Running Shoo – Episode 99

I’m a big enough girl that I can admit when I’m wrong.

We’ve been here over a week now and the most suspicious thing they’ve done is over-feed us.  I’m not an idiot either. I am aware of the classic red flag that is strangers taking kids in and feeding them up. I’ve been paying attention.

I’m not sure if I’m technically a kid anymore but Nom definitely is and good luck feeding her up. She is a bottomless food-hole.

And okay, yes, Nom is probably older than me. Since she was dug out of ice in a mine, she could be thousands, even millions of years older than me, but she’s still a kid.

That should have been a clue to her constitution too. All the time on the road I spent worrying about her and her tendency to eat, well, anything; she wasn’t going to get poisoned. In stories, people get frozen in ice and survive. In the real world, you don’t come out peckish after being flash frozen, you emerge slushier than when you went in, and dead.

Not Nom though.

I should worry less.

So, they’ve been feeding us. They have a crazy amount of food. While there’s crops and goofclucks out the front, there’s an entire farm community out the back. The landscape is a hidden dell nestled between rocky hills pocked with geothermal vents and geysers. The very ground is warm. When everything was still covered in snow, they were a productive farming community and the main source of food for Gold-Under-Shadow.

Now the snows have receded, and this strange, catch-up Spring has dumped life everywhere, they’ve discovered they not only have crops of an order of magnitude greater than before but of a variety they never imagined.

Where previously, they grew vegetables and mushrooms, they now have abundant fruit-trees, legumes, marrows and a whole cornucopia of other things they never planted. There are even grazing herds of deer-like things and cattle.

Suddenly, they found they had more than they know what to do with.

Now they know – put it in mine and Nom’s faces.

No objections here. One habit that becomes bone-deep on the streets is that when food is given to you, you ruddy well eat it, and Nom will never complain about being fed.

But I’m still not an idiot.

Based on the Don’t Trust Over-Friendly Strangers Principle, I spent the first night awake, ready for them to come bursting I the door to slaughter us and feed us to their god or something. They didn’t. Nevertheless, I spent the next day not letting Nom leave my side and sticking my nose in every building, eavesdropping on every conversation and exploring every nook and cranny I could.

I slept lightly the second night and spent the day searching too, waiting for the other shoe to drop on us. I couldn’t find anything. There are a few miles of farmland out the back and I think I explored every inch of it until Nom was complaining pretty much constantly.

Day three I allowed Nom to wander but kept an eye on her and, based on the Too Good to be True Principle, I started creeping about at night like some stealthy ninja. I was expecting to find a strange fire-lit gathering where they were promising our bodies to some otherworldly abomination or, I don’t know, something involving tentacles and/or cannibalism.

Nope.

At night, they went to bed.

I went out every night for five nights straight. Every single night. I didn’t let my guard down for a moment and do you know what I eventually discovered?

Going out every night makes you really, really tired.

*

“Shoo this place is so good. Everyone is really nice. They let me eat all the goofclucks I want,” Nom says not long after we’ve got up. “Is this the best place in the world? There’s got to be one. Do you think this is it?”

I’m cleaning my teeth and spit into the sink, “Maybe,” I say.

I can’t argue that they treat us well and feed us whether we need it or not; a sure sign of luxury. I can’t say I’m comfortable with them letting Nom eat the birds live and whole, but Nom is. Besides, I’ve seen and done worse.

“Can we stay here forever?”

There it is. This is the first time she’s asked that directly and it’s the solution to my problems. I can leave her here, get her settled in, then disappear off home. Sister Quashelle and her friends are weird but kind. Stay clam, Shoo. Poker face.

“Sure, if you like it.”

Nom gasps and clasps her hands together under her chin, “You mean that?”

“Of course, though I may have to, um, pop away for a bit,” I tell her and by that I mean ‘pop’ away forever. Nom’s face starts to fall, so I add: “but I’ll come back.”

Yeah, that’s a lie.

It works though, Nom’s enthusiasm ramps back up again and she hugs me.

“Wow, we can stay? Thanks, mum! I mean Shoo. Wee! New home! Yes! I’m going to have a goofcluck to celebrate,” she exclaims and runs outside, where I hear the goofclucks squark in alarm.

I’m not worried about the birds though.

What did she just call me?

Mum?

No.

No no no.

No, that’s not a thing, we can’t creep into that territory.

It makes abandoning her doubly guilt-inducing, maybe triply. Gods. I’ll be like my own mother. I don’t know what happened to her. I remember her and I remember being on the streets, but not what happened in between. The other street kids just told me she kicked me out. Poor Nom. She’ll be orphaned by the ice and then abandoned by me.

Can I do that to her?

What would that make me? I’ll be as bad as my sainted, hated mamma. No no no. This is too much. Why did she have to call me that? I’m a kid myself. I shouldn’t have to deal with this crap. It’s not like I’ve done the deed with someone and fired the little worm girl out myself. I’m still a girl. I’m not even sure if I could. In fact, I know I couldn’t. Definitely not. Period. No, I shouldn’t have to handle this. I can’t. I can’t.

