Author’s Note: Yes, this used to be Chapter 3. Now my nice chronological order is ruined in the archives! 😦 But this way I could preserve the old comments the easiest. 🙂 I just really don’t like the idea of censoring someone’s thoughts. Anyway, enjoy!
“It’s okay. You got this.”
“If you say so.”
“It’s already heated up. Now let’s make some waffles!”
“I thought they were already half made.”
“Just open the oven and put the waffles in, okay?”
“All right. Here goes.”
“Aaaaaand… see?” Amelia said excitedly, “Everything’s still intact!”
Tad straightened his posture and looked dubiously at the dreaded stove.
“For now,” he said, “So… waffles. You people make a lot of differently named food products from just white flour and liquid.”
“Well, yes,” Amelia said, “It’s all in the nuances when it comes to cooking.”
“Now let’s leave the oven for a few minutes and come back when the waffles are done. And after that we can actually move on to pots and frying pans!”
Tad glanced at the oven again.
“…Very well, then.”
“Come on, I made some ratatouille. We can have the waffles for dessert.”
It had been a few days after the events in the Ley Line Nexus, and Amelia had to admit that she quite liked this new arrangement. She had made dinner for Tad every day, tentatively restarting their friendship, or at least their camaraderie. She’d had to dig up some vegetarian recipes because Tad had been uneasy with – as he had so tactfully put it – eating the corpses of beings whose souls he had escorted from this world. Even the fact that all of the meat used in the Sprigg household came from the small ranches in Riverview that were about as close to humane as anything involving producing meat could get didn’t help. Not that Amelia minded, though. Tad had apologised and insisted that he didn’t need to eat, but had then joined Amelia for dinner for the sake of courtesy. They had even restarted their teatime tradition.
It had been… awkward at first, and it had taken a few more badly slept nights of introspection in a nice armchair before Amelia had again got back into feeling like herself again.
Tad had done his best to help, eagerly going along with Amelia’s lessons in humanity and proper communication. He had even made a point to bleed after getting a small papercut from a book he had borrowed from Amelia. That one had been… considerate, Amelia supposed. If a bit creepy.
By the time they got to facing the stove, Amelia was actually feeling some form of excitement about all this. She was going to help someone to become better. At something. Her mind had already formed another optimistic image of a dark stranger being turned into an approachable creature by the end of this all.
Was she still completely okay with this? No. But she was getting there. All these nice activities between work and chores were like therapy for her. A very cheap and pleasant kind of therapy, so far. And they helped her see the Tad behind Death again. That was certainly nice.
“So, what is the next step of this plan?” asked Tad once they were both seated at the table and had plates of ratatouille in front of them, “This. Humanity, I mean.”
Amelia thought about it for a moment. But only for a moment. Her mind had been buzzing with ideas lately. They popped into her head during the hours between sleep and wakefulness, and sometimes just when she least expected it.
“That man who died at that fire station,” she said.
“Lawrence Anderson?” Tad asked with a frown, “He has already moved on.”
“You knew he was going to… to… you know. And you didn’t save him.”
There was a slight accusation in Amelia’s tone. Tad completely missed it.
“I knew he was likely to die, yes. And I did help him. He would have got lost without me.”
“That’s not what I mean,” said Amelia, “You were there. You could have stopped his fall.”
“Oh…” Tad shrugged, “Perhaps. But even I do not exactly know how it happens. All I see is many possibilities. Here it was going to be his time. Death doesn’t kill, but it also doesn’t stop people from dying.”
“But human beings do,” said Amelia, “Look… at least you could pay your respects. It would be a nice thing of Tad Dustpine to do, right?”
Tad looked at her blankly.
“You mean… go to his funeral? Is that appropriate?”
“Most funerals are open here in Riverview so that anyone who wishes can go to the chapel,” Amelia said, “I’ve visited several of them… well, before dad… well, you know. And you could be a part of a human celebration that way.”
“I have been to many parties,” Tad said, “However, only for work. I do like the idea of people celebrating death, even though most people fear it.”
He thought about it for a moment.
“All right. It sounds interesting, actually. Very well. You shall come with me, will you not?”
“Of course. Do you think we need to go buy funeral clothes for you?”
Tad slowly shook his head.
“It is in black and white. I can make black and white easy enough.”
“Okay. So we’ll be going then.”
Amelia beamed with excitement. They sat in silence for a while before Amelia gasped.
They rushed back to Tad’s room, with Amelia mentally cursing her forgetfulness all the way. This was not the best way to teach Tad about the safety of stoves!
