WARNING: Not sure if this even counts as something to warn about, but this chapter contains discussion of a slasher film, so expect desensitised mentions and semi-vague descriptions of gory things (nothing is shown, though). Also I at some point updated Chapter 29 and added Tad agreeing for that interview Vanja has been wanting. Just mentioning that here so that the brief mention of the interview won’t confuse those who read Ch. 29 when it was first published. 🙂
The universe was whispering to him.
Well, it always did that. In fact, he was fairly sure that the universe whispered to everyone. It was all in the movement of particles. In light waves and atoms. Not all heard it consciously, but most could at least get a feeling of it sometimes.
Tad always heard it. But now he realised how much weaker and localised his hearing had become in the last few months. The whispers were muffled, sometimes even broken.
He really should have taken a break some time ago already.
Well, what was done was done. At least it was something he could easily fix. First he kept his promise to Miss Leifsdóttir and let her ask him questions he could at least partially answer to. Questions about his nature and his job. She seemed content with him explaining the basics, the atoms and the universes. She managed to keep the questions of justice and right and wrong out of it – for the most part – which Tad was pleasantly surprised about. But he supposed she had already accepted that he wouldn’t give her answers to those. After she had performed the summoning ritual a few years ago, she had screamed at him in rage and perhaps realised that it would do no good. Or then she thought she had found better ways to deal with her anguish. Whatever the case, Tad hoped it worked for her.
After visiting Miss Leifsdóttir, Tad moved on. He let the part that had focused on being Tad Dustpine get back to work, go around the planets and guide spirits where it was needed. And sometimes he took breaks during which he walked on dark matter and watched stars die. He shed the Tad-form and let himself just be mist, just darkness in the back of the minds of the living ones.
He had missed it. It was easy to remember himself that way. But he knew it couldn’t last. Because soon it would make him feel oversimplified. Just a shadow of what he was. Because Death may have had a simple, if deep Purpose, but over the millennia he had become more complex than his work. Being Tad Dustpine had just been the most recent step. A step he didn’t want to erase even if he did need a break from almost-flesh and blood.
But for a couple of weeks he set those thoughts aside because he needed to cleanse himself. It was a bit like fasting, he supposed. Except only vaguely and most living ones probably wouldn’t see the connection.
But after a week had passed, he started to solidify again. To become limbs and bones and cloaks and scythes. And then he took the more human form again. Three weeks after leaving he was Tad Dustpine again, walking on the streets of Bridgeport. He was visible and felt blood flowing in his veins and his skin almost reacting to the cool night air despite him not feeling the cold. He was renewed. Restored. And less… there. Just like he should be.
He had promised Amelia that he would return to her after he had taken his break. But he wasn’t sure he should do that before he’d first talked to a certain someone.
He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought of it before. Maybe he was just too used to doing things on his own. But seeing Philippa in Sunset Valley had really reminded him that he shouldn’t forget keeping up good relations to the others. And that he could perhaps use a friend who was more like him. He and the others had formed some tentative friendships over the eons, but they periodically became distant because of some argument or simply because Tad was a lonely being by nature. And so far he had accepted it. But now… it was perhaps what he needed in order to create a good system for being among humans like this. That was why he had ended up in Bridgeport. Because Love’s human self lived there. It seemed like his best bet; Philippa Honeyrose was everyone’s friend, if a distant one, and she even seemed to make the human life work.
Well, work was perhaps an exaggeration, considering Philippa’s numerous problems even she herself openly acknowledged. But she had nevertheless built a system for herself, one that in a way protected her from some of her problems while still creating new ones. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an admirable start. And spending so much time among humans had clearly done a lot of good to Philippa. Mood swings and occasional more severe problems aside, she was actually shaping up to be a more stable being than before.
And now Tad had something to say about his own experiences as a human too. That seemed like a good start for a friendship. To talk and share experiences and maybe come up with a better system together. And then… then Tad would feel safe enough to go back.
