shaped that way or whether there's any other way to do it."

Permalink Eye

"Well, that's great for fairies, I'm sorry your stupid fairy dad dragged you to this stupid world full of a bunch of stuff you don't need, but humans without militaries get conquered unless someone else is policing the world for them, and humans murder each other, and I don't think they really succeed at maintaining roads over long distances on their own, and they invented libraries because lots and lots of people don't have anything to trade for books and we wanted them to have books anyway, and maybe fairies can do better, because that doesn't sound hard if you don't die and you don't need to eat, but it's not humans' fault that the best we can do doesn't work for you, it's your dad's fault for bringing you here and then refusing to find a way to homeschool you."

Permalink Eye

"School is just as bad for you as it is for me. And even if you consider yourself so indebted to the government they're entitled to torture you for twelve years, only offering people one way to repay you makes you a jerk, and doing it to them for years on end when it's obviously hurting them makes you a jerk, and pretending it's anything other than slavery is just - manipulative."

Permalink Eye

"Repayment isn't the point, the point is making sure I'm minimally equipped to interact with society and make money and vote for reasonable people. And the government gets to decide how to do that, because the government is the one running the show, that's just - how it is. And at least I went along with it enough that I can read."

Permalink Eye

"And that makes you very special, doesn't it. Such a good compliant slave. Their favorite."

Permalink Eye

She spends a little bit mentally reminding herself of all of her really really excellent reasons not to hit him. It takes her longer than it should to stop wanting to.

 

"It makes me someone who can ever work a job that doesn't involve burying dead bodies and occasionally getting attacked by zombies. Sorry I can't just run off to fairyland, or be someone who has eight hundred thousand dollars to throw around, okay, but some people have to work with situations that aren't fun, sometimes."

Permalink Eye

"I hope some day you get a very nice job sitting in an office reading all the obituaries for the people who never learned to read and reminding yourself that you're better than them."

Permalink Eye

"Well, sorry to disappoint, but at this rate I'm gonna drop out in six months, and I think they save the safe, cushy office jobs for people who actually made it through high school, so lucky for you, you only have to stick around until the cemetery kills me, and then we will both be free of this situation forever."

She packs her books in her backpack.

Permalink Eye

He stands up.

Permalink Eye

She finishes packing and heads off to school. 

Probably she should apologize or thank him for the fairy circle nap, or something, but she's really really mad right now, so she doesn't.

Permalink Eye

He does not go to school. He wanders around in the woods for a while longer and then remembers he should take Zana with him so it counts towards his debt. He does that.

Permalink Eye

She makes it to school in plenty of time and drops off his brother's homework. 

"I'm not sure it's a hundred percent right? So you might wanna look it over before you hand it in."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Still counts. Thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Sure. Thank you." Trying to talk to his brother went horribly and he hates her now, but whatever, the attempt was valid. 

She turns in all of her own homework and doesn't fall asleep in class. 

She tries to read after school, and feels bad about it, and tries to do her homework, and feels worse, and ends up heading off to work without having done anything at all.

Permalink Eye

He is at work. 

Permalink Eye

 

 

"So about what level of not talking to each other do you feel like we're at right now."

Permalink Eye

"Well, now it's not unfair for you to not talk to me, 'we had a fight' is a much better reason than 'you saved my life'."

Permalink Eye

"I didn't stop talking to you because I saved your life! I stopped talking to you because your dad offered me eight hundred thousand dollars, and it was terrifying, and then later I decided I was also not talking to you because you kept running around being creepily insistent on doing random things for me, and it was creepy and confusing and the way I talk to creepy confusing people is that I mostly don't."

Permalink Eye

"Fine."

Permalink Eye

Sigh.

"I don't know how to stop being awful about stuff if you're not gonna tell me what you want, since clearly using common sense is failing us. D'you wanna be left alone or not."

Permalink Eye

"Dunno."

Permalink Eye

"That's very helpful," she mutters.

Permalink Eye

This hurts, like suddenly looking into a blindingly bright light and also stubbing your toe except it's not your toe, it's all of you.

Permalink Eye

He flinches and staggers back onto the chair behind him. "- please don't -"

Permalink Eye

She uses one hand to clutch her head and ends up biting the other one, not because it seems like a good idea or anything but because her brain produced this as a possible course of action. When her hand hurts more than the rest of her, she stops.

"What was that."

Permalink Eye

"Lying. Don't do it."

Permalink Eye

"That was sarcasm! You said not to lieyou didn't say don't use sarcasm!"

Permalink Eye

"You said 'that was helpful' and it wasn't helpful! The universe isn't tracking why you said it."

Permalink Eye

"How am I supposed to know that fairy rules group sarcasm with lying and don't group doing other people's homework?"