Tad yanked the oven lid open and looked at the burned waffles with a mix of disappointment and “I told you so.” Amelia chuckled nervously.
“Oh, well, that didn’t work out so well. But hey, we’re still alive and nothing’s on fire!”
Tad nodded slowly. He set the waffles on the nearest plate. They smelled about as appetizing as a coal mine.
“Well, I suppose it could have been worse,” he said.
“And look!” Amelia said in her most cheerful voice, “You just made waffles! Way to go!”
Tad raised a brow. They both looked at the crispy squares in silence.
Amelia cleared her throat.
“We don’t actually have to eat them.”
Lawrence Anderson’s funeral was in a few days. When the time for it came, Amelia dressed into the clothes she had worn at her dad’s funeral and pulled her hair into a more presentable order. Her hair had grown from the last time she had worn this outfit, she noted. It was a strange thought, because to her, Alex Sprigg’s passing always seemed to have happened just a few weeks ago. It was a blemish in her happiness, one she was still in the process of turning into a more pleasant memory.
She took one last look at herself in the mirror in her bedroom and then put her usual smile on her face.
The funeral was being held in Riverview’s open chapel that was situated right next to the old graveyard. The chapel was a modern little place, and it was appropriately generic so that people from many different local religions and even outside of them could be blessed in it in a way that their souls wouldn’t mind. Amelia and Tad drove there in Amelia’s trusty bright car – and she continued to call it trusty even though she was still paying the bills its recent breaking down had put into her mailbox, but had to walk almost half a mile from the nearest available free parking spot. Riverview’s centre was not the most car-friendly place. Amelia had been prepared for it, but her semi-sensible shoes still made her feet ache by the end of the walk. Tad seemed more concerned about her than about himself. Which made sense seeing how he probably didn’t feel fatigue or any other pesky mortal ailments.
Tad was like a walking, quietly talking porcelain man next to Amelia, who managed to look warm and bright even in her black and white funeral clothes. Amelia had to admit that Tad looked quite elegant in the long black coat he had conjured up for himself. The feeling had probably something to do with the fact that popular culture had conditioned Amelia to think that the being that called himself Tad belonged in clothes that were long, flowing, and black. The reserved tension on his face did somewhat ruin the image, though. It made Tad look uncomfortable with where he was.
“There’s no need to worry,” Amelia said at the door of the chapel when Tad hesitated for a step, “A funeral is sad, but a nice occasion in a way too. A way to remember the good person Mr. Anderson was in life.”
“I thought you did not know him,” Tad said.
“Not really, no. But he seemed like a good person.”
Amelia fell quiet for a moment. She had seen someone die. That part was still a bit too much to handle.
“Come on,” she said a bit too quickly, “Most of the people are no doubt already there.”
The chapel’s main doors led to a small, brightly lit reception room. Its only table was decorated for the occasion. A picture of late Larry Anderson had been placed into a vintage frame that Larry Anderson would have probably sneezed at for being too fancy. There was also a statue of a griffin next to the picture, and Amelia explained quickly that the griffin was seen as a guide to the afterlife. Tad nodded politely, even though he knew more about griffins and afterlife-guiding than anyone else in Riverview. Amelia stopped to stand silently in front of the picture for a moment, and Tad did the same.
Silence was something very sacred to people, he had noticed. And yet, it was constantly being drowned out with noise. Curious.
The main chapel hall was small and painted mostly with whites and calm, dignified blue-greys. A rough coffin, this one the kind that Larry Anderson had actually wanted, sat at the end of the aisle, and sombre monochrome guests littered the seats like inkblot tests. They turned to look when Amelia and Tad entered, but no one wanted to break the beautiful silence.
They sat down, and soon began the first celebration Tad had ever properly been to.
It was a surprisingly beautiful send-off to such a rough, grumpy man. But then again, Larry Anderson had had a small poet inside of his soul, one that had occasionally got out when he had been sitting in front of his small fireplace, or when he had stopped at a window during the moment when everything was blue outside. So it was definitely not inappropriately beautiful.
Amelia cried, but she always cried at funerals. It was something she had to get out of her system before she could smile again.
By the time they were setting the flowers to the still empty grave, she was again smiling and giving her condolences in a quiet voice when appropriate.
One of the guests caught her eye when the flowers had covered the gravesite and people were slowly walking away from it, some to continue celebrations with coffee and pastries, some just to go home and shed their dark mourning shells and uncomfortable shoes. The guest Amelia spotted was standing a bit farther away from the rest of the crowd, a strange mix of confusion and sadness in his eyes. Amelia recognised him as George Dean, and realised with horror that Larry Anderson’s death had to have had quite an impact on Mr. Dean.
