What’s the Kitchen For?

Norene led the way into the house, holding the door open for me. By instinct, I went to take my shoes off in the entryway, then paused when I realised Norene had already continued on, feet still shod. Taking a second look around, I reconsidered my automatic action; the place was, to put it bluntly, filthy.

“It’s a bit dusty here, because I don’t spend much time in this part of the house,” Norene explained. I couldn’t tell whether it was in response to my cursory inspection, or just because it occurred to her, and decided remaining silent was probably the better option. “I like the top floor better, because you can see all the way past the border fence if it isn’t raining or something.”

I nodded along. “How many floors are there, then?”

“This one, then two above it.” She grinned. “My room’s at the top. There are a couple bedrooms on the middle floor I’ve not looked in since I moved here, so you can use one of those if you like.”

I suppressed a sigh. If this was a part of the house Norene didn’t spend much time in, I dreaded to see the state of rooms she’d not been in since moving.

“Want to come up and see the view?” she suggested, already stepping toward a hallway I presumed led to stairs.

“Actually, while we’re down here, why don’t you show me the kitchen? I assume it’s on the ground floor.”

Norene looked surprised. “The kitchen? What for?”

I frowned. “So I can see what sort of space I’ll have for cooking.”

“Well…” For the first time since I’d met her, Norene looked uncertain. “I don’t really cook—not many here on the dead side do, since everything comes through the Distribution Office anyway, so I don’t think anything really works.”

That made no sense. “Why would they build a house with a kitchen if nobody uses them?”

“Because they used to, I guess.” Norene shrugged. “The houses here were mostly built before the city was divided, so it was probably built by living side people, and if they all cook, then…”

“Right. Well, I’ll have to do something about that.” I put my hands on my hips. “Show me to the kitchen—I may as well get a look at what I’ll have to work with.”

“Are you sure? They’d probably let you use the kitchens in the Distribution Office if you asked. That seems easier than trying to fix up the kitchen here.”

I snorted. “That’s ridiculous. If we’re to grow anything in the garden, we’ll have to have a kitchen nearby to use. It’s just silly to go out to the Distribution Office every time you’re hungry.”

“Alright, I guess. I’m not sure how you’d get everything to work, though. But if you say we have to if we’re to grow things in the garden…”

I nodded vigorously. I’d already seen how Norene went about doing things she wanted to do, and having her help me bully people into getting the things we’d need would be invaluable. “Definitely. Show me the kitchen!”

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What to Do With a Garden

If for some reason I had thought Norene would live somewhere at least close to my standards for decent living accommodations (which, of course, I had), I was very much wrong. The corner house she identified didn’t have the immediate pungent odour that had assaulted my nose when I’d got within breathing distance of the draugr’s house, but it didn’t appear to be much of an improvement.

“Um…why haven’t you done anything with the garden?” I asked, attempting to at least be polite in the face of Norene’s bright smile. It was the least offensive thing I could think to comment on. A complete disregard of care for the garden was at least on a slightly different level than the same disregard for the actual living quarters. And there was no doubt that the ‘garden’ hadn’t seen any sort of care in a long time. The only vaguely green things in sight were mostly brown and wilted; it looked more like a compost heap than a garden.

“What am I supposed to do with a garden?” Norene prodded at a clump of dead leaves with the toe of her boot. “I’ve never gotten anyone to explain how they get things so brightly coloured on the living side.”

“Well, you could grow lots of things.” This was at least a subject I knew something about. “Flowers, if you were after lots of colour. But they’d only bloom part of the year. I prefer edible plants myself—it makes cooking and shopping so much easier when I know exactly where at least some of my ingredients are coming from and don’t have to worry about pesticides and things.”

“You grow your own food? I like the sound of that. We get everything imported from the living side, you know. Since most people here are dead and don’t eat or eat some human body parts.”

I grimaced at the imagery of Norene’s last sentence, and decided to focus on the first half of what she said. “Well, I don’t grow all my own food, obviously. It’s important to have a varied diet. But I like having things that grow well in the environment in my garden.” I paused. “I did, anyway.”

“Where are gardens in apartments?” Norene asked, taking another of the unexpected changes in topic that I had started to grow accustomed to from her.

