Amelia Sprigg had got very used to odd things lately. Having Death as her tenant had really opened her mind to the possibility that nothing was impossible. Nothing except – apparently – life being fair for anyone. So when she again heard the voice of the young dead boy Connor in her dreams, she wasn’t all that surprised. At first Connor had apologised – a lot – and explained that apparently something had got stuck when he had contacted her in her dream. Then he had cursed his bad luck in old Irish curses, his accent turning thicker. And then… somehow… he had settled. And Amelia had welcomed the presence in her subconscious without too many questions.
She liked to occasionally meet up with Connor in dreamworld, talking to him and sitting down on imaginary clouds or fluffy dreamgrass. A few months ago Amelia would have questioned this, pointed out to herself that she was probably just drifting farther and farther away from reality because of her grief, but right now she could tell herself that she just wanted a new friend and that Connor deserved someone to listen to and to spend time with him. Being stuck in the afterlife-gate seemed to be an unpleasant experience despite all the work Tad did to make things more bearable.
So no, Amelia wasn’t talking to a ghost stuck in her dreams because she was lonely and because calling her real friends felt like too much trouble too many times.
…and that wasn’t because she was depressed and grieving.
No, Amelia didn’t feel like she was all alone in the world when her mum was gone. She was grieving in a healthy way!
And no, Amelia didn’t think that Tad’s absence had left another void. That the house felt too empty now.
Or, well… maybe. Maybe she just tried to deny how messed up she was. How the fact was that she had lost both of her parents in too quick succession and she wasn’t over it at all and she was just trying to find increasingly desperate ways to cope.
And yet, she didn’t mind that one of her escapes was a dream-ghost.
“So, what did you do today?” she asked Connor when they sat at a distorted pond with crystal clear water and pink and purple bunnies swimming in its depths.
“Today?” Connor asked, “I don’t know what today is. How many nights has it been since we talked?”
“Oh,” Connor pressed his hands into his messy hair. It was a familiar sight by now, after all the weeks this had been going on, “I lost count again. It’s so hard to keep up with time!”
“Have you gone outside? To the place you haunt?” Amelia asked. They hadn’t talked about his haunting place a lot, “Wasn’t it a mall?”
“I would just get stuck in the floor. I’m buried underneath it and it’s really hard to navigate. And there’s nobody around at night. Well, there was some thieves a month ago. Or maybe a year. Or maybe it was last week. I don’t know. Anyway, it’s not fun.”
“Sometimes I really wish I could just be somewhere else. At least here it’s different. Even with the hippos.”
“I’m trying not to dream of them. But thinking about not dreaming of something actually makes them appear in dreams easier.”
“Right. What did you do today, Amelia?”
“I did some cleaning around the house. And worked. I work from home some of the days now.”
“You didn’t go out? You seem like the kind of person who likes to go out.”
“I tended to Tad’s garden. It’s in my backyard.”
“Okay. And… what else?”
“Not much else. What else do I need? I’ve got everything right at home!”
She spread her arms, catching some dreamdust on her palms. Connor looked at her for a long time.
“You know what I think? I think you’re not doing so great. It’s okay to mourn your mam. And everyone else you lost.”
Amelia glanced at Connor. Shouldn’t teenagers be the ones needing advice and adults telling them not to be so angsty? Except Amelia wasn’t that angsty. She was fine! Maybe… And if she was being depressed, it was for a reason. So it was okay, and she would start healing with time.
“I’m fine,” she said, because saying it made it easier to believe.
“Sure you are,” Connor sighed, “Look, I… you’re a nice person. I like talking to you, but I need you to… keep living. I don’t want you to get stuck too!”
His voice almost broke.
“Is it so bad,” Amelia asked, “being stuck? What’s it like for you?”
“Bad,” Connor said, his eyes suddenly very tired and old, “Ages an’ ages of not knowing where to go, being in a place where time just… plays tricks.”
“Doesn’t Tad… I mean Sir Death help?” Amelia asked.
“Sometimes, but I think we need to find our way ourselves or it doesn’t work. It’s all about us in there. Except this is not. This is about you. And it’s your dream.”
