A Clean Sink in a Dirty Kitchen

“Margot! Maaaargot!”

I groaned. What now? Wasn’t I allowed to get any sleep?

“Margot!” A knocking sound came from my bedroom door. “Margot, wake up, the water’s working!”

The what is what? I rolled over, covering my ears.

“Margot, we have running water!”

Finally the meaning of the words penetrated my brain. Water. Running water, after two days of undead strangers coming in and out of the house at all hours and a seemingly constant banging and clanging that had given me a splitting headache.

I dragged myself out of bed and staggered over to the door in time to nearly get hit by it as Norene lost patience and decided to come in.

She grinned, oblivious to the fact that I was still about half-asleep and not in the greatest of moods. “You are awake! Did you hear me? The water’s—”

“—working, yes, I heard you. And no, I wasn’t awake, not until your shouting woke me up.”

“Sorry.” Norene looked sheepish for only a moment. “But the water’s working!”

“You said.”

“Isn’t it exciting?”

I smiled in spite of myself. “Shall we go test it out, then?”

“Oh! That’s a good idea. Why didn’t I think of that?” Norene continued to chatter away as she preceded me down the stairs. “You know, there are almost no other places on the dead side that have running water like this. As far as I know, anyway. The banshee compound, obviously, and the Distribution Office I bet, and probably some of the really old ones, but otherwise it’s just us! That makes us pretty special!”

“Only because you’re the renegade banshee with secret information to trade.”

“Oh, I’m not that special.” Norene pushed through the door into the kitchen and pointed at the sink, almost bouncing in excitement. “Look, look, look! They cleaned it too, it’s all shiny.”

“I should hope so.” I walk over to the sink to have a look. They’d done a good job. If the rest of the kitchen was still covered in a thick layer of dust, dirt, and who knows what else, the sink had been scrubbed until the stainless steel looked almost new. “Running water wouldn’t do us much good if it wasn’t clean.”

Norene frowned. “But it’s the sink that’s clean. The sink doesn’t make the water clean, does it?”

I looked at Norene in surprise. She talked so much about entirely random things it was easy to forget she was actually quite an intelligent and observant person. “I should have thought of that. Did that spriggan say anything about where the water comes from?” Having spent most of my life on the living side where access to clean water was a matter of course, it hadn’t occurred to me to ask.

“No.” She paused. “I don’t think he knows.”

“Hmm. I guess we’d better go pay another visit to the draugr’s house.”

“Ooh! This’ll be fun, he’s interesting.”

Well, observant about some things.


Shenanigans and Consequences

“Meredith Ann Hawkins!”

I turned to see a woman striding down the street toward us; so much for getting a moment of peace and quiet. Her expression, already clearly angry, was only made more frightening by the zombie caste mark slashed across her face. It didn’t exactly take a genius to figure out that this must be Meredith’s mother.

“I thought she wouldn’t yell if you said you were with me,” Norene whispered, eyeing the woman with more wariness than she’d shown even to the banshees.

“I haven’t told her yet?” Meredith suggested, though even she didn’t look like she really believed it.

Norene sighed. “First Maeve, now your mum. I left the banshee compound so people wouldn’t yell at me.”

Meredith’s mother came to a halt, arms crossed and looking disturbingly like my own mother, several paces from us. “Well, young lady? What do you have to say for yourself?”

Meredith opened her mouth, paused, and looked at Norene a moment before speaking. “I was with Norene.”

“Here at her house?”


“Nice try. It might’ve been more convincing if there hadn’t been a rather large group of people waiting for Norene to return home for the last half hour.” She gave her daughter a piercing stare. “The truth now, please.”

Meredith looked at her feet and mumbled something unintelligible.

“So I can hear you, please.”

“I was wandering around the city, then I ran into Norene and Margot, and they made me come back with them.”

“And you went along with this because…?”

I had to hand it to the woman: she knew her daughter well.

Meredith heaved a sigh big enough for someone twice her size. “Because Norene said she’d tell you I was at her house.”

Her mother shook her head.

“It’s not a lie!” the girl protested. “I am at her house. Now.”

“Is that supposed to make it better? Really, Norene, you should know better than to let my daughter drag you into her shenanigans.”

“It’s not Norene’s fault! It was my idea!”

“And while I’m glad you’re willing to take responsibility for your actions, I am nevertheless disappointed. Go home. You can join your brother in cleaning up the mess he made.”

“But mommy, it’s not my fault he broke the window!”

The stare Meredith’s mother turned on her daughter was one I’d seen many times, though on my own mother’s face, and usually directed at my sister Tabitha.

Like most children faced with such a look, Meredith wilted. “Fine,” she muttered, and shuffled off down the street, dragging her feet and generally going as slowly as possible while still actually moving.

