There are many ways to begin a story. This particular story could be started with excitement and mystery. With cosmic truths that would shake the universe. With ideas reaching to and through the stars. Except there are no cosmic truths to be found here – well, not many, at least – but rather just guesses and opinions sometimes relating to the cosmos, if one looks at them at a certain angle.
One could start this story with the Person Who Fancies Themselves a God, and how said person came to fancy themselves as such. Or one could start the story with one of the most difficult heists ever pulled off, but those things came later.
Well, chronologically they didn’t, but this story, like many stories before it, should be started from the smaller things. The basics.
Except the start here is a person, and maybe a couple of more persons, and there really isn’t anything basic about life. But it’s better to ease into the more mysterious things from what is generally called normalcy, or something close to it.
Because in the end, this story is not an epic tale about cosmic mysteries or saving the world – although at some points it perhaps got close to it – but rather just some words about a group of people who were drawn together by a series of events that, while not normal, led to life, and the growth of said people.
So with that in mind, it’s good to start with Amelia Sprigg.
Her house felt half empty, which was strange because most things in Amelia Sprigg’s life we’re at least half full. She was just that kind of person. When life gave her lemons, she thanked it happily and made lemon curd to spread on toast and enjoyed it on a bright spring morning that lit up her hometown Riverview perfectly like a melanoma-inducing gift from the gods. Not that Amelia was really sure if she believed in gods. She found atheism to be a bit too depressing for her tastes, but the idea of amazingly powerful beings was a bit too fantastical as well.
What she did believe in was a force that encompassed everything and that was good and warm and rejuvenated people. She called it love, and she believed in it even after her boyfriend of three years had left her because he had found someone else. Someone who – as he had said after having a few too many beers – had a better bank account and a way better body.
Amelia believed in love even after her father had died of a heart attack a year ago and her mother had moved to the countryside in France to recover and now sent her postcards in mangled French and had apparently met someone named Philippe. Amelia had taken it all with grace, with taking some time of remembering the good times, spending a few nights watching light-hearted sitcoms on TV, and calming herself with a few extra cups of herbal tea. And she still stayed optimistic about everything. Because if there was something Amelia Sprigg believed in more than the loving energy that embraced the universe, it was that everything would turn out okay despite a few bumps in the road.
As it was, even the idea of now living in her old childhood home that had been left to her because the rest of her immediate family was either dead or snuggling with someone named Philippe didn’t bother her. The empty bed in her parents’ bedroom felt odd with the knowledge that it would stay empty, but Amelia would manage. It didn’t even bother her when she found out that her parents had accumulated a good amount of debt in their retirement years while renovating the old country mansion to be more in tune with the now. She hadn’t been worried about the knowledge that her salary from the insurance company she worked in wouldn’t be enough to do her part to get rid of the debt very quickly and that just keeping up with the old house’s bills was going to be a bit of a problem.
She had even smiled good-naturedly when a home inspector had told her that while the house was nice-looking and spacious, it wouldn’t be easily sold off. In fact, he said that because of the house’s age and the inadequately insulated walls, not to mention its location so close to both Riverview’s water filtration plant and the local fishery that the especially windy days carried the scent of fishy sewer water all the way to the front door, it was even less appealing to most potential buyers than something built on an ancient burial ground.
The last part was especially easy to smile at, because Amelia had no intention of selling the house. It had been the home of the Sprigg family for four generations. Back then the family had still owned a successful farm before recessions and general troubles had forced them to sell most of their lands. Amelia loved the house, even though it was, as already established, half empty because there was only her instead of the family of three or more. And a big, half empty house felt even emptier than a small one. But, as Amelia reminded herself in order to stay positive, it wouldn’t be so for much longer. Because today her great masterplan would come to fruition.
The Plan was following: after looking at the debt and the bills for her new-old home, and knowing that the place had more room than she needed, Amelia had taken a longer look at the house’s biggest guest room and adjacent bathroom and decided she would rent them out to someone. After some tweaking and tinkering and setting up a small kitchenette into the room, she was all set to start looking for someone – anyone – to move in. Several ads in the local newspaper and on the Internet later she had found someone who wouldn’t mind the occasional whiff of sewer and fish or the fact that he would have to share the house with a thirty-two-year-old woman who probably knew something about his insurance plan.