“It doesn’t have to be just about me, Connor,” Amelia said and smiled gently, “I appreciate that you want to help me, and I want to help you.”
Connor looked confused for a second. Amelia wondered if anyone had offered him help lately. Or in a century or two.
“Maybe you should focus on… I don’t know… being happy first,” he finally said, “Just… taking care of yourself.”
“Helping others does make me happy,” Amelia said.
“You can’t help me,” Connor said and let out a sad laugh, “Unless you can figure out a way to get me unstuck from under Barbara’s Bargains that’s beyond an ocean for you.”
Amelia nodded in contemplation. In dreams nothing seemed very shocking. Not even the parts she knew were really happening. She found herself wondering how to free a ghost. She stared into the water and at the leafy penguins that were near it for some reason. She was startled when she felt Connor suddenly glaring at her.
“Don’t try to change the subject!” he huffed, “I’m supposed to help you here! What good am I for, stuck in someone’s mind – partially – if I can’t even help them heal their obviously broken head!”
“I’m not broken!” Amelia snapped, but then she sighed, “I… I know I’m not totally okay. But I’m not a lost cause either. I can…”
Her dream was cut off by an alarm. Connor’s face faded from view, and Amelia blinked in the lonely darkness of her bedroom. She reluctantly got up and made a mental note to ask a few important questions when Tad came to visit next time.
She would help Connor somehow. And her surprisingly lonely mind seemed to have already got an idea about how.
The kitchen door didn’t really need to let through the smell of cinnamon and bread when opened. But then again, the entire kitchen didn’t really need to exist in Death’s house, so what was one more pointless, nice thing on top of another. But it was okay; it didn’t inconvenience anyone. All of Death’s house was made entirely by him by using only his will. Made by Death for… well, partly for him, but mostly for the lost souls who wanted to have some semblance of a homely inn to stop their wanderings in for a while. Sometimes he had other guests over too, but most of the time they were dead souls who wandered in and had a good night’s sleep in beds or ate food in a dining hall or spent time in front of a fireplace. Tad steered clear of most of the guest areas, because the souls usually shied away from him. Such as now, when he walked into the kitchen past his library and the dining hall, and felt the souls subconsciously shifting away from the wall closest to him. Disegno walked behind him, eyeing the rooms and the walls with a critical eye.
“Well, at least black and white are a classic combination,” he said with some approval in his voice, “But what was up with the outside? You had a good-looking façade and the rest was just a… blank box.”
His last words dripped with venom, like blank, boxy buildings were a sin against nature. Tad shrugged his shoulders.
“There was a lovely architect who spent some time here,” he said, “She was inspired to sketch a new house for me, but she found a way to move on before she had anything besides the front drawn. I liked it a lot, though, so I changed the house to look like it.”
“She must be rolling in her grave for having her unfinished sketch used.”
Disegno looked at the kitchen next, when Tad let him past and through the doorway. The took note of the green in the cushioned chairs.
“Colours, huh? Hope you didn’t hurt yourself too much while making this.”
“Colours are difficult,” Tad admitted, “But I have had a lot of time to work on them. Do you want some tea? Or coffee? Or something else?”
Disegno shrugged. His contempt returned, so strong Tad could see it. It seemed that Disegno had formed an opinion of him even before they had properly met. Tad was used to that, but he also felt it was unfortunate to have the person he was supposed to mentor being so hostile.
“We don’t need to start any… shows for anyone,” Disegno said, flute-voice laced with something Tad couldn’t quite recognise, “We don’t need to pretend to like each other. You just teach me – though I’m not sure what you can teach me – until Time is satisfied. Then we can go back to our… ways, and that’s it. This never takes very long.”
“It sounds like you have been in this situation before,” Tad said and put some mugs with hot drinks in them on the kitchen counter. Disegno shrugged again and reluctantly sat down. His perfect posture had changed into a slight rebellious slouch. He didn’t speak, and Tad waited a long moment before he said:
“Well, I would still like to do this as well as possible. You are right that we are very different, and when it comes to your Purpose, you are probably taught elsewhere. Am I correct?”