Her daughter duly scolded, Meredith’s mother turned to me and closed the distance between us with one hand extended. “I don’t believe I’ve made your acquaintance. I’m Meredith’s mother, Jane Hawkins.”

I shook the proffered hand. “Margot Lucas. Norene’s invited me to live with her.”

Jane smiled. “Well. With any luck, you’ll have more sense than my daughter or Norene.”

“Uh, nice to meet you.”

An Estrie and a Penguin

Despite her calm defiance, Norene seemed surprised by Maeve’s abrupt departure. She stared after the retreating banshees for a moment, then turned to Sarai. “Wait, who are you again?”

I opened my mouth to reply, then closed it when I saw Sarai do the same.

However, it was Meredith who piped up first. “I told you. She’s Sarai. She’s an estrie. That’s like a vampire, but not a vampire. The best part is that she can turn her hair into wings.”

“Wings?” Norene blinked at Sarai, who sighed.

That would be the detail she fixated on.

“Exactly! She can fly. Not like penguins.” When no one immediately responded to this observation, Meredith continued. “Penguins have wings, but they can’t fly. Mommy says it helps them swim, but that’s silly. Fish don’t have wings.”

“Yeah, but fish have fins, which are sort of similar,” Norene pointed out. “And ducks can both swim and fly.”

“But penguins are supposed to be birds. They have wings, but they can’t fly.” Meredith crossed her arms. “It’s dumb.”

Sarai looked over at me. “I see you’re making friends fast.”

I shrugged. “I think she just sort of adopted me.”

“I’ve been watching Norene for a while. Banshees like to keep a short leash on their own; makes them feel powerful. I can’t tell whether it’s intelligence or obliviousness that prevented her from buying into it like the rest do.”

“You know you sound like a stalker, right?”

Sarai’s lips quirked up in a smile. “It’s my job to know things.”

I just looked at her. “Right, and that’s not creepy.”

“You’re a zombie living with a banshee in a neighbourhood full of dead folks, and you’re concerned about me being creepy?”

I grimaced. “Point.”

“So what’s with the spriggan and his crew? I just came by to see if you’d gotten anything from Vidar yet, but it looks like you’ve already been to see him.”

“More like he heard I was friends with Norene and wanted a meeting. I just leveraged a couple more things from him in exchange.”

Sarai turned her full, penetrating stare on me. “You’re trickier than I thought. They teach you that at vegan school?”

I could only stare back. “Vegan school? Really?”

She shrugged. “I’ve been stuck in this little bit of town for centuries. It could’ve been a thing.”

“Well, it’s not. Us vegans go to regular school just like everybody else.” I paused, looking over at Meredith. “Is there even a school for kids on this side of town?”

“Technically, the banshees do. Or so I’ve heard. There’s a reason Vidar wanted a meeting with the renegade banshee. They like to keep their secrets.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed.”

“Well.” Sarai reached back and started loosening the ties on her hair. “You’ve dealt with the draugr and the banshees, so as long as you don’t get on the wrong side of Aldith, you should do fine here.”

I cringed. “You mean the lich? I met her this morning.”

Sarai paused to look at me. “You do move fast.” She finished freeing her hair, and it flared out into the wings I’d seen before. “Well, I’ve got things to do. Later, Merry!”

“See, look! She makes her hair into wings, and she can fly!” Meredith grinned up at Sarai’s rapidly dwindling figure. “Bye, Sarai!”

“Huh,” Norene added. “Wings.”

Banshee Standoff

As Jowan’s friends—associates? Employees? Indentured servants?—set to work on the pipes in the kitchen, I held out a hand to the spriggan. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

The spriggan swept into another of his melodramatic bows, then seized my hand and kissed it. “The pleasure is all mine, Mistress Lucas.”

I yanked my hand free and wiped it off on the back of my shirt with a grimace. “Right. I’ll just—” I pointed vaguely towards the front of the house. “Go…see how Norene’s doing…” I hurried away before he could do anything else weird and antiquated. Pleasure had probably been too strong a word. Then again, at least he didn’t smell roadkill left out in the sun for several days, so that was something.

When I stepped back outside, I almost turned right around again—not because what I saw was frightening, although that was one possible descriptor, but because I thought a loud burst of laughter wouldn’t be much appreciated by the audience. Maeve and her banshee henchmen looked as grumpy as they had when I’d left; Norene looked almost as annoyed. Sarai looked as if she’d had far more practice holding back laughter than I had.

It was Meredith, however, who held everyone’s attention. She was in the middle of what seemed like a lengthy lecture with the sort of passion one could only expect from a child whose age could still be counted on a single person’s hands.

“—and she doesn’t have to listen to you anymore because she has her own house, and there’s no rule that says she has to live with you!” Meredith crossed her arms and scowled fiercely. She hadn’t said ‘so there’, but she might as well have. “Plus, she’s big enough to make her own decisions, so you should just go away.”