Permalink Eye

"How is doing other peoples' homework lying??"

Permalink Eye

"It's deceiving the teacher about who did it!"

Permalink Eye

"You're allowed to let people have the wrong impression about things, you just can't say false things."

Permalink Eye

 

"At this point I'm beginning to suspect that the moral I'm supposed to get from this entire sequence of events is 'don't save your friends from zombies', or something equally depressing."

Permalink Eye

 

 

"Well, if you regret it you can fix it."

Permalink Eye

" - no. I think the universe is perverse, is all. 

"I'm sorry. For the sarcasm and the mocking you for not being able to read. If I've been other kinds of awful you're gonna have to tell me, because apparently I'm very dense."

Permalink Eye

 

 

"It's not because of school, that I can't read. My brothers could when they were three. My father spent all his time on it. It was his favorite thing, teaching his kids to read. They didn't send me until I was seven because they wanted to try more things. I'm just really stupid, and you were right, you shouldn't listen to any of my opinions about anything, and it's supposed to torture stupid people so we'll - die of zombies or whatever - so that the government can hum along nicely being for the smart well-behaved ones -"

Permalink Eye

"I don't think you're stupid.

" - I don't think I'm stupid, either. I can do stuff right when I try. I just don't try, most of the time, because it's effort, and I don't like putting effort into stuff, I guess. But if there weren't schools I'd just be doing the same thing somewhere else, probably, because my parents want to teach me how to put in effort, and I think I want to but I never actually do, and until I want to it's always gonna be like this, I guess, no matter where I am. So it seems - misplaced, or something, to be mad at school about it. I guess."

Permalink Eye

"That doesn't sound right but I don't know what's wrong with it exactly."

Permalink Eye

Shrug.

Permalink Eye

"Anyway we should probably just not talk about school."

Permalink Eye

"This doesn't feel like a genre of solution that is going to lead to us talking about more things."

Permalink Eye

"We could talk about Zana. She built a beaver lodge."

Permalink Eye

"That is cool. - but I mean, like, if every time we talk about something and it's upsetting we decide we're just gonna never talk about it again, that seems like we're gonna end up talking about fewer and fewer things, and in particular never talking about anything that we have annoying feelings about, and it won't - that's not what being able to talk to someone looks like."

Permalink Eye

"Fine. I think that school is horrible for people who are bad at it and you think those people just suck and would be just as miserable anywhere and I think they wouldn't and also that that's one of the ways schools deceive people, into thinking that not being shaped for school is just what being a bad person is."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think those people all just suck. I think I just suck. No opinion on anybody else. - or, like, sometimes I kind of think you suck, but not because you can't read or because you don't go to school, mostly when you say things like 'such a good compliant slave'. That sucks."

Permalink Eye

"Isn't that what you want? For the - system - to tell you how cooperative and worthy you are, and give you a nice job far away from the zombies?"

Permalink Eye

"No! Or, like - I wanna be able to do useful stuff that helps people. And I wanna take care of my family enough that they get to do cool useful stuff, when they grow up. And - yeah, okay, sometimes a lot of what I'm doing is keeping my head down so nobody notices all of the rules I am breaking, but that doesn't mean you should go framing that in the most horrible way possible and then pouring salt all over all of the - I'm never gonna get to be better than this and that hurts, okay, because I feel like if I'd worked harder I wouldn't be stuck where I am."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. 

I didn't mean - I don't think you deserve to belong to -" he gestures at the office.

Permalink Eye

Sigh.

"I just - maybe it's stupid, okay, to keep bothering to pretend to try when I know it's too late for it to make a difference, but the pretending's - easier. And maybe that's not a good reason, but I'm still gonna feel like you're being a jerk if you - say stuff like that.

"I get why you'd say it, though, if you felt like school was just awful and it would've been awful no matter what you'd done. That makes sense."

Permalink Eye

"You could take the money from my father and then run away somewhere where he can't ever find you to - have opinions in your direction or whatever you're scared of."

Permalink Eye

"Still not a legal adult, cannot actually open bank accounts without one. Or legally ditch school. Or drive."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, well, you can do that in a couple years, at least. Instead of resigning yourself to being miserable forever."

Permalink Eye

"I guess."

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

 

"It feels wrong. Like, probably the responsible thing to do is get over it and accept the wrong and stop whining, but it feels really really wrong."

Permalink Eye

 

"...none of the suggestions I am thinking of are going to be helpful."

Permalink Eye

"...well now I'm really curious about your definitely unhelpful suggestions."

Permalink Eye

"I could burn down the house and you could take it as insurance money. We could set up a fraudulent lottery which could be rigged so you win. We could get married and you could have it as a - dowry, is that the word? Less the debt for having me around until I run off to be a faery."