The new tenant would be coming in today to talk about the technicalities and to hopefully already sign the lease. Amelia was excited. She had spoken on the phone with the tenant candidate, and he had sounded very friendly. Also, the background check one of Amelia’s more paranoid friends had performed on him – and which Amelia had condemned but also been a bit glad about – hadn’t produced any warning signs, or anything, really. Of course, it would be odd to share her old childhood home with a stranger, but thanks to Amelia’s planning and a few well-placed locks, the house could now be divided in two, with her taking up most of the space and the tenant still having plenty of room for himself. He would even get his own front door! They would just have to set up rules Amelia had already sketched out in her mind and talked about with the tenant, and all should go fine. And maybe they would even become fast friends. Amelia hoped so. And she believed so as well. She was very good at making friends.
The doorbell rang, and Amelia sprang up from the couch where she had been absently flipping through a book she’d already read three times. She rushed to the door and then stopped.
Focus. Be professional.
She cleared her throat and straightened both her posture and her shirt.
She opened her door and smiled at the young man who stood behind it.
Amelia had known in advance that the new tenant was a man. Twenty two years old. And his name was Thanatos Dustpine. A fancy name for this day and age, but Amelia did like the sound of fancy names, even if they were a mouthful. She had also known that Mr. Dustpine was here in Riverview to do some studying and to look for a job outside of his hometown, which was Moonlight Falls. She hadn’t known what Mr. Dustpine looked like, though. But judging by the friendly, soft-spoken voice on the phone, she hadn’t really expected the lanky, gothic-looking, pale thing that now stood on her doorstep. Still, Amelia wasn’t one to judge people by appearances. She waved at him.
“Hello! Are you here for… well, living here?” she chuckled. The young man at the door smiled a bit shyly.
“Yes. I am. I am Thanatos Dustpine.”
“Wonderful!” said Amelia, shaking Mr. Dustpine’s gloved hand, “I’m Amelia Sprigg. Come in! Let’s do a quick tour and then you can take your time to decide.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Dustpine said, “But I am already fairly sure I will like it here.”
“Well, that’s nice of you to say, but I’m not about to sell anyone empty promises. Or even rent them out. Come in, please. We can have tea afterwards. Or do you prefer coffee?”
Amelia stopped herself in the middle of her excitement. She had to keep things professional. Just because she liked acting like a fussy housewife whenever she had friends over didn’t mean she could do it now.
“I am not being too pushy, am I?”
Mr. Dustpine shook his head politely and smiled again, a careful smile that looked just a bit too wide on the thin face. Amelia couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Dustpine got enough food. She quickly tried to shake the thoughts from her head. Sure, the kid was young, but Amelia wasn’t his guardian. She let the young man indoors, where the warm, wooden floors and walls made him stand out like a splash of bleach. If Amelia had had to describe Mr. Dustpine’s appearance with one word, it would be “colourless”. And it had nothing to do with his very pale skin colour. Oh no. Amelia was far too tolerant to even imply anything about anyone’s skin. Mr. Dustpine’s colourlessness had more to do with everything about him, from the black clothes to the way he seemed to not let any emotions through his shy smile. His eyes did brighten when Amelia showed him his potential new room.
“I know it’s smaller than the rest of the house,” Amelia said, “But you get your own kitchenette and your own bathroom, and you can visit my side whenever you need help with anything. If you wish, you can lock all the doors. I changed the locks so I can only open them with a master key I only use in emergencies. We would be like neighbours. If you decide to rent this, of course.”
“It is perfect,” said Mr. Dustpine, “I would like to take it.”
“Really?” Amelia squeaked with delight, “And you did read the part about the water filtration plant and the fishery? I swear you get used to the smell soon, and it’s not even noticeable most of the time. And I know you said you wouldn’t mind having your landlady living right next to you, but I just want to know that you’re sure. If anything about this agreement makes you uncomfortable…”
“I am sure it will not bother me,” Mr. Dustpine smiled, “If you wish, I can already sign the… leash?”
“Lease,” Amelia corrected helpfully. This was probably the first time the boy would be living on his own, “I have it in the kitchen. We can then have that tea, if you’d like. Or coffee.”
“Tea is fine,” Mr. Dustpine said, and Amelia could tell that they would get along just fine.
“Okay, so we agree on cleaning up our own trash and only using each other’s front doors to visit unless it is an emergency?”
“Good. And if anything breaks you can always call me and I’ll have it replaced or fixed. Besides the stuff you bring of course.”
“Well, I’m happy this is all working out so well! So, you can fill in your information here, and sign here, after you’ve read it, of course.”
