Something About a House – II: Mercy

 

Leaving the house was cheating. Not technically — there were no actual rules to mercy, except that you stopped trying to kill your opponent when they cried “mercy” — but if Zebra had found Katters out here, sitting on the hood of the car, he would have cried “foul” first. And he knew she would have done the same, if she’d found him.

But cheating is only cheating if you get caught.

He sat on the hood of their rented, puke-green four-door and stared up at the house. In the interest of not getting caught, he needed to kill time until he was sure she was far away from the foyer, so she wouldn’t see him sneak back inside.

He did like the house. He almost wanted to keep it, but it would never be worth the hassle or the expense of owning a second home in a different country. It was too far away to be convenient, too close to be exotic.

But what he really wanted was to know why it was his now, in the first place.

It wasn’t a mystery why Great-Uncle Anthony hadn’t left it to any of his many, more-deserving relatives. Great-Uncle Anthony was even more of a black sheep than Zebra was, and had been pushed away from the family when Zebra was very young. But that was just it. Zebra barely remembered the man. He had never been invited to the house for a holiday, had no fond memories of bonding with his great-uncle over whatever it was people did for fun in Bayhedge. Had no fond memories of his great-uncle at all.

Why had the house been left to anyone? Why hadn’t Great-Uncle Anthony died in as much familial obscurity as he had lived, and let the house go to the bank, or whatever friends he’d gathered in his old age?

It was time to go back inside. If he waited too long, Katters would loop back around to the foyer, and he’d be stuck out there until she went back upstairs again. And his butt was getting cold.

He slid down from the hood of the car, dusted off the seat of his slacks, and crept up the porch steps. He kept his hand in his pocket, on the derringer he’d stolen from Katters’ luggage. Continue reading

Something About a House – I: The House

Gravel crunched under-tire as Katters and Zebra neared the end of their road-trip. It had taken ten hours of almost constant driving, but they’d made it to Bayhedge.

They were not in the quaint, seaside town they’d envisioned. Instead, Zebra drove them through a dense, uninhabited wood, over a side-road that twisted dangerously through the fog. His new property did not coexist with the rest of Bayhedge so much as sit above it, looking down on the city like a gargoyle.

He could not tell at what point, exactly, the gravel road turned into a gravel driveway. The trees which could sometimes be spotted looming in through the fog dwindled in frequency until the car was left alone with the road and a flat wall of grey. Here, all sound seemed to disappear — even the tires sounded distant, as though the entire world had been swallowed up by the fog and digested into nothing.

Katters lit a cigarette. Her scales and snout were illuminated orange for a moment, then faded back to their normal, brownish colours. “Yeah,” she said, rolling her window down. “This looks like a real fun place to live.” Continue reading

Swap, pt. 4

 

He had been doing really well, right up to the point where he passed out. Sor liked to think it was her magic’s guidance that had been doing all the work — the idea that Zebra could be good at something, something she was good at, something she took pride in, that would be too much for her to bear.

“Zebra!” she shouted into his face, taking his shoulders and giving them a good shake. “Zebra! Are you in there?!”

He didn’t respond, so she slapped him. It was satisfying, loud and violent, even though she was slapping her own face. But he still didn’t respond, and she was starting to get worried. He was still alive, but if he was in a coma or something, there was no way to get to the magic inside him. And that meant there was no way to switch back.

And that was unacceptable. She might have been able to handle being trapped in the wrong body for the rest of her life, but Zebra’s? No. A thousand times no.

Thankfully, he groaned and tried to sit up, jerking to his elbows before collapsing back to the stone floor. Sor resisted the sudden and strong urge to throw her arms around him, to hug him in her relief.

“Zebra!” she repeated, and he groaned again, pain painting his stolen face. There was a pink spot blooming over his cheek, through Sor’s false scales and equally false mouth, but he seemed to have other things to worry about just then. “Can you hear me?” she asked.

He nodded, his head wobbling drunkenly, and he tried sitting up again. This time, he succeeded.

“So,” she said. “We may need to revise our previous deadline to ‘lunch’.”

“What,” he managed. “What was that?”

“That was a backfire. You tried to cast a magic but it couldn’t get out.”