It wasn’t because Larry Anderson had been close to George Dean, as far as Amelia knew. But Mr. Dean happened to live in the old fire station where Larry Anderson had fallen. Despite Larry Anderson’s death making it into the newspapers, it only now occurred to Amelia at that gravesite that Mr. Dean had probably been the one to discover the body. Dead maintenance people weren’t something anyone wanted to find on their lawn.
Amelia tapped Tad lightly on the shoulder.
“Look,” she whispered.
“What about him?” he asked.
“He lives in that old fire station.”
“You could go talk to him,” Amelia said, “You know, give your condolences.”
Tad looked at Mr. Dean and then back at Amelia.
“Because after leaving a body on his lawn, it would be a nice thing to say something. And it’s a chance for human conversation.”
“I did not choose where Lawrence Anderson would fall,” Tad said, “And I am not actually going to tell him about… well, my job, am I?”
“Of course not!” Amelia actually chuckled, “That would be silly! Just introduce yourself, ask how he knew Mr. Anderson and then say you’re sorry and some other nice things. It’s easy!”
Tad looked at Mr. Dean again.
“Well…” he said uncertainly, “if you say so.”
“I do. Now, don’t be shy.”
Amelia watched as Tad approached Mr. Dean cautiously and stiffly as a hunted rabbit with an iron rod for a spine. It wasn’t the most natural of approaches, but Mr. Dean was friendly and wouldn’t mind. Amelia was confident that she could leave Tad alone for a while.
Meanwhile, Amelia was more than happy to offer her condolences and to provide some distracting conversation for a mourning relative or two. It wasn’t like she had to look after Tad all the time, right? Tad was nice, and he could handle one little talk.
Amelia was sure of that.
“I was just arrested.”
“Oh, but you were just… wait, what?!”
Amelia stared at the air, trying to comprehend the situation. When she had answered her phone, she hadn’t expected this.
“Did you know that Mr. Dean is a police officer? Apparently he found something I said to him too suspicious to pass up, and so… I am at the police station.”
“He arrested you at a funeral? That’s just… rude!”
“I think he was more concerned about justice than common courtesy. He is very adamant about helping people. It was impressively efficient, really. Just two minutes of talking and a phone call. Anyway, could you come here? If you are not too busy, of course. I need someone to tell them that I did not kill Lawrence Anderson.”
Wait, kill? Well, of course, now that Amelia thought about it, it made sense. In a way. Except in the way that lead to Tad being in jail. And Amelia had just left him alone for – she checked her phone’s clock – twenty minutes?! Hadn’t they been making progress on his poor communication skills? Okay, so they hadn’t, really. Perhaps Amelia should have seen this coming.
With a sigh, Amelia shifted her focus back on the phone and the convicted speaker at the other end:
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
It was frighteningly easy to get a person suspected of murder free, Amelia decided later. All she’d had to do was to give Tad an alibi that made sense, and talk nicely to the police officers at the station. The hardest part had been convincing herself to lie because in this case, the truth would have been much more difficult to explain and to deal with. They had even laughed it up as a silly misunderstanding, and an hour or two later Amelia was driving Tad home.
“Well, that was… interesting, wasn’t it?” Amelia said cautiously.
“Yes. I have never been arrested before. Suspected of murder, yes, by individuals who do not understand how I work. But not like this. Thank you for helping me. I considered wiping their memories and just letting myself be in a different place, but I only do that as a last resort. It isn’t very friendly.”
“Umm… That’s good to know,” Amelia managed to say nervously. There was something inherently creepy about the casual way Tad talked about inducing amnesia in people, even though there was a hint of disapproval in his tone when he mentioned it, “Did you at least like the funeral?”
“Yes. It was beautiful. Humans cling to life so much that death is almost always seen as tragic. And yet you can find beauty in it. It is a wonderful gift.”
“I’m glad you liked it.”
“Mr. Dean was nice too. He has flames in his eyes, and on his conscience. People he could not save. I have met him before, but only in passing.”
“He is a good man,” Amelia said, “He really wants to help people.”
“Yes, he does,” Tad smiled, “Just like you want to help people. Always.”
“I try,” Amelia said, “So… uh, can I ask you a question?”
She wanted to ask a million questions, really. But she had decided that she could only handle them one at a time.
“You already asked,” said Tad.
“I meant can I ask you another question.”
“Oh. Of course.”
Amelia braced herself.
“You said you don’t, well, kill people. So how do you work, really? What is it you do?”
Tad looked out of the window.
“Like I said, I guide them. Life kills people, and I take over from there for a while. I help them until they can find their way forward.”