Mr. Dustpine read the agreement dutifully, and then jotted down the information with very neat, curly handwriting. He pushed it across the table and Amelia read it through.
“Great!” she said, “So you’ll start living here at the start of the next month. In two weeks’ time already! Do you have any questions, Mr. Dustpine?”
“You can call me Thanatos,” said Mr. Dustpine.
“Oh, alright. Thanatos. That’s a fancy name.”
Thanatos’s eyes widened a bit.
“Oh? Is it too long? I suppose it is a tad lengthy… Oh! You can call me Tad as well. That works.”
Well, he seemed a bit sensitive. But friendly. Amelia smiled.
“Tad. It’s a deal. And you can call me Amelia. Or Miss Sprigg. But don’t call me landlady. That sounds too formal and impersonal.”
Tad smiled a bit. There was something off about his smile, but Amelia couldn’t quite describe it. If she could have, she would have probably noted that it was more like a small crack in the universe than a real smile.
“Besides,” Amelia went on, “I want us to be friends! Even though I occasionally get money from you for letting you live in my house doesn’t mean we can’t be… like I said, neighbours.”
There was something akin to confusion in Tad’s eyes.
“Do we also have to spy on each other and spread nasty rumours to other neighbours?” he asked, “Or annoy each other with hour-long tales of our children or pets?”
Amelia laughed. Tad obviously had a sense of humour.
“We can leave all that out, okay?”
“Oh, good,” Tad smiled with relief, “I do not have children. Or pets.”
Two weeks later Amelia woke up to the sound of guitar strings. Or rather, to the sound of someone torturing a badly tuned guitar in one of the rooms downstairs. Amelia cringed. The sound was close. So close that it was barely muddled by any walls. It sounded deceptively like the time when her dad had dropped an old typewriter on his foot and started squealing curses at the same time as the typewriter had started making all kinds of springy noises. Amelia tried to bury her head into her pillow. If someone was going to break into her house just to start a horrible mockery of a concert, then they at least shouldn’t disturb her sleep.
Then her still sleep-muddled mind managed to struggle to complete wakefulness at the realisation that someone had broken into her house. She sprang to her feet and into her fluffy bunny slippers that almost really made her slip in her haste. She took a deep, shaky breath and wondered if she should call the police. Then again, who the heck would break into her house just to start… well, all this? Wouldn’t they be more interested in the antique sofas and books in the living room? Or her kitty tea set whose sentimental value was through the roof? Something was definitely wrong here.
Amelia wrapped herself into her soft bathrobe and then tiptoed downstairs, grateful that her bunny slippers muffled the sounds of her footsteps. She wasn’t the most graceful person, in fact her friends often got an amused chuckle out of her occasional clumsiness.
Now she put all the grace she had into use, however, and dialled SimNation’s emergency number on her cell phone to be ready to call just in case it really was a burglar, or a particularly aggressive homeless person. Amelia wasn’t aware of there being many homeless people in Riverview. In fact, she had always thought that Riverview was too nice to have any real problems. The complete naïveté of that thought was lost to her as she snuck through the hall and towards the closed door the infernal squeaking was coming from.
Tad’s room, the informative voice in her head said rather needlessly. Although it wasn’t really Tad’s room yet. The boy was supposed to move in today, and he did have the keys to his room, but why would he move in so early in the morning? Amelia steeled her courage, and raised her hand. Then she hesitated and decided that if it indeed was a burglar or an aggressive homeless person, it would be smarter to check first. She quickly rushed outside and to Tad’s own front door, and squinted through the stained glass window.
What she saw made her both extremely relieved and confused. She knocked on Tad’s door. Tad Dustpine opened almost immediately. He gave her one of his shy smiles.
“Oh, Miss Sprigg. Good morning.”
Amelia waved back at him.
“Hey, Tad. Um… What are you doing here so early?”
Tad’s face fell, and he looked back at his room uncomfortably.
“I moved in? We agreed that this was the date, did we not? Should I have… waited for later?”
Over Tad’s shoulder Amelia could see that he had already set up everything in his room. It was all black and white, but instead of the gothic look Amelia had expected, the furniture was very simple and modern. Sleek lines and shiny surfaces without any texture. To Amelia, who loved colours, patterns, cushions, and old decorations, it looked almost unreal. The only real-looking thing was the acoustic guitar Tad had set into the centre of the room for his… uh… practice.