Permalink Eye

"Wow. You're right, those are all completely unhelpful."

Permalink Eye

"Can't lie."

Permalink Eye

"Well. Maybe we'll think of something less terrible sometime in the next year and a half."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe."

 

"I appreciate - you talking to me."

Permalink Eye

"I appreciate you still wanting to talk to me even though I keep messing it up."

Permalink Eye

"You don't keep messing it up. It's just - there's nothing you can possibly think about the reading thing that I haven't already heard, is all."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, well, just because other people are awful sometimes doesn't mean I wanna be awful, too."

Permalink Eye

"Huh."

Permalink Eye

"....is that actually surprising, that feels like one of the most unsurprising things I could possibly have said there."

Permalink Eye

"I think usually when people are awful they instead decide that they weren't."

Permalink Eye

"...well I don't wanna do that. I wanna be not awful. - actually I would consider it a favor if you told me whenever you think I'm being awful. And maybe then I will stop."

Permalink Eye

" - okay."

Permalink Eye

"Cool.

" - hey, am I allowed to consider random stuff favors, or can I only say that I consider something a favor if I, like, actually want it to happen for reasons that don't have to do with debt?"

Permalink Eye

"You can declare that you'd consider it a favor if I stood on one foot even if you don't particularly care whether I do or not. You won't get anything out of considering it a favor if I breathe since I'm going to do that regardless."

Permalink Eye

"So I could tell you that it'd be a favor if you spent all day collecting rare herbs in the forest, or whatever, even though I actually do not care about this? - except insofar as it makes you happy, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Then I would consider it a favor if you ran around in the forest during school collecting rare herbs and doing whatever else out there makes you happy."

Permalink Eye

 

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

Well, at least she's gotten something right, probably. 

And now they should probably do their job or something. The caretaker doesn't supervise them enough to give them acceptable zombie defenses, but he probably, like, cares whether any work gets done at all.

Permalink Eye

Sure! Sounds good!

Permalink Eye

.....she should probably not get depressed about it every time something she does makes him happy, that sounds like an unfortunate set of incentives all around.

Maybe she can try just not having any feelings about it.

 

"So should we be doing anything about, like, the fact that there are zombies down here? Figuring out what's up with that? Leaving traps to keep them out of the parts we're using right now? Carrying better weapons?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, that's a good point. Uh, all of the above, maybe? We could ask the caretaker 'hey, about those zombies'?"

Permalink Eye

"I guess. You'd think he has to already at least know about them, right? Or he wouldn't've given us the weapons?"

Permalink Eye

"They're really not adequate weapons!"

Permalink Eye

"I know! But if he didn't know there was something down here he wouldn't've given us anything, right?"

Permalink Eye

"I guess not. Maybe we can...buy better weapons for ourselves, at minimum, and fence off the areas we're working in, and then maybe try to figure out why there are zombies."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds good. What kind of weapons, I feel like guns are totally justified but I don't actually know how we would obtain guns."

Permalink Eye

"Are there gun stores? We could ask someone older to get us one, maybe?"

Permalink Eye

"...do we know anybody older who isn't a fairy or a ghost or a teacher? Or the caretaker, I guess, but he probably doesn't wanna illegally give us guns, or he probably would have done it before. Though maybe we can convince him now that we've been so responsible with the maces."

Permalink Eye

"My mom's not any of those things. And maybe seniors are old enough to buy guns? Dunno how old you have to be to buy guns."

Permalink Eye

"Proooobably eighteen? I dunno how terrible of an idea it is to ask either your mom or your brother for guns, I've never, like, talked to them."

Permalink Eye

"My mom would probably ask a lot of questions. Matt wouldn't."

Permalink Eye

"Are we gonna, like, owe Matt a bunch if we ask him for guns? Is there a way to shuffle it out of all the debt you have somehow?"

Permalink Eye

"I already owe him so probably I should be the one to ask him. So that you're not terrified and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Thanks. I guess we're already breaking enough laws that we might as well use guns to defend ourselves against zombies. It's a lot better than dying, anyway."

Permalink Eye

"Laws are bad and there's no reason to follow them except to avoid getting sent to jail, is how I see it."

Permalink Eye

" - does that philosophy generalize as far as, like, whether we should obey stop signs?"

Permalink Eye

"- nah, that's different, that's less 'law' and more 'principle about how to make sure these enormous metal things don't collide and kill people'."

Permalink Eye

"I kinda think a bunch of laws are principles about how to keep various things from colliding and killing people. Some of them are dumber and worse at it than others, but like, I dunno how easy it is to tell which ones those are all the time."

Permalink Eye

"I guess. But the law doesn't know about zombies, anyway."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Or at least if it does I think my respect for the government's priorities probably goes way down."