He missed Amelia. He really hoped this would work.
Philippa was apparently on her way to bed when Tad knocked on her door. Tad didn’t know if she could sleep, but she at least seemed to like getting ready for it. She was wearing nightclothes, and she let her red hair fly wild around her face. She smiled widely when she saw him. It was her usual smile, genuinely loving but at the same time stretched a bit too thin.
“Tad!” she exclaimed, kissing air next to his face like people did in some cultures as a greeting, “I didn’t expect to see you here! Come on in!”
Tad followed her into her very red living room. The television was casting coloured lights on the pear-textured sofas. Judging by the rather amorous dialogue, there was some kind of romantic programme going on. Tad inclined his head at the television.
“Does that not remind you of work?” he asked mostly just to start a conversation.
“Nah, it’s actually pretty relaxing! It’s like… they’re just acting and there’s rarely real-real romance going on. So it’s like… the stuff I do is sort of happening, but not really. You should try it too! It’s fun!”
“I should watch these… romantic programmes? Amelia showed me a romantic comedy once. It was not particularly effective.”
“I was thinking that watching really gory murder-fests would work better for you,” Phil said, “Ooh! Hey! We should do that! I’ve got Moonlight Massacre II on DVD! Let’s watch that right now!”
“Um… actually, I came here just to talk,” Tad said nervously, but Phil had already started going through her collection of films. She waved her hand in a carefree manner.
“Okay, we can talk, sure!” she said, “But we can watch that thing too. It’s really cheesy fun. You know, generic, obnoxious teens partying at a conveniently isolated place, lots of jumpscares and a gimmicky serial killer who’s totally unrealistic…”
She jumped up and held up a DVD box that had Moonlight Massacre II written on it in blood red letters. There was also a man in a rather cheap clown costume standing in the moonlight, with a pile of what was presumably dead bodies at the man’s feet. Phil hopped to what Tad assumed was the DVD-player and put the disc into it without causing anything to short-circuit. She then walked over to a couch and flopped onto it.
“Okay, so what did you want to talk about?” she asked as music started to play in the TVs speakers and red letters formed actors’ names onto the screen. Tad hesitated for a moment, and then sat down on a vacant seat next to her.
“Hold on!” Phil lifted her hand, “The opening kill is about to happen! Look at that random person go! She definitely needs to practise more if she’s going to outrun any killers in those heels!”
Tad glanced at the screen. There was screaming, and then blood, and then the blood was spelling out the name of the film.
“Um… right,” Tad said, “I uh… wanted to ask you how you do it. Spend so much time in an almost real human form, I mean. I can see it has even helped you establish yourself much better than… well, the last time you…”
“Got myself erased?” Phil finished his sentence, “Yeah. It’s been nice. Way better than last time, as you said. I was pretty awful at that one point. I mean, I don’t really remember it. It’s all pretty odd. Like it’s not me doing any of the things I apparently did, but still…”
She looked thoughtfully at the TV screen.
“But anyway… so… how have I managed this well now, huh? Well, balance is important. I’m not here all the time.”
“Yes. I know. I have just taken a three-week break myself. From this form… and now I feel a bit disconnected, but better.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right”, Phil stroked her chin, “The other thing I do is remember who I am at all times. And sometimes I just let loose and do fun stuff that could get pretty messy but that then doesn’t because I can keep it together. You know, to test myself. Plus it’s thrilling. I like that. So yeah, I do my job, have fun, sometimes let loose, and sometimes do something really stupid.”
“Oh. That sounds… risky?”
“Yeah, I know!”
“Hey, look!” Phil pointed to the screen, “Here comes some ominous dialogue, and then the teens come in. Oh, man, those two are already making out. They’re so gonna die first! So, was that all you wanted to talk about? Humanity and how to pull it off?”
“Um… no,” Tad fidgeted nervously, “I also wanted to see how you were. To say hi.”
“Aaww, that’s so sweet!”