“Oh, no, it’s fine,” said Amelia, raising her hands reassuringly, “I didn’t expect you this early, that’s all. Wow, you already got everything set up? That must have taken a lot of time.”
“I do hope you got everything to its place nicely.”
“Yes. Everything is just fine, Miss Sprigg,” said Tad and then, after a moment of consideration he continued, “Thank you. I like your slippers. They are… cute. Is it a symbolic act, stuffing one’s feet into facsimiles of small furry animals?”
Amelia was dumbfounded for a second. Mostly because she had no idea whether Tad’s comment was meant to be an insult or not. It sounded like it, but he was sounding so sincerely confused and smiled so politely…
“Well, thank you,” she finally managed to say, “I… I just wear them because they’re cute.”
“Oh?” Tad’s face brightened, “I see. I like them. But I already said that.”
Amelia nodded. There was something very odd about Tad. But also something very sincere. Amelia was suddenly reminded of why she had come down to begin with. She eyed the guitar that was the only real thing in Tad’s room – the noise had definitely been real – and tried to decide how to put what she was about to say nicely.
“So, do you play?” she finally asked, “I think I heard you.”
Tad glanced at the guitar.
“Yes. It is good to have a hobby, is it not? And I like music.”
“It sounded… nice.”
“Really? Because to me it sounds dreadful.”
Amelia couldn’t help a nervous giggle that escaped her.
“I… yes, I’m sorry, but it does. But hey, I’m sure you’ll get better with practice.”
“I hope so. I do not want to bother you with noise.”
“It’s fine,” Amelia said and then considered it, “Well, maybe not so early in the morning. I actually have a friend who might be able to teach you. She’s been playing guitar for years!”
Tad’s eyes brightened.
“Really? She would do that for me?”
“I’ll have to ask her, but I don’t see why not.”
“That is amazing!”
Tad looked so elated by Amelia’s suggestion. Like no one had ever offered him any help before. It was odd, and mildly disconcerting, but Amelia supposed it wasn’t her business until she’d got to know her new tenant better, if even then. Still, Amelia was a very compassionate person, and the careful behaviour and odd reactions did spark her concern. The young man was – as she had noted earlier already – so painfully thin, too.
“Have you already had any breakfast?” Amelia asked, “How’s the kitchenette working?”
Tad eyed the room again.
“It is working well,” he said, “I am not hungry at all.”
“Well, that’s nice to hear. I was about to bake some cookies tonight. Would you want some? To celebrate your new home?”
“That would be nice, Miss Sprigg.”
He was so formal too. Amelia didn’t know if she found that nice or cold. Kids nowadays usually weren’t like that. Amelia stopped herself when she realised she had again referred to Tad as a “kid” in her head. Oh, dear, was she getting that old? Would she soon buy a walking stick so she could shake it at passers-by and tell people to get off her lawn? She sure hoped not.
She left Tad in his new room and walked back to her own home, feeling strange for having to circle around a part of it. She’d just have to get used to that. She smiled to herself. Soon her money problems would be… well, lesser. And the house wouldn’t be half empty because it was now only three-fourths of its previous size. Technically, at least. And she could make her praised chocolate chip and orange cookies to someone who hadn’t tasted them before. Amelia almost clapped her hands in delight. Everything was going great!
And it did. At first, at least. Tad was a quiet, nice housemate, aside from the horrible guitar-playing, and he came and went for his studies and for whatever else he needed when he pleased and didn’t make noise about it. Actually, he never told Amelia much of anything about his studies or whatever else he liked to do. When Amelia asked, he said the studies were something about agriculture, which made sense because it was one of the few things one could actually study in Riverview. Amelia hadn’t wanted to pry, because Tad seemed to like to keep to himself. Sometimes Amelia just invited Tad over for tea and some snacks that helped ease her mind about the boy’s skinniness. She swore to herself that she hadn’t just turned into a fussy old wannabe mother hen. It was just common sense that a landlady should take care of their tenants. So Amelia decided that she could at least carefully try to scout the situation since they were already talking over tea and all that. The fact that there was something inherently lonely and kind of sad about the quiet young man had nothing to do with it.
That was why Amelia tried to make even more small talk than usual when they sat down for said tea. This time it had been Tad who had suggested the tea break, seemingly thinking it was somehow a requirement for his stay. Amelia had assured that it wasn’t, but had nevertheless been glad for the company. She brewed her favourite – green tea with jasmine – and set the table with her beloved kitty tea set. Tad sat on a chair, lanky legs awkwardly folded against his chest, and too big eyes watching the tea making process like he had never seen tea being made before. It was a bit unnerving, but then again, Amelia couldn’t blame the lad for appreciating well-made tea. It was practically sacred to her too.