“And you do this for everyone?” Amelia asked.
“For everyone and everything that lives in some way, yes.”
Amelia bit her lip. The next question got through despite that:
“What’s it like?”
Tad hummed thoughtfully.
“Now that… It’s hard to explain.”
“Could you still try?”
Tad was quiet for a long while. Amelia started to think that he wouldn’t want to answer at all. Just when she was about to apologise for asking, Tad spoke again:
“Have you ever observed ants?”
Amelia was taken aback. It wasn’t an answer she had been expecting. Although she wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, really.
“I… yes,” she said, “When I was little I’d sometimes watch them work and zip all around and into the anthills.”
“Good,” said Tad, “Then this might work. Now then, you can remember yourself observing ants. They are fascinating creatures, and you quite like them, do you not?”
“Yes, I do… as long as they’re not in cupboards,” Amelia frowned, “Wait, are you comparing people to ants?”
Tad shrugged his shoulders, clearly blissfully unaware that people usually didn’t like being compared to insects.
“It could be anything, really. I just chose ants because they are different from you, and smaller in size. And something humans usually cannot identify with that well. Now then, imagine yourself observing an anthill, and imagine that you like each and every ant. Imagine that you are a part of each and every ant, yet you are also still you, the human who can understand the ants and their pheromone language only in theory. You are everywhere in their hill, but you are also in one place, looming above it. You should be stretched thin, but you cannot be. You observe the ants and know that you are too different and too big for the ants to see you as anything more than a part of the scenery. The ants are brilliant and manage fine for the most part, almost never needing your help. And when they do need it, they usually do not want it. Are you following?”
Amelia nodded uncertainly.
“Good. Now imagine that there are millions of other anthills all around you – all different and unique and wonderful – and you see them in your peripheral vision and know that there is another you watching each and every one of those hives and being also a part of every ant. And if you focus hard enough, you can see through the eyes of the other yous. Now if you got that, just replace the ants with everything that can be alive, and anthills with universes, and-”
“I… I’m getting a little lost here.”
“Oh… sorry. Like I said, it is hard to explain.”
“Well, I did understand some of it… I think.”
“Would adjectives help?” Tad asked, his eyes big and uncertain.
“All right,” Tad thought about it again, “It is very busy, and quite lonely. And requires good concentration… that last one was not an adjective.”
“So what is being human like?” Tad asked.
“Well…” Amelia started, but trailed off at once, “You know, this is pretty difficult. I’ve never really had to describe it.”
“Well, try it.”
“I guess that’s only fair. So, um… well, I like being human. It’s usually nice, if a bit stressful, and sometimes there are too many thoughts buzzing in my head, and sometimes I feel like my body betrays me when I get sick. You are a part of a community, and still have to express yourself and find your place in life. And then there’s… well, it’s complicated.”
“Yes. I have noticed,” Tad said, “Humans usually make things more complicated than they need to be.”
He paused for a thought.
“Well, you are not the only beings who do that. The world does that quite a lot as well.”
He fell silent again, obviously deep in thought. Amelia tried to focus on the anthills, but could only remember herself observing the tiny insects scurrying about. She had been occasionally fascinated with them as most kids were, imagined them digging tunnels into the earth where she couldn’t see them anymore. Dad had tried to explain ants to her, and she had thought that she had got them a little, but never truly understood them. It was probably not even close to what Tad had meant, but perhaps it was at least in the same direction. She still had her million questions, though. Or at least the 999 998 questions that were still left.
“So, what now?” asked Tad, “Do you have any other plans for these… humanity lessons?”
Amelia kept her eyes on the road. Their house was already in sight, peeking through the trees at the side of the road.
“I was actually thinking that we could maybe take a little break from this. One trip to a police station in a week is enough.”
“Well, I suppose you have a point there.”
“That last part was a joke.”
“So… you want to go to the police station again?”
“I… no. Look, how about I explain a little bit about humour next?”
“That sounds interesting. The only type of humour I am adequately familiar with is gallows humour.”
Amelia couldn’t help another good-natured chuckle.
“So it’s a deal then. After that little break.”
When Amelia went to bed that night, her mind was buzzing with too many thoughts.
Author’s Note: Okay, so after this I’m back to making new content again and done with messing around with the events… for now at least.
I have to say that I really like Tad’s facial expressions. Maybe it’s the too big eyes that give him that extra dose of the cartoonish. I used the alien eyes -sliders for his eyes to get them look not quite right.
I hope you enjoyed, and I’ll be getting back to writing either this or The Fey of Life as soon as I can.