LNH20/ACRA: NHOP # 2 [repost]

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Thu Oct 22 03:26:59 PDT 2015

So, to recap: starting on her twenty-second birthday, Maggie Bernard
has undergone a nightly transformation into a pink flesh-eating
monster, and accidentally killed her best and only friend, Tyler
Bridge. Eager for a change of scenery, she placed an advert looking
for a roommate and a place to stay. The ad was answered by Lily
Paschall-- who undergoes her own transformation, on a monthly basis,
into a rock monster-- and Maggie has just said yes.
   Lily reaches into her shirt and produces again the honey-do list
that her French girlfriend Michette had drafted for her. She flattens
it against the wall and with four thick strokes of her pen crosses out
"find a roommate". She pumps her fist in the air enthusiastically. "I
am the master of finishing this list. Well, two-thirds, anyway." She
grins. "I am the master of two-thirds of this list! Maggs, how are you
with fixing leaky bathroom faucets?"
   The problem turns out to be pretty simple; the rubber washer has
worn down, preventing the faucet from being turned off unless it's
tilted just so. The two of them head to the nearest hardware store,
the Stuff Store, and wander down the aisles for about fifteen minutes.
Maggie holds the washer in her open palm like it's a baby bird until
at last they find the other rubber washers. Somehow, Lily gets lost on
the way back to her apartment. Lily had also gotten lost on the way to
the Stuff Store, but she manages to get lost in a completely different
way. A rare talent, that.
   The girls return to Casa de la Lily, and the long and short of it
is that Lily crosses the faucet off of her list, and then proceeds to
do something that might charitably be called a victory dance, emphasis
on the "charitably." Maggie turns her attention away from her
soon-to-be-roommate to the prominent book shelf in the living room.
She noticed that several of the books had tiny pentagrams on the
   "Are you guys Wiccans?" she asks.
   "Oh, those are Michette's," says Lily. "And no, she's Catholic. And
French. And a demon hunter."
   "Like, a paranormal investigator?" says Maggie.
   "No, like a demon hunter," says Lily. "One who hunts demons.
Vocationally. As a job."
   "Is there really a big market for that?"
   "Not so much," says Lily. "And demon-hunting is apparently a very
costly business, lots of overhead. Calls for saffron a lot, oddly, and
it has to be saffron; you know how when you cook, you can use turmeric
and paprika in place of saffron?"
   Maggie holds her hand flat with the palm down and gives it a "sort
of" wobble so as not to be argumentative.
   "Can't do that with demons, apparently. Has to be saffron. So we
have loads and loads of the stuff. Which is still not enough,
apparently, where we can use even a pinch in some paella. So,
expensive business, demon-hunting. Not a lot of money in it, no. I'm
pretty much the winner of the bread and, again, I play the oboe
part-time, not a lot of money there, either. Which is why we need ato
third to split the cost of non-saffron related expenses."
   Maggie's about to say something when she hears the hiss of water in
the bathroom. The faucet is running full-blast, and the sink quickly
filling up with water. Maggie turns it off, and the water slowly
recedes into the basin.
   "That's weird," says Lily. "I could've sworn you turned it off before."
   "Me too," says Maggie.

 !!!!  !!! !!!   !!!  !!!!!!!  !!!!!!!!
 !!!!!!!!! !!!   !!! !!!   !!! !!!!  !!!
 !!! !!!!! !!!!!!!!! !!!   !!! !!!!!!!!
 !!!  !!!! !!!   !!! !!!   !!! !!!
 !!!   !!! !!!   !!!  !!!!!!!  !!! # 2
             ~IN WHICH~
 There are strange (and moist) goings-on.