“Would someone please remove this zombie child and take her back wherever she came from?” Maeve demanded with chilly courtesy.

“I’m not going anywhere. Norene said I could come visit.”

“Norene?” At this point, I was almost surprised Maeve’s word didn’t come out of her mouth in the shape of perfectly formed ice sculptures.

“What?” Norene shrugged. “She’s right.”

“That’s beside the point!” Maeve huffed. “It’s long past time you returned to the compound with your sisters. If you have any belongings in this hovel—” She broke off to give the house a skeptical look. “—fetch them now, then we’ll escort you back home.”

Norene didn’t even make a show of considering Maeve’s demands. “No. I am home.”

Maeve sputtered.

“Your defiance is irrelevant,” one of the other banshees said.

“Not really,” Sarai interjected, speaking for the first time. “Merry had it right. The Immortals only care that people stay on the proper side of the fence. You can demand all you want, but the banshee council doesn’t actually have any power to enforce anything outside the walls of the compound.”

“This is none of your business, vampire!” Maeve snapped.

I winced; Meredith grinned.

“Estrie.” Sarai smiled, revealing fangs. “And I misspoke earlier. There is one other thing the Immortals care about. Keeping peace on the streets. And that is my business. So unless you’d like to continue making a scene…” She trailed off, staring pointedly down the road away from Norene’s house.

Maeve went red in the face. She opened her mouth, then closed it again. “Fine.” She glared at Norene. “This isn’t over.” Then she stomped away down the street. Her two henchmen scurried after her.

Welcome Guests and…Others

By the time we got back to Norene’s—and my—house, I was just about ready to scream into a pillow. Who knew two people could talk so much about nothing at all? Well, in Meredith’s case, it wasn’t that much of a surprise, but Norene was, in theory, an adult. Come to think of it, though, I actually had no idea how old she was. She looked mid-twenties, but what did I really know about her? I’d known her less than a week.

I’d known her less than a week, and I’d already moved in with her. If the situation were any different, I’d be convinced I’d lost my mind. Then again, the caste mark on my face proved I was a zombie, so maybe I had.

“Hey, why are there so many people outside your house?” Meredith pointed as we drew up to the house

I blinked. “Wow.”

There were at least ten people loitering by the front door in what looked like tense silence. I recognised only three of the faces. One was the spriggan we’d met just this morning, and he appeared to be accompanied by five or so short-lived dead types. Another was Norene’s sister Maeve, flanked by a pair of incredibly grumpy looking banshees. The third was Sarai; she was the only one who didn’t seem to have come with an entourage.

“Hello—” Norene began.

It was Maeve who interrupted her. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Norene frowned. “Walking?”

Meredith snickered; Maeve glared at her.

“You’ve been sharing our secrets,” the banshee on Maeve’s left accused. “With one of the dead.”

A smirk played at the edges of Sarai’s mouth. “You say that as if you’re not surrounded by the dead.”

Maeve scowled in Sarai’s direction. “We have rules. You’ve been allowed to run about on your own for long enough, Norene. You’ll be coming home with us now.”

“And what are you going to do if she doesn’t want to go?” I crossed my arms, staring the banshees down.

“Yeah!” Meredith mimicked my posture. “Norene doesn’t live with you anymore because you’re mean!”

Sarai chuckled; she seemed to be the only one enjoying this standoff. “You tell them, Merry.”

“Norene.” Maeve chose to ignore the rest of us. “We’re going. Now.”

Norene took a sideways step closer to Meredith and I. “But I don’t want to go.”

“You’ve had your rebellion, you’ve made your point.” Maeve looked over her shoulder at the run-down house. “You can’t honestly want to stay in this dump when you could be in the compound with running water and heating.”

“Actually—” the spriggan interjected.

Maeve held up an imperious hand. “No one asked you.”

“I was just going to say there’ll be running water and electricity for this house by the end of the week,” the spriggan informed her.

“What?” Maeve turned her full attention on the spriggan. “There’s no way she has the resources for that.”

The spriggan shrugged. “I wasn’t privy to the details of the deal that was struck with Master Stenberg.”

Maeve gritted her teeth. “Norene, you need to come home to your sisters before you do anything else you regret.”

“Are there any boy banshees?” Meredith whispered, leaning towards Norene.

I swallowed a laugh, then turned to the spriggan. “Jowan, wasn’t it? Why don’t we step inside to discuss the details of the work to be done.”

He bowed to me with a flourish. “After you.”

Intoxicated Trouble (with Zombies)

Meredith, it turned out, was nearly as chatty as Norene. And she seemed to have an endless supply of stories, usually concerning her brother’s misdemeanors and subsequent punishments from their mother, or her own rule-breaking exploits. She left her own punishments out of the storytelling, though. Sprinkled throughout were various instructions and bits of advice, always preceded by the phrase ‘mommy says’.