Permalink Eye

"I'll ask Matt."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Thanks. ...should we talk to the caretaker about it, or - I guess if we fire the things he'll hear, even if the cemetery's far enough away from everything else that nobody else will."

Permalink Eye

"I guess we probably should, yeah."

Permalink Eye

Sigh. "All right. I guess we can do it together."

Permalink Eye

The caretaker is an old man, maybe seventy, who walks with a cane and mostly sticks to the little cemetery office building in the evenings. At nine he's doing paperwork at his desk.

Permalink Eye

"Hi. The zombies are making us kinda nervous so we're gonna get guns."

Permalink Eye

He raises his eyebrows, a bit like you might expect someone to if you had maybe just told them that you found some dinosaur bones on their property. "Oh yes, I remember, you said you'd run into zombies. Haven't seen any in the upper levels in years. I suppose guns would take care of them. You'll be safe with them, no being silly and pointing them at each other?"

Permalink Eye

"I definitely don't plan to do anything stupid or risky."

Permalink Eye

"All right then. Good luck out there, kids."

Permalink Eye

"...thanks."

Permalink Eye

"This is a really bizarre town," she says later, when she's getting her bike. "Like, I guess neither of us is one to talk? But it's really bizarre."

Permalink Eye

"I guess I don't really know what most towns are like."

Permalink Eye

"Well, before I moved here I thought zombies and ghosts and fairies were fake, and I mostly thought my niece just had some kind of bizarre medical condition."

Permalink Eye

"Huh! But she was already weird before she moved here?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh yeah, she was born weird. Zales moved out here a few months after."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Did she say why?"

Permalink Eye

"Not at the time. Of course later she said she wanted to move somewhere where nobody knew her well enough to ask about the baby. Dunno why here, though."

Permalink Eye

"My dad picked here because there weren't fairies nearby and was a ring nearby and property was cheap."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe property's just really, really cheap. I guess that would check out, given everything else about the place."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Yeah, I guess it would."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. ...race you home?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Cool."

She loses. She is not sure whether this is because she is weaker or because her bike is worse. But they're home in time for her to give little Connor a bedtime story either way.

Permalink Eye

He's not actually tired and he's feeling pretty good about everything so he looks around for things to do. There are not obvious things to do. He should learn to repair houses or something, now that he doesn't have to go to school. 

Permalink Eye

That would be cool. It would be super cool if he could make the shower do hot water again, she's not really sure how hard that is.

Permalink Eye

He has no idea but he can take a shot at it once he's collected lots of weird herbs in the forest for her. Which he'll do tomorrow. "When I ask Matt about guns I'll also tell my parents to say they're homeschooling me."

Permalink Eye

"Can they do that? Will the universe smite them or whatever?"

Permalink Eye

"They'd have to write the letter carefully but I bet there's a way to satisfy the school without lying."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. I guess that'd be convenient."

Permalink Eye

"Since I'm never going back."

Permalink Eye

"Not unless you save me from zombies in the next few months and your parents want you to go back once you're living with them again. I guess you won't need a high school diploma in fairyland anyway."

Permalink Eye

"I won't! The trees won't check at all and the humans will probably just be impressed I understand their pop culture references!"

Permalink Eye

"Will you, though. You don't watch TV."

Permalink Eye

"I know how to hold a conversation, though. I can't truthfully say I like things but I can truthfully say that I think they're overrated, or that I thought the first season was kind of rocky. - statistically most shows have a bad first season, so I do think that about any given show."

Permalink Eye

"Original series Star Trek gets worse the longer it goes on. And some shows are good but only have one season."

Permalink Eye

"Well, then I won't say that about original series Star Trek."

Permalink Eye

"It's honestly so sad! Like, I guess it's not that sad if you'll get everything in a century and you don't know what you're missing, but I'd be really sad if I had to deal with it. - who do you end up indebted to if somebody reads a book aloud to you, the reader or the author or both?"

Permalink Eye

"The reader."

Permalink Eye

"Oooh. - I guess if I read anything to you I'd still make our debt situation worse."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Maybe once we're clear of it."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Maybe. I'll just have to count lots of things as favors, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"Taking you to the fairy circle counted for a lot. I might've been getting credit for protecting you from fairies while you were there even though there weren't any."

Permalink Eye

"Oh cool! What're we at now, in like, rough dollar amounts, still above eight hundred thousand?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. But, like, moving in the right direction."

Permalink Eye

Nodnod. "Will it count for more if we head back sometimes, or do you think a bunch of it was showing me where it was?"

Permalink Eye

"I think a lot of the credit was for staying with you while you were there so I think it'll still count for a lot, though not as much."

Permalink Eye

"Oh cool. It is in fact useful to have time outside time in which to do homework, so that works out okay."