Maggie's family seems completely uninterested in the news that she
would be moving out. It's almost as if they thought she had already
done it, or if she wasn't a sibling or daughter at all, but a cousin--
someone whose life was in theory bound up by blood with theirs, but
whose life or death, wants or needs, happiness or heartbreak had no
   "I'm never coming back," Maggie decides in a whisper. Not for
Thanksgiving, not for Christmas. She'd just feel alone and isolated
anyway, so why not be alone and isolated for real? I'm never coming
back. Not to this house.
   And not to this room. Strangely, now that she's in her room for the
last time, she doesn't feel the same creepy eyes on her. Doesn't feel
the same desperate need to run. But neither does it feel like her own
room anymore. It's a stranger's room, and she feels-- well, strange--
packing up this stranger's things and calling them her own.
   Most of it she'll take with her. Her clothing, of course. Her
jewelry. Her DVDs and DVD player, her VHSs and the old TV/VCR combo to
play them on. She once had a menagerie of stuffed animals but the
night Tyler died, some of them got in the way and were absorbed into
her blob-body. The next day, her faeces came out with huge clumps and
stringy strands of polyester plush, in addition to pieces of Tyler's
flesh and hair.
   She's crying now, big sticky streams of tears, and though it's
hard, she resolves to leave the surviving stuffed animals behind. It
makes her hurt too much to look at them. It reminds her too much of
   Oddly, she packs up the board games Tyler bought her precisely
because they remind her of him. He was always trying to get her into
modern games. Games where you can make meaningful decisions. Games
about trading in the Mediterranean, and games about saving the world
from disease, and running space empires, and being a farmer in the
Middle Ages, and trains. God, did he love games about trains. Maggie
never quite shared his passion for the games-- trains or otherwise--
and she suspects it was to his disappointment. But that didn't stop
him from buying her games he thought she would like, from searching
for the right "gateway game" that would make it all click. She had
twelve of them before he died.
   No. Not twelve. Thirteen.
   Hidden beneath FORBIDDEN DESERT ("we're trying to find pieces of a
magic airship scattered in ancient ruins buried beneath the sand, and
probably we're going to die of thirst!") and behind CHICAGO EXPRESS
("it's about trains and stock, and it has dials!") is a box wrapped in
newspaper. The birthday present he never got to give her. That was
very much like Tyler, to hide it among her other games. He probably
would have said, hey, why don't we look for the pieces of a magic
airship but die of thirst?, and she would pull out the game, and there
underneath it...
   That's what would have happened. What should have happened. With
clumsy hands, alone in her room, she pulls at the newspaper. There's a
bird on the cover that looks like a kiwi. THAT'S LIFE, it says. "It
sure is," she says. "Well, what's this one about, Tyler?"
   As near as she can tell, he doesn't answer. She puts it in the
cardboard box with the rest of them, and carries the boxes, one at a
time, downstairs and out onto the porch to wait for Lily, who is an
hour late.
   "Did you get lost?"
   "A little bit, yeah."
   "But I made you a mapquest."
   "You did," says Lily, waving the print-out. "I'm sorry, Maggs; I
get East and West mixed up."
   "But it doesn't say East or West," says Maggie. "It says left or right."
   "I get those mixed up too. This is your stuff?"
   "This is my stuff."
   Lily picks up a box. "Those your folks?"
   "Those are..." She turns around. Her mother and father are standing
on the other side of the door. They stare at the pebbles on Lily's
face, which now cover half of her forehead. "These are my parents.
Mom, Dad; this is Lily."
   Her father makes a little grunt. Her mother doesn't say anything.
They wham the door shut.
   "Charming," says Lily.