“Yes. Us muses learn from each other,” Disegno said and tilted his chin upwards a little bit.
“I thought so,” Tad smiled in what he hoped was a friendly way, “So I was thinking that we can find something I could teach you first. Now, I have not been mentoring in a long while, but I always start with going through the current situation and getting to know each other a bit. So I would like to ask you a few questions first.”
Disegno stared at him. Tad nodded towards the mugs.
“Do you now want something to drink?”
Disegno let out a long-suffering sigh.
“Coffee, then,” he said, “With a bit of rum and cream.”
Tad set a cup of the requested drink in front of Disegno and poured some lapsang souchong into his own teacup. He sat down across from his guest.
“Now then, I need to know how old you are, how long you have been actively working, and what exactly your Purpose is.”
Disegno sighed again.
“I was born in the 1700s on Earth,” he said, “I was active for about forty years before going to sleep, and have been active for some decades here and there after that. I’m specialised in composition, design, in proportions and geometrical beauty, but I am also a muse to several other kinds of artists.”
“That sounds nice,” Tad said and gave him another pale smile, “How do you like it?”
“Of course I like it,” Disegno frowned, “It’s what I’m here for. Any other obvious questions?”
Tad dismissed the hostile tone again. He leaned forward and took a sip of his tea.
“Is there anything you want to learn more about in this world? Emotions? Those are often difficult. Social aspects? Getting a different point of view on things?”
“Aren’t those things you suck at?”
“True, I am not good with emotions nor social things,” Tad said, “But we can learn together, if that is what you wish.”
Disegno’s eyes became steely, hateful. Tad wasn’t sure if Disegno hated him or something else.
“I wish for this to be over quickly. I don’t need anything from you.”
He got up.
“Well,” Tad said in a calming tone, “Maybe you can think about what you really want for a while. I am in no hurry. But you do know we need to work together if we want to make Time happy.”
Disegno stared at the wall now. He closed his eyes, breathed in deep and then said:
“Right. Sure. I will.”
“You are free to stay here or go elsewhere,” Tad said, “I can find you.”
“If you stay here, I need to tell you a few rules. First of all, this is first and foremost a place of peace and resting for the souls. They have to be treated with kindness and spoken to politely. And fighting is not accepted here.”
He leaned to his elbows and said in a quieter voice:
“I can see you have a problem with me, Disegno. I hope we can make this work. If you have anything you would like me to do differently or something you want settled between us, I hope you will talk to me about it.”
Disegno let out a small noise. Maybe of agreement. Maybe of displeasure. Then he raised his hand in a dismissive goodbye before walking away. He left behind an untouched coffee cup and the awkward feeling of distrust and something else Tad couldn’t recognise.
Tad listened to the sounds of the skeletal maid – whom he kept around mostly so he wouldn’t feel so alone at home – sweeping the floors. He had a feeling that he needed some advice on how to deal with an angry teenager. He wondered if Amelia had any experience with that.
Disegno walked through the garden that looked like a resting place of a bunch of hungover unicorns. There were so many colours and the plants were scattered so haphazardly that it hurt his eyes. Sure, wild nature could be beautiful, but this was… not wild nature. This was the creation of a thinking being. If one asked Disegno, creations like that needed to be at least a bit more planned than this.
Then there were the souls. A bunch of misfits who couldn’t see their way even when it was right in front of their traumatised noses. Disegno knew how Death’s garden worked, and he thought that it all sounded very… confusing to those who had to wander there. But Death apparently hadn’t managed to think up a better solution even after all these eons.
Just like the cosmic truths to stick to the old and forget about the little ones. Those who didn’t share such endless life spans and all-encompassing forms. They were all so… focused on just one thing.
Sure, Disegno didn’t know Death well on a personal level, but he had heard about him. The sentimental fool had messed things up on Earth because he had wanted to feel something. At least that showed some refreshing change, but it had been stupidly done. And now he was getting “a punishment” which in Disegno’s opinion was far too light.