“And I was thinking that perhaps we should spend more time together…” Tad trailed off for a moment before he looked at Phil uncertainly, “You know… to be friends? I know we are not… the closest, but I just thought…”
“Friends?” Phil narrowed her eyes, and then she grinned, “Aa-aaw! That would be cool! We haven’t really tried to be friends in… I don’t know… decades?”
“I think so…”
“Well, to be fair I have had my hands full trying to remake myself after the… you know. The thing. But yeah. That sounds-“
Phil suddenly gasped excitedly.
“Hey! You know what we should do right now?!”
Phil leaned forward in her seat.
“We should go out to the town! For a walk! Ooh, or clubbing! I haven’t done that in months! So we should totally do that! You know, have fun!”
“I… last time we went somewhere together to ‘have fun’, that one man had a heart attack.”
“Actually, the last time was in Sunset Valley in that cat pub, and the only bad thing that happened was that we had an argument.”
“Oh, right. I was thinking of the time before that. I think it was about thirty-one years ago.”
“Psssh, it wasn’t even a fatal heart attack! He got help almost right away, remember? Besides, now we know that you panic really easily if someone tries to hit on you, so we can avoid those situations!”
Tad frowned at the TV screen, where a group of teenagers were currently talking in a way even he knew teenagers didn’t really talk.
“I still do not know… How about that walk? That sounds… safer.”
“Oh…” Phil’s face fell for a moment, but then she jumped up from her seat, “Okay! That works! Hold on, I’ll go change! I can’t go out in my PJs! I mean, I could… and I have, but now I don’t feel like it!”
She was gone and rummaging through something in her bedroom before Tad had a chance to say anything. He was left alone on the sofa, feeling quite lost and wondering if talking to Phil had been a good idea after all.
It took Phil about half an hour to get ready. During that time, the film she had left on had come to a point where bodies had started to pile, and Tad was watching it all unfold with a raised eyebrow and mild fascination. It wasn’t fun the way Phil made it sound to be for her, but it was… actually surprisingly relaxing. People were acting like they were dying, but they actually weren’t. So it was like seeing something that should require his work but that actually didn’t. It almost felt like a holiday, even though he was always working. He wondered if finding holidays from fake murders was twisted or not. Maybe for some. Then again, people made these films for entertainment, apparently.
The masked murderer in the film had again found another victim when Phil walked back out of her bedroom, dressed in clothes that would easily blend in with the city’s nightlife.
“So, how’s the film?” she asked, “Oooh! This is a neat part! Wait for it… Oh, yikes! Gross! Did you see how that guy was ripped in half?”
“Yes,” Tad said, “When done that way, it should really be much slower. And messier.”
He smiled at Phil.
“You know, this is quite relaxing. Even though it is in a bit poor taste.”
“See? I told you! But we should go when there’s still stuff going on outside! I mean, walks are boring if there’s nothing to see. I can lend you the DVD if you want to finish watching this later.”
“Um… no thank you. I doubt I could play it without breaking it.”
“Really? Wow, that’s weird.”
“I know. I cannot really help it.”
Phil thought about it.
“I guess it’s kind of like clocks and radio waves going crazy around Father Time… you know, when he actually bothers to descend from his ivory tower,” she mused, “I suppose you Cosmic Truths are a bit too ancient for technology.”
“Sorry. I called you old.”
“I am old.”
“But not too old to do something fun!” Phil switched off the TV and the DVD and then spun around towards her front door, her arms wide and embracing the world, “Now let’s go!”
It was just the right hour to be out in Bridgeport. Well, it was the right hour if one wanted to spend their time at the local clubs, getting inebriated, dancing, and possibly having intimate moments with someone equally drunk or equally dancing. Tad wasn’t keen on any of those things… well, except for dancing. But dancing in the current city nightlife was usually rather uncoordinated and involved a lot of writhing, which Tad wasn’t very comfortable with. So he was content to just focus on following Phil, who waved happily at every other passer-by. Sometimes people started staring at each other with amorous looks after Phil had walked past them.