Maggie and Lily spend the next hour lugging the boxes into the
building, up two flights of stairs, and into Maggie's little room. As
Maggie starts to unpack, Lily looks around the room and frowns.
"Doesn't really look like a bedroom, does it?"
   Maggie shrugs. "Well, I have to get everything unpacked."
   "No, I mean, a bedroom, by definition, needs to be a room that
contains a bed."
   Maggie cast a sideways glance towards her sleeping box. "I wouldn't
be using the bed anyway. Just takes up room."
   "Well, sure, to sleep in," says Lily. "But what if you have a
gentleman caller?"
   "I don't have gentleman callers," says Maggie, a little testily.
   "Well, you don't have lady-friends," Lily prattles on, obliviously.
   "You don't know that."
   "Oh, yes I do. Puh-lease, Maggs; you're the straightest girl I
know. After the first five minutes, I knew that. Puh-lease; puh, and
lease. I have impeccable dykedar. I mean, listen: my French
girlfriend, I'm not sure if I've mentioned it, but she's French. Which
means she's super-jealous, because France. New roommate's a cute
straight girl, that's fine, but a cute lesbian? Bitch won't even let
me use her precious saffron. She will have a total connipt-fit. Um.
Don't tell her I called her a bitch. She's French, and from France,
and doesn't understand that it's a term of endearment over here. It
will also cause her to have a connipt-fit. Which is kinda hot
actually, but... are you okay?"
   "I... I just need some time to unpack."
   "Sure; sure. I'll leave you to it. Holler if you need anything."
Lily withdraws from the room, closing the door behind her. A few
minutes later, Maggie hears her turn on the shower.
   "Gentlemen callers," mumbles Maggie distantly. She'd have thought
herself lucky if she ever lost her virginity, but that was before she
started turning into the pink thing. She's pretty sure that in
addition to being grotesquely overweight and perpetually depressed,
she can add "may digest you when cuddling post-coitus" to her list of
reasons why she was going to die alone. And even if she did find
someone who was willing to put up with and overlook all of that,
there's still the fact that she hasn't had a period since her
birthday. That, as far as her doctor could tell, she was never going
to have a period again. Never going to have a baby. That's the cherry
on top.
   She's crying now. "Why?" she asks a corner in the ceiling. "Why,
God? Why did you do this to me? Why... wuh, why can't I be happy? I'm
not, I'm not a bad person. I try to be nice to people. I'm not
perfect, but I'm not bad. Please. Please. Please tell me why. I think
I can handle it, maybe, if I just knew why. Please tell me, God.
   This corner in her ceiling, just like the one in her parents'
house, does not appear to answer.
   "Hey Maggs!" calls Lily outside her door. Maggie hears a fist
knocking on wood a little ways down the hall. "Maggs!"
   Maggie snorts back her tears. "Yes?"
   "I feel like shitting blood tonight." (Maggie sees the chunks of
flesh and muscle that she passed the morning after her birthday.) "So
I'm going to make some pizza rolls. You want some?"
   "Sure; thanks."
   "Where are you?" says Lily. Maggie's door opens and Lily peers in.
She stares at Maggie, and Maggie at her, and the moment would pass in
total silence if not for the sound of the shower running.
   Maggie points toward the bathroom. "You didn't...?"
   Lily shakes her head, then beckons Maggie by twice curling four
fingers into her palm. Maggie gets up off the floor and follows.
   Lily takes a breath, and slowly, silently, encircles the bathroom
doorknob with one delicate hand. One of her knuckles has been replaced
by a tiny but jagged little brown-grey stone. Lily looks at Maggie.
Maggie just gives a little nod, and Lily throws open the door.
   The shower squeaks off.
   "Huh," says Lily as they peer in.
   That's when the door slams shut in her face. The shower spritzes back on.
   "Shut the door in my face," says Lily with a little huff. She
throws the door back open. The door tries to shut itself again, but
Lily kicks it back with her foot.
   As if in response, the vanity faucet hisses to life, running
full-blast. The toilet flushes. Then there's another sound from the
kitchen. They run to check on it.
   The sink's running there, too. Lily cracks her knuckles, takes
another breath, and turns it off. It stays off.
   That's when they hear the bathroom door slam shut. "I thought you
were watching it!" cries Lily.
   "You didn't tell me!" says Maggie. "I don't know what the protocol is!"
   Lily tries the knob. "It's locked! And the water's still running.
Oh man, the landlord is going to kill us."
   There's a sudden change in the sound. "Hold on," says Lily, putting
her ear against the door. "It's stopped running the faucet. Shower's
and toilet's still running. Ha! Ha, and ha again! Joke's on you, man;
utilities are covered as part of our rent."
   "I don't understand," says Maggie. "What's going on?"
   "Oh, heck if I know," says Lily. "Ghost, probably. Or demon."
   "A ghost or a demon," says Maggie. "Sure, right."
   "Luckily, neither of them like saffron, and we've got lots of it.
I'm pretty sure Michette would sanction using her saffron for
supernatural, instead of superflavorful, ends."
   "Do you know how to use it?"
   "Not in the slightest," says Lily as if she's proud of the fact.
"But I figure it'll be like ants."
   "Like with cinnamon? Cordon it off, so they won't cross it?"
   "Yep," says Lily. She tries the knob; still locked. "We'll
demon-proof the kitchen first."
   Lily makes a rectangle of saffron around the sink. "Well, that's
damn near two grand," she says bleakly. "This is why we're reduced to
eating pizza rolls."