“There aren’t, really. I have—had—” I winced at the slip, but Norene didn’t seem to notice, “a few herbs in a window box. For the larger things, I rented some space in a community garden.”

“Huh.” Norene stepped forward and linked arms with me, dragging me towards the front door. “I’m glad you’re my friend. You know lots of interesting things. Do you think we could make a grow things like you did in the garden here?”

Sorry, No Post This Week

Kiley Levinson feels distinctly unwell, and is unable to muster the energy to be upright for long enough to write the usual post.

From Kiley: “I’m sorry. I tried. But getting out of bed seems to only increase the urge to vomit, so I’m choosing to remain horizontal.”

Expect Margot’s story to return as usual next week for a visit to Norene’s house.

Please Not Try to Eat My Brains?

“That was fun!”

“What?”

Norene was walking a pace or two ahead of me. She seemed full of energy, which was the exact opposite of how I felt. I resented it.

“That was fun, wasn’t it?” Norene turned around and walked backwards so she could face me while she talked. “I haven’t read that much in ages.”

“You found that fun?”

She frowned. “Didn’t you?”

“No, not really.” I shook my head. “My brain feels scrambled and I think if I tried to read another word, the letters would melt together and ooze off the page.”

“Huh. That would be dramatic.” Norene turned around to face front again and slowed her pace in order to walk next to me. “Of course, the brain scramble bit is probably because you’re hungry.” She paused. “You know, I knew a zombie once who said if you chopped brains up and fried them they tasted like chicken.”

I shuddered. “It’s things like that that make me glad I’m vegan.”

“Vegan,” Norene repeated thoughtfully. “Oh yeah! Wait, it that the one where you can eat eggs, or the one where you can’t?”

I eyed her warily. I didn’t think she was messing with me, but I couldn’t be sure. “I don’t eat anything that comes from an animal. Vegetarians will eat animal products, but not meat.”

“Aren’t humans technically, animals, though?”

“Yes…”

“Well, then how can you eat brains and be vegan?”

“I don’t eat brains.”

“But you’re a zombie.”

“I’m a vegan zombie.”

“Huh.” Norene frowned. It was the first time I’d seen her frown, actually. “No wonder your brain’s scrambled. Just, when you go brain crazy, will you please not try to eat my brains? I kind of need them.”

“I don’t intend to go brain crazy, but sure, if it makes you feel better, I promise to not eat your brains.” I shook my head. Not a sentence I could have imagined myself saying a couple days ago.

“Thanks! At least now I know that if you do try to eat my brains, you won’t mean it.”

“What? I’m not going to eat your brains, Norene.”

“Of course not! Unless you go brain crazy.”

“I’m not—” I sighed, giving up. This wasn’t an argument I could win. “Where are we going, anyway.”

“To my house. You never said where you live, so I figure we can just go to my place.”

“You have a house? All to yourself?”

“Of course! Don’t you?”

“Well, no, I have—had—an apartment I shared with a friend. Houses are really expensive on the living side.” I sighed. “I always hoped I’d get one one day.”

“Don’t you have a house here?”

“I mean, Sarai, she’s this estrie I met, told me to just pick one and ‘make it mine’, whatever that means, but I haven’t, because I was wandering around, then I met you, and here we are.”

“Well!” Norene gave me a brilliant smile. “You can just live with me! I’ve always wanted a roommate.”

Not a Stranger, Just Strange

“Would someone just tell me what happened?” I demanded. “It’s confusing enough that I’m apparently now a zombie. Add to that the humiliation of not even knowing how it happened and it’s enough to drive a person crazy! Then apparently some stranger knows what happened because she saw it in a vision?” Having run out of words to express my frustration, I threw my hands up in the air.

“I’m not a stranger, I’m Norene.”

“I met you less than an hour ago.”

Norene smiled. “And now I’m not a stranger!”

“She’s not a stranger, she’s just strange,” Liesel put in. “You’ll get used to her.”

“Well, now that’s settled, let’s see if we can’t find your form.” Norene put her hands on her hips. “Shall I start with the desk?”

I stared at the strange banshee. “Is there a reason you can’t just tell me yourself? It was your vision, wasn’t it?”