Permalink Eye

"Oh good."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Anyway, night. Unless you need the bathroom first."

Permalink Eye

"Nah." He gets into his sleeping bag.

Permalink Eye

"Cool. See you in the morning."

Permalink Eye

He goes to sleep. 

He dreams that Karen decides he should sleep in her bed actually. That's all they do but it's nice. He's briefly confused when he wakes up before remembering that Karen would definitely think this was terrifying and horrible.

Permalink Eye

Luckily she does not know about this and cannot have any feelings about it. 

She gets up earlyish - she almost never sleeps for more than seven hours - and does her homework at the kitchen table while she waits to see if he gets up in time to make breakfast.

Permalink Eye

He will in fact wake up early enough for this on his own! And make breakfast.

Permalink Eye

Oh neat. She can eat breakfast and thank him for breakfast and go to school with her homework mostly done.

Permalink Eye

He can take Zana looking for cool weird stuff in the forest.

Permalink Eye

Zana thinks this is AWESOME. Her idea of cool weird stuff is mostly random common plants and rocks that she thinks look funny, and also at one point a salamander, but she is having fun.

Permalink Eye

All of those are in fact cool stuff!! Forests are great.

Permalink Eye

They super are!!

Permalink Eye

And when Matt is home from school he'll swing by his house to ask for guns.

Permalink Eye

"Sure. Are you all right?"

Permalink Eye

"I am learning things and having fun. We're not paying the debt back very fast."

Permalink Eye

"Well, maybe in a few years we'll arrange you a better-paying job and that'll do it."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, yeah. I didn't think of that."

Permalink Eye

"I probably can't get these for you until the weekend, there's a waiting period."

Permalink Eye

"That's okay. We'll be careful."

 

And he takes Zana home to Connor and goes to work.

Permalink Eye

Karen is making a map of the area of the tunnels that they mostly work in, plus a little bit beyond. 

"It looks like we can probably get by with four fences and not really hamper ourselves. We might want to reinforce the path back up somehow, too, in case anything breaches the fences and we have to fall back? Also I don't really know how to build fences."

Permalink Eye

"I don't either but I feel like it'll at least be easy to tell if we did it right, and it doesn't seem that hard conceptually? Maybe we can have, like, spirals of barbed wire for if they get past the fences. Like they had in no man's land in the first world war."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, maybe. We wanna do metal, or wood? Metal seems stronger but I'm not actually certain of that and I have a better idea of where we'd get wood. ...I guess in theory people can just buy fences, although I don't know whether you can buy them without asking somebody else to install them."

Permalink Eye

"We can start with wood and then if they get through it try reinforced steel or something expensive like that I guess."

Permalink Eye

"Solid. We can probably check out a home improvement store this weekend or something, see if they have anything we can use."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good."

Permalink Eye

Cool. Then they can just be very vigilant this week and then start on fence installation once they have some fences.

Permalink Eye

And while they're at the home improvement store they can pick up some stuff with which to repair the furniture.

Permalink Eye

Oh right, yeah. 

"You gonna need anything else to fix the shower?"

Permalink Eye

""Honestly I don't know what's wrong with it. I can tinker around and try to figure it out I guess."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. If you can't figure it out it's whatever, it's not a big enough deal to call someone to repair it. But it'd be nice."

Permalink Eye

"Why's it not a big enough deal to call someone to repair it?"

Permalink Eye

"....because that would cost money?"

Permalink Eye

"Right but we do all this dangerous zombie-fighting to have money to solve problems, right?"

Permalink Eye

"You work fifteen hours a week, and I work, like, twenty-seven. We have almost exactly one full-time, not very lucrative job between us, on which we have to support four people. We can handle food and house payments and keep the heat and electricity on, especially with you taking Zana all day, but we still have to be careful, especially if we want Christmas presents for the kids and new clothing for Zana when she outgrows what she has now. Especially if we want to have anything in reserve for if something really seriously breaks. The shower's - unpleasant, but it's not a top priority."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Okay."

Permalink Eye

"I can show you how all the money works out, if you want. Society is not really set up for high school students to parent small children on the money they make from part-time jobs, but it works in this town. If you're really careful."

Permalink Eye

"I've never actually thought about money before. I took the job because it was supposed to help me learn about humans."

Permalink Eye

" - wow, okay. Kind of a bizarre pick, but I guess most jobs have more reading."

Permalink Eye

"They do. It's terrible. And death is a thing about humans."

Permalink Eye

"I guess. I think it might work differently in other places, but people do die everywhere."

Permalink Eye

"Faeries don't. If they don't get bit by zombies, that is."

Permalink Eye

"I guess not. There must be more than that specifically, you keep claiming I could kill you and I don't actually have any more zombies on hand."