When they got to the heart of Bridgeport, the soundscape had changed. The edge of the centre where Phil lived in had been quieter, and the noises had been that of living and of an occasional heart attack. But here the sounds became wilder and louder, and their feel shifted from everyday life to escapism. The different but still often similar music beats mixed together as they blared from the dance clubs. Many of the people were talking louder as the alcohol had convinced them that they needed to be heard by everyone. Phil took a deep breath.
“You smell that?” she asked, “It’s energy and forgetfulness. Or at least wishes of those.”
Tad mostly smelled the alcohol in people’s blood, but underneath it, he could sense the energy. The enjoyment. This was happiness to at least some of these people. Phil led him through a currently empty street towards a place that was apparently named Brightmore, and it certainly lived up to that. The whole building was lit up rather excessively, making it look more like a cube-shaped, giant lamp. It was situated near a big roundabout that had a fountain in the middle of it. A sculpture spiralled towards the stars. The sounds of flying water created white noise in the air. Phil spared a wistful look at Brightmore, but then stopped and smiled.
“Well, what now? Should we keep going or just walk? Or wait! Let’s sit down! I love this place! It’s so peaceful!”
Phil was quick to drag Tad to the fountain in the middle of the roundabout. At first glance it looked like it should have been very much the opposite of peaceful, but now, late at night, it actually did feel like an oasis in the middle of the emptier streets. The sound of water muffled the noise of traffic, and the greenish, artificial lights in the fountain bathed everything with a slightly sickly, yet somehow comforting glow. Phil lay down on the edge of the fountain, dipping her hand into the water. Tad sat next to her and wrapped his arms around his legs.
Tad closed his eyes for a moment and tried to ignore the sounds of someone drowning and of a large bunch of fish being raised to the surface, also drowning. He shouldn’t think too much of work now. The rest of him could take care of that. He focused on the water in front of him and let the artificial glow calm him down. Phil splashed the water slightly, letting the droplets rain onto the flickers of light in the fountain.
“So… what do you think?” she asked, “This is pretty neat, huh?”
“We’re right at the heart of this city. From here, it actually looks great.”
Tad looked up at the skyscrapers around them.
“Yes. It does.”
“Even though it’s all gonna crumble down at some point, right?”
“I would say because of that.”
“Right,” Phil smiled, “So… what’s this really about, Tad? Did you really come here to spend time with me? Or did you just want to figure out how to combine pretend-humanity with being you?”
“I… I do not know,” Tad stared at the water sadly. Somewhere in the distance, a car horn blared frantically before the sound of a deer crashing into the car cut off the sound, “Both. I really wanted to talk to you… to find a friend among us, even though I know it will probably all fade again at some point. And I wanted to reassure myself that I am fine now, I think. And to see someone who makes this work.”
“I don’t. Make it work, I mean. Not really. But I manage.”
She drew pictures into the water. They turned into ripples and slowly melted away.
“You know what the biggest problem with being among humans really is? Caring.”
“Yes… that seems to always be the issue.”
“I always care too much. I can actually fall in love, at least in some ways, and almost no one else who’s like us can understand that.”
“I am sorry.”
“How many people have you got too attached to now?”
Tad thought about it for a moment.
“If I were to count just the very… risky ones, then two.”
Phil sat up and smiled.
“Okay. Two’s good. You can work with that. Just try to take a moment to figure out how you really feel about them.”
Tad lowered his legs into the water. The lights in the fountain short-circuited and the turquoise glow vanished. Tad cringed.
“Oops. Sorry…” he said and rubbed his neck. Why did technology have to be so jumpy around him?
“Meh. It’s fine. Okay, you’ve got the feelings figured out?”
“Well, you don’t have to do that right now, but I’d recommend you do it quickly. If you’re going to keep being here like this.”
Tad nodded slowly.