“So, how are the studies going?” Amelia asked when the tea was in the cups and they were sitting at the small kitchen table – the dining room was too big to feel comfortable for just two people.
Tad looked over his teacup, eyes like two sad moons.
“They are going well,” he said, “I am doing… agriculture things there. Learning new things, of course.”
“That’s nice to hear,” Amelia replied, and then took a moment to think about her next question, which would slowly inch the conversation into the more prying ones that would hopefully ease her mind, “How did you end up studying it?”
Tad was quiet for a moment, eyes darting restlessly into the teacup.
“I like plants,” he said after a while, “And animals.”
“Is your family into farming?” Amelia asked. Family was usually a safe yet telling subject, right?
“Yes,” Tad said, “Um… father especially.”
“You must miss them.”
“Of course,” Tad said in a voice that didn’t sound homesick at all, “They are very… family-like.”
Amelia waited for Tad to continue, but he seemed to think this was enough of a description.
“How about your family?” Tad asked suddenly. Amelia was surprised. Tad didn’t usually ask questions. When he did, it was usually careful and confused, as if scared he would somehow ruin everything with wrong words.
“My family… well,” Amelia weighed her words and the feelings attached to them. They were surprisingly heavy, “They are very nice. My mum lives in France now. She’s very sweet, and loves plants too. She’s a gardener. My dad… passed away recently. He was the most wonderful person I’ve ever known. We used to fish together a lot.”
“But you know, life goes on. And at least he didn’t have to suffer.”
“He left in peace,” Tad nodded, “Very mature about it all.”
“What did you say?” Amelia asked.
“Nothing,” Tad said quickly, with a startled look in his moonlike eyes.
Amelia wasn’t about to just let it go, however. To be fair, few people probably would.
“Did you know my dad?” she asked, “Did you know Alex Sprigg?”
“No. Of course not.”
Amelia didn’t believe him. They sat in silence, a barricade of porcelain and questions between them, and Amelia felt for the first time in a while that the house was very empty after all. She shouldn’t push it now, she decided. Tad was odd, but he probably wouldn’t like being wrongly accused of anything. Even lying.
Amelia smiled a little too brightly at him.
Tad smiled back.
Amelia checked the lock between her and Tad’s sides of the house that night. Even though it was firmly locked and she knew only she could open it, she didn’t get much sleep.
The next day Tad left in the morning and returned in the evening, like he often did. Amelia could just see him pass by the windows when she was in the kitchen. She herself had work, and the day went fine like it usually did. She lent a sympathetic ear to a student who had broken her leg, and handled a few routine meetings with clients. In the evening she considered inviting Tad for tea again, if just to pry more information out of him, but that felt unnecessarily invasive. Because even at her most paranoid, Amelia Sprigg wanted to like everyone, and wanted everyone to at least tolerate her no matter how futile that wish might have been for any person. She wanted to believe that even the most callous of criminals at least had a family member or a pet bunny they genuinely loved, and she wanted with all her heart to believe that her paranoia was completely unfounded and the shy yet friendly puppy-dog of a person named Tad Dustpine was completely harmless.
Now, this kind of tension could have gone on in the Sprigg household for quite a while, but thankfully it passed pretty quickly. Thankfully for both the sanity of Amelia, and for the pacing of their lives. For even though Tad Dustpine did indeed lie about not meeting Amelia’s father and about almost everything else in the beginning, his true nature was not the big mystery of the story. Not that it wasn’t significant, because it was, but it was simply found out near the beginning.
But first it is important to know how Amelia and Tad actually started to become friends, and how Amelia managed to drop her doubts and make way for her usual trust before it was again time for her to learn new life lessons. That life lesson was, of course: magic is real, and abstract things may become less abstract when they have enough experience. That was just common sense, really. If tangible things could have abstract concepts attached to them, like how the book of law had justice as a bookmark in the best of times, it could naturally go the other way around.
But we’re getting too far ahead. First, there was something close to friendship. Camaraderie.
It started with a splash.
Author’s Note: Hello! And welcome to my new story. I hope your interest was sparked even though not much was happening yet. The things really start to go down in the next chapter.
All feedback is very much appreciated. Let’s get this new and hopefully exciting or interesting story started! Soon… I’m working on the next chapter already.