Permalink Eye

"People you're sufficiently indebted to can klll you."

Permalink Eye

"And not people who aren't? Unless they're zombies?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't think zombies are people. - and that matters. Animals can kill us though it's harder than killing humans."

Permalink Eye

"Huh."

Permalink Eye

"Babies aren't people either. No debts form with them."

Permalink Eye

"That's weird. Is Zana a person?"

Permalink Eye

"Nah. I'll tell you when."

Permalink Eye

"Weird. Okay."

Permalink Eye

He takes a stab at figuring out what's wrong with the shower.

Permalink Eye

This will take kind of a long time, but if he spends an entire day on it and happens to be lucky he can probably get it working again.

Permalink Eye

He's not gonna be lucky, there was lying earlier.

Permalink Eye

Well, then maybe this shower stays broken. If he's unlucky enough it is theoretically possible to break the shower further.

Probably he at least learns something about how showers work.

Permalink Eye

Maybe. He won't need to know this when he's a fairy living in the forest but it's interesting anyway.

Permalink Eye

"Any luck?"

Permalink Eye

"Nope. Sorry."

Permalink Eye

" S'okay. If I thought it was a big problem I could figure out how to spend money on it. Probably."

Permalink Eye

"There aren't hot showers in fairyland anyway."

Permalink Eye

"I do kinda figure that people got by without them for millennia."

Permalink Eye

"I'm gonna miss biking, and fast food, and I expect that's it. Hot water's okay but I won't miss it, you know?"

Permalink Eye

Nodnod. "I'd miss a lot more. But it's good that fairyland has all the stuff you care about."

Permalink Eye

"What stuff would you miss in, like, a week?"

Permalink Eye

"Books! The night sky, even if I'd get to see it eventually, at which point I would probably miss the sun. Biking. Work. The library in general. Video games, probably, or at least having the option of playing video games. The internet. Reliable access to paper. Being able to meaningfully look forward to holidays. Pretending that someday I'll have enough money to go to Panera again. I'm not sure whether ghosts can be fast or not so I'm not sure whether to list Azalea."

Permalink Eye

"I guess I could keep books on hand for humans even if I shouldn't read them."

Permalink Eye

"I guess maybe I could content myself with the works of dead authors long enough to not get bored on that front."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not really expecting to keep people very long but I don't want them to be bored, that doesn't sound right at all."

Permalink Eye

"I would probably not be very bored if I got kidnapped by fairies for a week. Admittedly because I would be busy being terrified, but."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah I dunno what to do about that part but no one's ever mentioned it being a problem so I think probably there's an art to it."

Permalink Eye

"Would fairies, like, definitely care about that?"

Permalink Eye

"I mean there's, like, roller-coaster scared and panic-attack scared, right? No one wants people to be traumatized."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I guess not."

Permalink Eye

"Probably I will just have to tag along and learn not being scary."

Permalink Eye

"Well. Good luck, then."

Permalink Eye

"Don't use any sarcasm and I'll have good luck. - tomorrow I'll try repairing the furniture. Seems easier than the shower."

Permalink Eye

"I'll try to be very literal from now on."

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

Aww.

They build fences at work. It involves quite a bit of trial and error, but eventually they get something that can't be knocked down by teenagers trying without tools. If zombies start using tools they're going to have problems. 

Permalink Eye

"They're probably not that smart, or they'd be people."

Permalink Eye

"Zana likes toy hammers and stuff. I think Zana's smarter than a zombie, but I don't actually have, like, evidence of this? Tempted to see if we can learn any more about them, but I can't think of a great way to do it without putting us in more rather than less danger. We're admittedly probably not in much trouble unless they figure out chainsaws or fire."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe we should get, like, tactical vests that zombies can't bite through and then explore a bit sometime and see if we know where they're coming from or anything."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe. Seems like the sort of thing we still might regret, it'd be hard to cover our whole bodies in stuff that can't be bitten through. Maybe if we had, like, plate mail, although that'd probably be super loud. ...maybe if we got a radio controlled toy car and strapped a video camera to it, or something, then we could see some of what's down there without going all the way down there. Probably couldn't do stairs, but at least we'd have warning before we ran into anything."

Permalink Eye

"Oooh. That sounds good."

Permalink Eye

"It would be more money. But we're doing okay right now. And if you're gonna spend extra money on anything it seems like investigating zombies should be worth something."

Permalink Eye

"I'd think so."

Permalink Eye

So they can buy a sufficiently maneuverable car and a video camera and lots of duct tape to secure them together. Plus a cheap laptop for the video camera to send what it's seeing to. It takes a few afternoons of experimentation to get everything working right, but if they go to the fairy circle to do homework in the mornings this shouldn't outright break Karen's very overburdened schedule. 