“I will keep that in mind.”
The cool night wind sliced through the air.
“You know, this is kinda nice,” Phil said, “Just talking with you. It’s great seeing you a bit less depressing than usually.”
“Thank you,” Tad said, “But… I am sorry for wasting your time.”
“Hey, it wasn’t a waste! It was fun!”
“Right. I suppose.”
“Mm-hmm. Hey, I’ve got an idea! How about we go back to my place and finish watching that film? The best kills are still coming up! There’s this one part with fish hooks and intestines that’s just really nasty and fake-looking!”
Tad thought about it for a moment.
“That sounds nice.”
“It’s a deal! And… if you don’t mind, I can maybe talk about random stuff while I’m at it. I’ve had a pretty stressful week! You won’t believe how bad the customers can sometimes be!”
“I can imagine.”
“Oh, right. I guess you can. But you’ll never guess what happened yesterday! There was this guy, okay? And he practically broke down my office door because he didn’t like the date I’d set him up with. And it turned out he’d actually gone to a totally wrong place and started harassing a random woman because he thought she was his date!”
“Oh, that does sound rather unpleasant.”
“It was. Well, I tried to be all friendly but then I eventually had to kick the guy out when he got too threatening. Gently, of course.”
As Phil talked, they stood up and started walking back towards Phil’s home. And Tad started to think that perhaps this hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.
He returned to Riverview the next day. He knocked on the door and was welcomed by a surprised Mrs. Sprigg, who spread her arms as if she wanted to hug him. Tad raised his hands up as a meagre defence.
“Oh, Ameliaaah!” Mrs. Sprigg shouted to the living room, pronouncing her daughter’s name with a slightly forced French accent, “Tad is here!”
Amelia hurried into the hall, and Tad managed a soft smile as a greeting. Amelia barely had time to say a “hi” before Mrs. Sprigg started talking in a rather over-compassionate voice.
“Oh, Amelia told me about your uncle! I’m so sorry! How is he?”
Tad stared at Mrs. Sprigg. Uncle? What was going on? He glanced at Amelia, who was looking very uncomfortable, waving her arms and silently telling him to play along. Oh, right. Amelia had probably needed a cover story for him. He opened his mouth and wrestled with his words for a moment before he came up with an elaborate, believable lie:
“Uh, he is fine.”
So far so good.
“Oh, that’s good to hear!” Mrs. Sprigg squealed, “What happened to him, anyway? Amelia could just tell he was injured.”
Okay. Slightly trickier. Worry not… you got this.
“His… leg was injured… in a vicious snapping turtle attack.”
He saw Amelia staring at him blankly over her mother’s shoulder.
“Snapping turtles?” Mrs. Sprigg repeated, “Wow. In Moonlight Falls?”
“Yes. There is a small sanctuary for them there. Quite an uncommon accident, but it could happen. Like I said, my uh… uncle… is recovering.”
“Chouette!” Mrs. Sprigg exclaimed, “And you got to see your family too!”
“Yes. Of course. They are… there… being a… family.”
“Can you tell about your family a little?”
Tad stared at Mrs. Sprigg, and then at Amelia. Amelia kept nodding vigorously, smiling at him encouragingly.
“Right,” Tad said slowly, “My family… it is… I have a father named… Erebus. And a mother…”
He paused for a moment, wondering how much these people knew about mythologies. He decided to mix them together a little bit to sound less suspicious.
“…mother named Giltinė. And my uncle of course. The one who got hurt. Yes. He is there too. His name is… Donn.”
“And they also have a dog named Pluto,” said Mr. Sanguine, who had appeared from the dining room, “Hi, Tad.”
“Your family sounds lovely!” Mrs. Sprigg smiled.
“I suppose. They are just names, though.”
“Okay, I think Tad is tired after the trip,” Amelia said, thankfully interrupting the conversation, “We should let him rest. Mum, we should go uh… get those kitchen cupboards finally cleaned!”