He kicked the nearest patch of grass in frustration and sat down on a stone bench. Why did Time put him up to this again? Well, he knew the answer to that, but he still had to ask that question over and over again. He knew that he could have been more positive about it, but why should he? Disegno had been to this situation before. He knew what was going to happen. Death may act all nice in the beginning, but ultimately Disegno was just a tool, like a set of keys Death needed to take good care of before he could use them to open the door to freedom. Disegno was fairly sure about that. And even if he at least did try, Death was an incompetent idiot, from what Disegno could tell. The others had told him that Death was a scary stickler to the rules as well. Oh, joy.
Disegno wondered how long it would take for Death to find him if he just got out of his realm and went to the other muses. He didn’t particularly miss home, but he wanted to have some company he actually cared about. And he also wanted to work. But he knew this was work for him. Going through this stupid dance of being mentored so someone else could prove they were responsible enough. And what did that make him?
Disegno sighed and got up. He focused, and the garden melted from around him.
Katarina Walsh had her own fair share of problems. Sure, everyone had problems and some people liked to make themselves into one. That was why her job existed. As a detective in Supernatural Crime Reconnaissance and Investigations, she was supposed to find and apprehend those in the supernatural community who would use their time to wreak havoc in the world. Katarina was good at her job, even though her father had always wanted her to be something safer. She had been his princess. Princess Katinka, as he had called her back when she’d been a child. Now she was just detective Walsh for most people, Tinka to her friends. Dad had finally stopped calling her princess when she had gone past her thirtieth birthday. Reluctantly, though, and that was a part of one of her problems.
Tinka always had trouble with people taking her seriously. It didn’t matter how conservatively or boringly adult-like she dressed nor how much makeup she used to make her face look more mature, she was and always would be mistaken for a teenager. She had been turned into a vampire in a stroke of bad luck when she had been sixteen, and her aging had stopped. And now, when teen vampires were taken less seriously than ever, she was a joke in the community, in a large part of the SCRI, and among anyone she had to act like a detective towards. At least until she had to get dangerous. Then no one really questioned her.
The only person in the whole SCRI unit she worked in who took her one hundred percent seriously was her partner, Nate Webster. They made for a slightly comical yet incredibly effective team. Nate looked like a scary, big man, but he was the more poetic and gentler one of their pair. Sure, both of them could break joints and walls with the best of them, but Nate was much more likely to talk his way out of sticky situations than Tinka was. Tinka, on the other hand, was the one who looked at things and saw little details others missed. And Nate put them together. Together, they were nearly unstoppable. Or as unstoppable as one could be with a limited budget.
They were a part of SCRI’s vampire division, so they specialised in crime that vampires were involved in. Right now they didn’t have anything big on the table. A few stray attacks, one case of a young vampire going feral, and some clues on some vampire crime gangs. A day in the life. Or unlife. Undeath. Whatever one wanted to call it. In any case, it was just another day. That was maybe Tinka’s second problem. She wanted more action. More complexities. More lines on their boards. She was forty-eight, but some things stayed teen forever when one didn’t have life to grow. Things like patience, or lack thereof.
Thankfully for Tinka, then, a couple of visitors were about to make their work a bit more interesting, at least for a while. The phone on Tinka’s desk rang to signal that the front desk had sent people to their office. Soon, footsteps and scents of mortals filled the corridor near their office.
“Hello? Is this the vampire division whose area extends all the way to Riverview?”
Tinka and Nate both looked up at the newcomers. They smelled like trouble, but not bad kind of trouble. More like the interesting kind. Recognition flashed in Nate’s eyes immediately.
“Yes,” he said, “You were involved in that vampire attack there a while back.”
The visitors nodded. The man of the pair tilted his head and said in a smooth, almost carefree tone:
“We might have some clues about where their lair’s located. You guys interested?”
Tinka smiled and immediately put the report she had been writing aside.
“Of course. We’re listening.”
Author’s Note: After all those fun taggy things I figured I should finish this one. 😀 I hope you guys are still there after all this wait. Thank you so much for your patience!
I hope you enjoy and have a lovely time.