“Sure, but it was a few days ago now.” She shrugged. “I only remember bits and pieces now, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you much.”

“You remembered enough to recognise me,” I pointed out.

“Well, yeah, because your vision was much more exciting than most.”

“So, doesn’t that mean you remember it more than most?”

“Not really.”

“Best give it up now,” Liesel advised. “Norene’s sweet, but she’s impossible to reason with. Once she’s got an idea in her head, that’s that.”

“I change my mind,” Norene objected.

Liesel gave her a look I could only describe as maternal. “When?”

“Well I can’t think of any now.”

“Of course not.”

Seeming satisfied with how that discussion had turned out, Norene sat on the floor, pulled a stack of papers toward her, and started looking through them. “It’s too bad these aren’t better organised.”

“I would do something about that, but I’m a ghost.” Liesel demonstrated her point by trying and failing to touch a nearby stack of papers. “I’m physically incapable of doing anything about it.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean you, I just meant in general.” Norene shoved a stack of papers in my direction. “Here, Margot, you do these.”

I looked down at the intimidating stack of papers, then at Norene, who had already returned her attention to her own stack. Having no place left to look, I looked at Liesel. She just shrugged as if to say ‘Do what you want.’

“Are these all of them?” I gestured at the room full of stacks and stacks of papers. There were more than could be gone through in a day, that was for sure.

“We can wish.” Liesel grimaced. “This is the fifth ‘Office’, and they all look the same. Except the old ones have more in them.”

“Why didn’t they just move the papers to a warehouse or something?”

Liesel snorted. “Because someone decided that ghosts should be in charge of paperwork. And that said someone didn’t think it would be useful to assign someone corporeal to to handle the paperwork.”

“So all you could do was just find a new spot for your office?” I shook my head at the insanity.

“Yep. That’s the dead side for you.”

Concerns of a Dying Ghost

“Was your scream at least an interesting one?” Liesel asked. She was now standing next to Norene, one foot in—not on or next to—a stack of papers. One of her fingers flicked idly in and out of the desk. Not creepy at all.

Norene didn’t pause her scribbling. “No. Just a vampire transition procedure, following all the rules.”

“Ah, that’s no good,” Liesel complained. “It’s so boring here. You’re the only one who ever comes around; the others all just leave their forms in the collection boxes, and the kid who drops them off doesn’t think I actually exist.”

“Can’t you read the reports?” Norene suggested. “There must be some interesting ones in there.”

Liesel scowled. “I haven’t been able to interact with corporeals for days now.”

Norene stopped writing to give Liesel an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” She wrote another word or two, then looked up again. “Not even when you’re materialised?”

“Not even then,” Liesel grumbled. “I might as well fade out now, there’s so little I can do.”

“Don’t be silly, there’s plenty of time before then.” Even I could tell that Norene’s assurance was absent-minded at best. Then again, absent-minded and chatty seemed to be her regular manner, so I wasn’t sure I could read much into that.

Liesel made a noise of disgust. “You know, the worst part is, I can’t even be mad at you, because you’re the only one who ever talks to me anymore.”

“Do you want to talk to anyone else?” Norene asked.

“Of course she does,” I retorted automatically. “Nobody wants to talk to just one person.”

“What would you know about anything?” Liesel snapped. “You’re a fresh zombie who doesn’t even know how to identify non-materialised ghosts.”

“So? Humans are social creatures, no matter how introverted.”

Liesel laughed, a sound that managed to be both high pitched and sort of gruff. “Human. That’s a good one. I like your new friend, Norene. She’s just dumb enough to be amusing.”

“Hey!”

“Be nice,” Norene chided. The weight of her admonition was somewhat diminished by the fact that she looked at neither Liesel nor I when she said it, instead still focused on her form.

“I’m never nice,” Liesel countered.

“Sure you’re not.”

It occurred to me to me that now would be a good time to say something else about human nature, but since I couldn’t think of anything, I didn’t say anything.

“Say, if you wanted entertainment, have Margot find the report I wrote for her transition,” Norene suggested. “Now that was an entertaining scream.”

“There’s a written account of how I got turned into a zombie?” I demanded. “Where?”