“Do you get in lots of trouble, Margot?”

“What?” I’d mostly tuned out of the conversation, but now I looked down to find Meredith staring up at me. “Um…”

“I know of at least one time,” Norene told Meredith in a conspiratorial voice. “She wouldn’t be here with us if she never got in trouble.”

“I thought you said you didn’t remember!”

Norene shrugged. “I don’t. Just that it was exciting, and you were definitely trouble.” She grinned, entirely unapologetic.

“Remember what?” Meredith demanded, tugging on the hem of Norene’s shirt. “Do you mean how she became a zombie?”

“Exactly that. Margot doesn’t even remember it, and she didn’t just see bits of it in a vision, she lived it.”

“Wow. Does she have that thing old people get? The sickness that makes them forget things?”

“I’m right here,” I grumbled. “And I don’t have dementia.”

“Then how come you don’t remember?” Meredith pressed.

I stared straight ahead. “I was…intoxicated. Probably.” Children. They asked entirely too many questions.

“What’s intonic…incoti…cated?” Though she stumbled over the word, Meredith didn’t seem embarrassed in the slightest by her ignorance.

“Intoxicated. It’s what happens when you have a kind of drink that makes your brain not work as well,” Norene explained. “Alcohol. Although it could be a drug, too. There are lots of kinds of those.”

“Why would you drink something that makes your brain not work right?” Meredith was making a skeptical face. “That’s stupid.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t usually drink, and I definitely don’t do drugs,” I retorted.

“I don’t know, I’ve heard it can be fun,” Norene argued.

“Fortunately, I doubt alcohol is on the list of things the Distribution Office hands out.”

“That makes sense,” Meredith agreed. “If it messes up your brain, it might make zombies go brain crazy.”

“I don’t know of any zombies who’ve had alcohol, but I know the banshees have some. And they don’t get it through the Distribution Office either.” Norene put a hand over her mouth. “I probably shouldn’t have said that.”

“Why not?” Meredith demanded.

I sighed, and turned my attention elsewhere as Norene dove into another explanation of the banshee council’s secretive ways. The whole thing made me think the banshees had too much time on their hands.

(Don’t) Do as You’re Told


I jumped at the cry, then braced myself as a small body came barreling towards us. When I realised it was Meredith, the zombie child who’d tried to eat Sarai’s brains, I thought she must be brain crazy again. When she crashed into Norene and gave her a big hug, I revised that assessment.

“Merry!” Norene replied cheerfully, returning the hug.

After a moment, Meredith pulled back, grinning up at the banshee. “Hi!”

Norene’s answering smile was just as wide. “Hi. What are you doing so far from home?”

Meredith clasped her hands behind her back. “Nothing…”

“Does your mum know you’re doing nothing out here?”

The child considered this for a moment. “Yes?”

I snorted. “Meaning no.”

Meredith stuck her tongue out at me.

“How did you get away?” Norene asked. Despite her questions, she seemed merely curious, rather than disapproving.

“Hugo broke one of the windows again. So while mommy was distracted yelling at him, I ran off.” The truth out, Meredith grinned proudly at her accomplishment.

“You know your mum’s going to yell at you for sneaking off.”

Meredith stared up at Norene, scheming thoughts written all over her face. “Not if I say I was at your house.”

“But you weren’t,” Norene replied.

“But I could be.”

This time it was Norene’s turn to think. Then she shrugged. “Alright then. But we better get there before your mum realises you’re missing.”


I looked at Norene. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”


Meredith grabbed hold of Norene’s hand and started pulling her forward. “Norene doesn’t do what she’s told either,” she told me.

“Yes, but I got yelled at too when I lived with the banshees.”

“But you don’t anymore.” Meredith looked thoughtful. “Can I come live with you, then? So mommy won’t yell at me?”


I let out the breath I hadn’t had time to hold. I would not have assumed she’d give the sensible answer.

“Then your mum will come yell at me.”

A sensible decision, maybe, but not exactly sensible reasons.

“Aww.” The girl pouted.

“Oh! I almost forgot!” Norene exclaimed. “Merry, this is—”

“Margot!” Meredith grinned at Norene’s surprised expression. “I met her after I tried to eat Sarai’s brains.”

“Oh. Huh.” Norene looked at me, and I nodded. “Wait, who’s Sarai?”

I was surprised. Norene seemed like the sort of person Sarai would know. Then again, just because Sarai knew her didn’t mean Norene would have any idea who she was. I opened my mouth to respond, but Meredith beat me to it.

“She’s like a vampire, but she can make her hair into wings.”

“An estrie,” I added.

Norene frowned. “I’ve never heard of that before.” Then she brightened. “You’ll have to introduce me!”