"Do we have guns? Probably don't wanna provoke anything down there if we can't shoot it."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Haven't tried them out and Matt said that they have a lot of recoil since for zombies you probably want stopping power, and physics or something means the gun's gonna be pretty jumpy n in your hand. But here."

Permalink Eye

Nod. "...kinda feel like we should test them but I don't really know where we'd do that."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, me neither."

Permalink Eye

"...maybe we just hope we don't have to use them. And if we do they'll be better than a mace."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"All right. You wanna see what's down there?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah!"

Permalink Eye

Then they can set their little camera car up outside the zombie walls and see what's out there.

 

The catacombs are big. Really big.  They also may or may not be deliberately built as some kind of maze. The first time they almost lose the car, just for lack of ability to remember where it's been, and the second time Karen has the foresight to start drawing a map of them. Her sense of distance isn't great, but she can keep track of which turns go where. 

The first level is mostly devoid of anything interesting, zombie or otherwise. There are a lot of stairwells, though, and if they set up a temporary camp near one of them and set the camera car up at the bottom, they can see that the second level has a lot more stuff. There are weird glowing mushrooms growing in some hallways. There are elaborately jeweled coffins. There are broken traps with skeletons jammed in them.

 

"Looks like someone was building a dungeon crawl. But in real life. And massive."

Permalink Eye

"This is so cool! We should go rob those graves."

Permalink Eye

"Universe doesn't punish grave robbing?"

Permalink Eye

"You can't own stuff when you're dead."

Permalink Eye

"Fair enough. Might need something to pry the gems off. And, like, the awareness that they might be unhallowed or full of zombies or something and open and attack us the second we go near."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that's totally possible, yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Just so you're prepared for it. The zombies probably don't have guns, so."

Permalink Eye

"Let's hope not."

Permalink Eye

"If they do we're gonna have problems." 

They can follow the map to the nearest jewel-encrusted coffin. It looks like someone else has been here before; about half the jewels in the design are missing.

Permalink Eye

Do the other half come out? He has a pocket knife.

Permalink Eye

They do! Nothing even jumps out and tries to eat them while he's at it.

Permalink Eye

Yay! They should probably retreat while they're ahead.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, that sounds good. Catacombs aren't going anywhere. Back behind the zombie walls.

"So what do we do with them?"

Permalink Eye

He hands them to her. "There, that counts for a lot. - I don't think it matters what you do with them."

Permalink Eye

She inspects her gems. "I guess we could sell most of them. How much was it, what're we at now?"

Permalink Eye

"Dunno, seven hundred and ninety thousand? I'm not actually experienced at translating it into money."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, sorry, I just don't know how else to keep track."

Permalink Eye

"I'll probably get better as it gets smaller. I think ...I think if we did this a couple times a week we'd be done by the time you were finished with school."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, there's probably a bunch more stuff down there. You wanna try it?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. Then we have a plan."

Permalink Eye

"Race you home?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

 

They explore the tunnels more. Karen does her homework regularly, courtesy of fairy ring time. Her grades climb. 

November ends. 

"So do fairies do Christmas at all? Even the really secular version? Or does debt stuff mean that presents are kind of pointless."

Permalink Eye

"We tried one year but I think we were missing something important because it was kind of boring. We got a tree and we decorated it and we all bought each other things and then we ate pancakes."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds like it could be okay? We usually had Christmas Eve at grandma and grandpa's and then everybody did Christmas Day with their immediate families. We'd bake sugar cookies, and in the leadup we'd watch all of the best Christmas movies and some of them twice, and we'd decorate the tree, and we'd have a big Christmas dinner, and we'd sing Christmas carols and read the Christmas story in Luke, and then we'd play the dice game, and on Christmas Day we'd go to church and take presents out of stockings and out from under the tree, and... I guess usually we'd spend the rest of the day playing with new presents with our cousins.

"...I think Azalea being secretly a ghost kind of messes up that plan, this year. I guess we'll have to figure out which parts we can do alone."

Permalink Eye

"You could pretend she's really sick, and you had a neighbor drive you for the rest of it?"

Permalink Eye

"You want me to spend a week with my extended family pretending that Azalea's really sick but still alive, I do not have an unrelated teenage boy living in my house, and everything's pretty much fine, without lying? I think we'll both be doubled over in pain about six times a day."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I couldn't drive you, I can't drive. But - yeah, might not work."

Permalink Eye

"No, yeah, I just - I am really bad at not lying to my parents even when I'm not doing anything fundamentally ridiculous."

Permalink Eye

"Is it a big deal that I am an unrelated teenage boy particularly?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes! Obviously! I mean, I guess an unrelated twenty-year-old man would be worse, especially with Azalea dead, although I guess once they know that everything else is kind of overshadowed, but - yeah? They're going to worry that I've stumbled into a pit of sin and vice and will end up a pregnant high school dropout or something."