Liesel snorted. “Does this place look organised to you? Finding one particular form in this mess would be a pain in the ass. And you probably wouldn’t find it until after I’d faded away, and what am I supposed to do in the meantime, watch you dig through papers?”

I looked around at boxes and stacks of papers, none of which seemed to have any order besides wherever was convenient to leave the papers at a given time. “It’s not just about you,” I insisted, ignoring the problem of finding it for the moment. “I’d like to read it too, and not just for entertainment.”

“Why?” Liesel demanded. “You lived it, what do you need to read it for?”

I scowled. Saying I couldn’t remember would just cement her opinion of me as a stupid newcomer who didn’t know how to look after myself.

“Oh, Margot can’t remember,” Norene explained, heedless of my feelings on the matter. “No surprise, considering her state of mind.”

The Offic[squid monster]

Norene called it ‘the office of things important enough to keep, but not important enough to keep track of’. I did try asking her what she meant, but the first time she didn’t even realise I’d asked a question because she was too busy telling a story about some cousin who’d gotten killed on the living side (she didn’t seem to notice the irony), and the second time she merely answered “You’ll see,” and started peppering me with questions about traffic rules.

I didn’t need Norene’s “Here we are!” to tell me that we had arrived at the office; a big sign reading ‘The Offic’ did the job quite well, in spite of the graffiti that had turned the final ‘e’ into some strange squid monster.

“So—”

“Come on, I’ll introduce you to Liesel,” Norene interrupted, skipping ahead to hold the door open for me. I stepped gingerly across the threshold, not wanting the broken glass scattered about to damage the soles of my shoes. Shoe stores didn’t seem to be something the dead side bothered with.

“Who’s Liesel?” I asked, looking around at the stacks of papers piled pretty much everywhere. There might’ve been a desk against one wall, but it was swallowed up by several boxes and a veritable mountain of papers, folders, and a few other assorted odds and ends I couldn’t immediately identify.

“She only works around dusk. The only time she can manifest, since she’s fading.”

“Sorry, what?”

“Please don’t talk about me like I’m not here,” a mournful female voice requested. I looked around, but unless she was hiding behind something (quite possible, given the number of things to hide behind), the woman speaking would have to be either invisible or not actually here. At this point, I wasn’t sure which, if any, of my theories could be easily discounted.

“Sorry, Liesel.” Norene didn’t seem bothered by the fact that we couldn’t see the speaker. She didn’t even show any particular inclination to look for her. “I thought maybe you were in the back room. Do you have a new scream form somewhere?”

“Sure,” Liesel’s voice replied. “Over there.”

“Over where?” I asked, still looking around. Maybe I’d missed something?

“Liesel, you’re not manifested. I can’t see where you’re pointing.”

Not manifested. Of course. Not manifested, that made perfect sense. “Um, not manifested—what does that mean?”

“The box by your friend’s foot.”

“Ah.” Norene leaned past me to pull a sheet of paper out of said box, then hopped over several piles of papers to retrieve a pen from the desk. “Thanks. What time are you manifesting now?”

“Just an hour on either side of sunset.”

I shivered. Did the voice sound closer?

“Just a couple of weeks now, and I’ll be invisible all the time. Then I’ll be gone entirely. Gone from the world, and probably forgotten by the end of the year.”

“Don’t be silly,” Norene scolded while busily scribbling on her form. “I won’t forget you. Margot won’t either. Right?” Norene gave me an expectant stare.

“Uh, right.”

“Hardly comforting,” Liesel retorted. “She won’t last much over a year either.”

“Hey!” I turned instinctively to glare in the direction of the voice, and found myself face to face with a semi-transparent woman several inches shorter than me with large glasses perched on her nose and a caste mark I’d never seen before. “Aah! Where did you come from?”

The woman’s eyebrows went up. “Been here the whole time,” Liesel replied. “Since before you walked in, or didn’t you notice?”

“Give her a break,” Norene chided absently. “She’s new and you weren’t manifested.”

Liesel sniffed, but didn’t argue with Norene.

I didn’t bother coming up with a coherent response. It took all my willpower not to curl up in a ball and wish the world away. Or at least wish a world that made a little more sense.