The problem with pizza rolls of course is two-fold. First, the
contents of said roll-- which, like all allegedly pizza-flavored
things, has little to do with or that tastes like pizza-- exist in a
binary heat-state; that is, the inside of the roll is either 200
degrees Fahrenheit or minus-ten, but never any state in-between.
Eating a pizza roll is not a matter of timing it so as not to get
burned; you will get burned; it is a matter of getting burned, and
liking it.
   Secondly, and more to the point, pizza rolls are not really
digested. Once swallowed, they do not proceed down the esophagus to
the stomach, its "nutrients" are not dispersed throughout the blood
stream, it does not go into either intestine. It skips these
altogether-- or, to put it a little more directly, it goes in one hole
and out the other. And so:
   "It's still locked!" cries a panicked Maggie as she tugs at the knob.
   "You open this door!" demands Lily. She pounds on the door with the
side of one fist. Her other hand is squeezed around an ounce and a
half of saffron in a plastic container. "Open this door right now, you
meshugenah ghost or demon! I will kick it down! I have kicked down
doors before. This one would not be a problem!"
   "Really?" says Maggie.
   "Well, no," says Lily. "But he doesn't know that. Well, he didn't
until now, anyway. OPEN THE DOOR!"
   "He? How do you know it's a he?" says Maggie.
   "It just feels like a he," shrugs Lily.
   "Like an intuition?"
   "Like who else is going to pull a stunt like this?" says Lily.
"It's eminently male. Oh!" She holds her body straight as a needle,
legs tight together, and hops frantically up and down. "It's coming
out! Damn it, you open the door!"
   "We can just find another bathroom," says Maggie. "Maybe one of
your neighbors, or the coffee place around the corner..."
   "It is a matter of principle!" says Lily solemnly. Said solemnity
is undermined by her continued hopping.
   Lily tries the knob. It opens.
   "Is it... is it safe?" says Maggie.
   "I don't care!" says Lily. She rushes in, closing the door behind
her. A moment later, she screams.
   "Normal scream, Maggs. Pizza roll-related. Everything's fine in here."
   A moment later, Lily opens the door and hands Maggie the saffron.
"All yours."
   "The haunted bathroom's all mine," says Maggie, wrinkling her nose. "Great."
   "You'll be fine," says Lily. "He didn't hurt me. Even turned the
water on so I could wash my hands."
   Maggie stares into the bathroom. Her palms are sweaty and her
stomach is broiling.
   "Keep the door open," offers Lily. "I won't look. Much."
   Maggie's not sure why it is that she goes into the bathroom. For
Lily, it had been a "matter of principle", and Maggie was as
principled as the next girl, but not about where she did and didn't
take a crap. She could have, probably should have, taken her own
advice and ran down to the coffee shop.
   Maybe it's because Lily's there, goading her on. Maybe it's because
the ghost or demon or whatever hadn't hurt her, so why should it hurt
Maggie? Or maybe it's because Maggie doesn't really care if it did
hurt her.
   Whatever it is, Maggie walks into the bathroom, leaving the door
open behind her. She starts to undo her pants, then remembers Lily.
She turns to look at her. Lily covers her eyes with her fingers, and
cheekily spreads them apart to peek through them.
   Maggie rolls her head, almost but not quite laughing, and sits down
on the throne, pulling her pants down to just above her knees. As she
does her business, she becomes cognizant that the faucet is dripping.
Drip-drip-drip. The loose, exposed skin of her thighs grows taut with
gooseflesh. Drip-drip-drip. Her stomach churns again, but she doesn't
think it's the pizza rolls this time. Drip-drip-drop-drip-drip-hiss.
The water's running from the faucet like a little rainstorm.
   Maggie's head snaps to look at Lily. Lily starts to move into the
bathroom, but something throws her back. The door slams shut, and
locks with a crisp little click. The lights go out.
   Now the shower runs. Maggie's stomach is doing back-flips, but it's
not the indigestion. It's that feeling again, that feeling like the
whole room is looking at her, like the whole room is hating her. That
feeling she had in her own bedroom. The feeling she came here to get
away from. It followed her. Whatever was in her room has followed her
here and has her locked in the bathroom and it's a demon or a ghost
and she's probably going to die.
   Without wiping or flushing, she pulls up her pants and heads
towards the door. She fumbles to undo the lock, but it's stuck in
place, like it's been rusted shut. "Come on come on come on," she
pleads. Her face is sticky again; she's not sure when she started
   On the other side, Lily is pounding on the door, demanding Maggie's release.
   Maggie feels something cold and wet against her back. She turns to
see the showerhead moving, bobbing and weaving like a snake, its head
pointed at her.
   "I have saffron!" she remembers, holding it up in her hand. She
thrusts and jabs the container in the general direction of the
showerhead like a crucifix at a vampire. Something suddenly tickles at
her wrist and she drops the saffron.
   She bends over to reach for it, but it's already rolling away from
her. The water continues to spray in her face and against her body.
   "Please, let me go, let me go!" she begs the showerhead. "Why are
you doing this to me? I didn't do anything to you!"
   The saffron container flings from the floor into the air as if it
was being kicked. Maggie jumps back against the door, but the saffron
isn't flying at her. Instead, it hits the mirror on Lily's medicine
cabinet, hits it so hard the glass cracks.
   And in the cracked glass, Maggie sees a face. The last face she
sees before everything goes cold and black.


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