“It was—” He tried to stand, but slipped and fell back to his ass. “It was,” he repeated, fishing for words.

It was weird to see him at a loss, but Sor could get used to it.

“I know. Backfires are intense, even when you’re working small. It can be traumatic. Don’t try to stand up, yet.”

He ignored her, struggling to his feet. “Intense,” he said, trying the word out. “Yes. Intense.”

“Seriously, you should give yourself a minute, at least.”

He wobbled, but didn’t fall down, steadying himself with his arms held out away from his sides. “It was amazing.”

“What?”

“Aside from the part where it hurt like, like hell. Aside from that part. That was a rush! It was great!”

“Oh, jesus,” she muttered. “Okay, you’re fried. Don’t worry, it’ll pass, eventually.”

Of course, it wasn’t him who was worried. Continue reading

How the Zebra Stole Christmas

Director’s Commentary

The rain came down hard that Christmas Eve, rattling against the roof of The Katters’ and Zebra’s Inconspicuous Meat Pie Shop and Tonsorial Parlour. Inside, Katters and Zebra were curled up at opposite ends of the couch in the living room, sharing an obscenely large, blue comforter. Both had festive and obscenely alcoholic drinks, though they were not themselves in very festive moods.

“There’s something—” Zebra’s cheap Santa hat slipped down over his eyes and he pushed it back to its proper place. “There’s something off about this time of year.”

“Yeah,” Katters said, breathing peppermint. “I know what you mean.”

“I used to love Christmas. But now it all feels so forced.”

Katters nodded. “It’s, we’re, it’s because we’re adults, now. All the magic is gone.”

“Is that it?”

“Gone forever.”

“No,” Zebra said. “I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think Christmas magic is rel— releg— I don’t think it’s just for kids. Adults can get into the Christmas spirit, too.”

“But they do it for the kids, get me? You get into the Christmas spirit because you’re spreading joy for small people. We don’t have any small people to foist Santa-related lies onto, ergo we have no Christmas spirit.”

Zebra took a thoughtful drink, a minty chill spreading into his sinuses and an alcoholic burn spreading through his chest. “No,” he said again. “I still don’t think that’s it.”

“Well, what is it, then, Mr. Smart Guy?”

“No.” Zebra sat up, energised by an epiphany. “You know what it is?”

“What?”

“We’re on the naughty list. We’ve been seasonally ostracised by Santa Claus. There’s nothing to look forward to come Christmas morning — that is to say, no presents.”

“I thought presents were antithesis to the true meaning of Christmas. Rudolph said so.”

“Rudolph can go fuck himself. Presents are an enormous part of Christmas and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a fool. But more importantly, Katters, this is a problem we have with a very simple solution.”

“Does it involve moving?” Katters sunk deeper into her comforter cocoon. “Because I’d rather not.”

“If we’re missing out on Christmas spirit because we’re on some kind of blacklist, then all we have to do is take some Christmas spirit for ourselves. Be proactive. Take initiative.”

“You don’t mean—”

“I do!” Zebra said, scrambling to his feet. “Tonight, we steal Christmas!”

Continue reading

Swap, pt. 2

 

K. Whimsy’s Books and Et Cetera — Sor’s bookshop — was five stories tall, and topped by a tree growing from the fifth floor balcony. The store looked out of place on the quiet street, surrounded by buildings much shorter than it.

Zebra leaned Sor’s body against the wall as she searched for a key.

“Sor,” he said, bored.

She hushed him. “Keep your commentary to yourself until we get into the lab,” she said. “The last thing I need is one of my employees finding out about this.”

“Right,” he said, and straightened. “Well, while you’re rummaging through my pockets, I’ll just unlock the door, shall I?”

Sor froze. “Oh,” she said. “Right. These are your pants.”

Continue reading

Swap, pt 1

Sor broke into the pie-shop in the middle of the night.

She had to use up a vial to do it — one of the cork-stoppered containers filled with someone else’s magic she kept on her person at all times — but there was no avoiding it. The only other option was to wait until the pie-shop was open, and she had a very good reason for not doing that, which she had known earlier (just after performing two medium-sized spells and a small one) but which escaped her memory now.

She paused just inside the door. Shit, she thought. Was this a bad idea? It was probably a bad idea.

Continue reading