Permalink Eye

" - huh."

Permalink Eye

"Your parents are honestly bizarrely unconcerned about everything about this situation. Like, obviously there are reasons I don't just tell my parents everything, but I can't really blame them for being concerned."

Permalink Eye

"I am not sure if faeries have the concept of falling into a den of sin and vice, and among faeries men cannot get pregnant."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, I guess if your parents don't care about you having children and abandoning them, I admit your half of this particular scenario is rather less concerning.

 

"...Zales got pregnant when she was in high school. So they're - they'd probably feel like they'd have to be pretty bad parents to watch the same thing happen twice."

Permalink Eye

"I mean I wouldn't leave. But I'm already not gonna leave so it wouldn't change my plans very much."

Permalink Eye

"I think babies exist for longer than it takes to graduate high school.

" - this is a really needlessly weird conversation to be having. Anyway. Any preferences on which parts of Christmas we keep? Obviously we have to skip the movies, and let me tell you, this is extremely tragic, so we're gonna have to make it up somewhere else."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, you and the kids can go to the movies."

Permalink Eye

"No, we make a stack of them by the TV and cycle through them like every other night for three weeks. This is really an unfair amount of exile to ask of you. Maybe we can compromise and exile you once or twice so they can see It's A Wonderful Life and the good version of A Christmas Carol, but I think we must forego something at some point."

Permalink Eye

"That wouldn't be unfair."

Permalink Eye

"Would so? - like, I know there's the life debt thing, or whatever, but I am trying to ignore it for most things that actually matter, because, like - if I just went 'Connor's preferences always lose because of life debt stuff' then everything would be way more messed up and miserable around here."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah but I like running around in the forest and wouldn't be sad if people watched movies in the evenings."

Permalink Eye

"...I guess that's valid. It's cold outside, though. And we'd miss you."

Permalink Eye

"I could stay, with earplugs and a blindfold?"

Permalink Eye

"Congratulations, that's much worse. 

"I guess we can't watch a lot of them anyway, the last time we did this I didn't have two jobs. Maybe we can exile you Saturday nights for a while."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good. 

You could say I could go home."

Permalink Eye

" - wait, have you been able to go home this whole time?"

Permalink Eye

"I mean I could but it'd be weird to, for no reason, they'd wonder if I was having trouble or something."

Permalink Eye

"...they don't, like, miss you?"

Permalink Eye

"What, already?"

Permalink Eye

"It's been more than a month! If I had to go more than a month without seeing my niece and nephew I would miss them a lot. Now that we're, like, effectively immediate family and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"I think time might be less of a big deal to fairies."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, that makes sense to me once you've lived a really really long time, the way five minutes seems really long when you're three and way less long when you're sixteen, but you're not actually really old, right, you just know you're going to be someday?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I'm the same age as you."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Well. I dunno if you want to go home or not, but you're totally allowed to. On this end. I dunno whether your parents would be cool about it or not."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe if there's a reason."

Permalink Eye

"All right. Well. 

"I think we have a tree and decorations somewhere. And stockings, though we'll have to get new ones for you and me. I've never made cookies by myself before but I feel like it's important to give that part a shot. I guess I have to print out lyric sheets for the songs. That seems maybe Christmassey enough. Especially if we can think of good gifts. Maybe I can give little Connor some money and he can buy stuff for us, too, then it can be everybody trading except for Zana. It admittedly might be hard to buy gifts for Zales, but I feel like we should try."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Don't tell anybody what you're getting them, it's supposed to be secret. I dunno how much fairies know about this."

Permalink Eye

"I didn't know the secrets thing! I can do secret presents. - or probably just ask Matt to but it'll work out the same."

Permalink Eye

"Oh gosh, no wonder yours was boring. Half the presents thing is in, like, you don't know what people are going to get you until you open them, and you have to wonder whether they're going to get you something you really like, and then if they do it's both great because you have something you really like and great because the person who gave it to you knows what you like. And I guess because it's fun to look forward to things if the things end up being nice."

Permalink Eye

"But it seems like it would suck if they didn't know what you'd like and got you something bad."

Permalink Eye

"Oh it does! It's high-risk. But if you get a couple from everyone then you'll almost definitely get something you like, and you're allowed to ask for advice and stuff. From other people. Not from the person you're giving gifts to. Or, like, I guess you could do that, too, but it'd take a lot of the fun out. For kids it's a bigger deal because they don't have their own money and a lot of expensive things are things they're only going to get for Christmas or their birthday, so for them there's this whole art to dropping hints and stuff, but once you have your own job it's less important what you actually get and more fun to just see what people end up giving you. I think, anyw