Mrs. Sprigg nodded enthusiastically.
Amelia almost pushed Mrs. Sprigg into the kitchen, and Tad felt like he could breathe easier. If he wanted to, that is. Mr. Sanguine looked at the two retreating women and then rolled his eyes.
“Any more forced happiness and I want to stab a pencil into my ear. But seriously, good to see you’re still standing.”
“It is good to see you too,” Tad said.
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t get used to it, though. I’ll be leaving soon. I just need to make a few more arrangements.”
“I will find you if I need anything.”
Mr. Sanguine raised his hand in both greeting and goodbye and walked up the stairs. Tad turned the other way, into his room.
The room looked… smaller than he remembered. Then again, everything looked small when he had again spent so much time as an invisible blanket of mist all over the universe. The room was a welcome sight, nevertheless. It was as if coming to a home away from home. And this home felt more stable. More grounded. Even though from Tad’s point of view, it was very fleeting indeed.
But for now, it was the same… well, not exactly the same. Tad stopped in mid-step when he noticed the additions to his room. On his desk, there was a pile of neatly folded clothing. A jacket and what seemed to be a long scarf. Next to them there was a piece of paper. And on the wall…
Tad stood dumbfounded in the middle of his room, staring at the objects for a long moment.
Finally, he took the piece of paper and read it.
here’s a welcome gift for when you get back. It’s going to get cold soon, so I figured you’d like to wear something warmer outside. Also, the poster was found by the Grisby kids. I told them you like death-related stuff, and Harper was super-excited. I hope you like it.
He stood there for a long, stunned moment. Then he called for Amelia, and she entered, looking sunny as ever.
He didn’t know what to say, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“Yeah… uh… surprise?” she said, sounding oddly awkward. Usually she was very natural about being nice, “That’s not a bribe, by the way. Or a pity-gift. I just… wanted to do something nice for you.”
“I know,” he said, “Thank you. I love them.”
A very clearly relieved smile spread on Amelia’s face.
“Great! You’re welcome, then.”
They stood in amicable silence for a long moment.
“So, are you really staying again?” Amelia asked hopefully.
“Yes. If I am still welcome.”
“I told you; you always are.”
It was good to be back.
Author’s Note: Yes, the fountain lights did really go off when I was done changing Tad’s pose so that his legs were in the water. 😀
This chapter went through lots of rewrites… I kind of wanted to have Phil and Tad go clubbing and it would have been all sorts of awkward. I even had lots of pretty fun pics taken from Brightmore, but in the end I figured it was too similar to their previous meeting so I went with this. Way less hijinks and more… EXCITING TALKING ACTION! 😛
As for the bit with Tad and Phil watching a slasher-film, I can explain: When one of my first TS4-deaths occurred, Grimmy stayed after doing his job, went over to the TV and started watching a film. He seemed to be really into it, cheering and laughing at the screen… turns out he was watching The Moonlight Massacre III. I thought that was funny, but also made sense, in a way. It’s not real death, so for someone who sees real death (and IS real death) all the time, seeing movie death could reasonably be a somewhat fun, if strange experience.
Also Tad was just listing names of death-related gods and goddesses (Donn being an Irish god/lord and Giltinė being a Baltic goddess) when he was making up family members. The kind of exception is Erebus, who is an ancient Greek god of darkness, and in the mythology the actual father of Thanatos, after whom I named Tad. If Tad hadn’t decided to start deliberately mixing mythologies to not make his family sound too obviously made-up (because listing deity-names totally isn’t obviously making up names for imaginary parents…), he probably would have claimed his mother’s name to be Nyx to stick with the Greek mythology theme/canon. And the reason Novak is still here is because I really wanted him to make that Pluto-joke. Terrible jokes for the win!
Also I now have this terrible idea that I really want to make a “Halloween-episode” -chapter next. Because it’s obviously the time to do that. Because who needs good timing when you get random ideas?
Have a lovely time!