My breath is coming really quickly. I can hear my heart beating; I can feel it in my face. Thump thump thump right in my cheeks. You shouldn’t feel your heart in your face. That’s not right. That’s not normal. Oh, my days, is the room getting smaller? It is. The room’s getting smaller! I can’t breathe. I mean I can mechanically breathe but I think it’s not getting air to my lungs.

I definitely have to get out of here now.

Like, right now.

I grab my stuff and practically fall out of the door of our room.

In the muddy courtyard outside, I see the tall Sister Quashelle glide past.

“You!” I say, lurching towards her, probably still dribbling toothpaste. She looks at me in alarm, so I make an effort to compose myself. “Do you, um, need anything from town?”

The gaunt blue woman blinks as she reassesses my threat level (from maniac to merely unstable probably) and her face lights up, “Why yes, we could do with some things. Let me see, general goofcluck antibiotics, Iodine, and, erm… one or two other things. I’ll do you a list.”

“Ok,” I say, and give her a sweaty, minty, wide-eyed grin.

She nods and hurries off.

A list, good. The more the merrier, bring it on. Give me a cart to fill up, I need to be away from here for a bit. Is everyone looking at me? It feels like everyone’s looking at me. No-one’s looking at me. I can feel cool air in my lungs out here, but everything is still spinning. No, not spinning, it’s sort of wonky and my heart’s still going like a hummingbird in my chest.

I think I’m going to have a brain aneurism.

Calm down, Shoo. Get a grip on yourself.

I take a few deep, slow breaths.

She better get a shifty on with that ruddy list or I’m going without it.

*

By the time I’ve walked the short distance to town, I’m calmer.

What was that? I think that must have been a panic attack. I’ve heard of them, but I never realised they were so… so… Gods, I thought I was going to die!

Halfway to town, I realised I’d grabbed my pack and all my weapons. Knowing I had my bow Queenie, my spear and my sword made me feel safer and calmer and the more distance I put between myself and the community and Nom with her, gods, with her mumming, the better I felt.

I walk through Gold-Under-Shadow in a daze, heading into the woven buildings with their cords running up to the monolithic crashed ship in a semi-trance as if I’m on auto pilot.

I see people. I may even return their greetings. I spot that familiar rectangular ship cruise overhead, lower now, and register it without paying attention. I go to stalls in the market and buy everything on the list, exchanging money and pleasantries all without really doing it. I may as well be watching myself.

Eventually, I find myself in the food hall.

Dello, our favourite duck-headed moot waiter has glided up and asked what I want.

Want? What do I want?

Now that’s a very good question.

“Pancake,” I tell them. They whizz off towards the kitchen in the middle.

What do I want?

What do I want to do?

What should I do? What’s the right thing?

I almost prefer it when people or monsters are trying to kill me. You don’t have to worry about doing the right thing then. You just have to not die. Simple. Now apparently, I have to figure someone else into my calculations as if they were as important as me. As if they were more important than me. That’s where the guilt is coming from, I think, and the panic.

Some messed-up parts of my inner workings are screaming at me that Nom is the most important thing in the world. What the hell is that? That’s not natural.

Another part is saying, very clearly: Run, Shoo. Run.

“I said are you okay?” Dello’s voice says.

I jump and look up. They’re back. With pancakes. That was quick.

“What?”

“Haven’t seen you for a while,” Dello says with a kind smile on their ever-smiling duck’s bill. I can tell when Dello’s smiling now, it’s an extra crinkle in their cheeks. “Is everything okay with the community?”

Oof. Big question.

Is everything alright?

Well, my brain’s about to fall out, Dello. It feels like some essentially small questions with humungous answers have turned into extra brain jelly and crammed themselves inside my skull. I’m just a girl, lost, trying to get home. That’s it. But it turns out that somehow along the way I’ve been a sort of mum to a smaller girl; a strange half human, half worm-girl. I may be a mum to a worm, Dello. And I’m about to abandon her. Like my mamma did me. I can’t deal with that. I think, at any second, my skull might blow up, firing brain jelly all over you and those pancakes, Dello. They’re delicious and they won’t be improved by my brain matter, Dello. Does that seem alright to you, Dello? Does it?

“Oh, um, yes. Everything’s fine,” I say. “All the people seem nice, I guess.”

“They are,” Dello agrees. “Sister Quashelle too. She’s a bit crazy, but harmless.”

Wait. What?

“Crazy? Crazy how?”

I must have a tone because Dello puts up in a feathery hand in a calming gesture, “No, now don’t get me wrong, she’s kind and would help anyone with anything.”

“Crazy how, Dello?” I insist.

“Well, you know, a religious nut.”

Okay, it’s okay, I knew she was religious. I’ve seen their chapel and their services. They have a nice little sing-along, say some reassuring things about how much their god loves them and is looking out for them, and then they eat some cake.

“I’ve seen a bit of praying, but that’s it.”

“No, of course. She doesn’t push it on anyone or anything, but you know how these doomsday cults are. A bit weird. Do you want syrup?”

Oh, for gods’ sake.

“A what cult? And yes please.”

“Doomsday. She believes, what was it, oh yes, that the great worm will devour the planet and the sun,” Dello says, looking around for some syrup.

“The great what?” I squeak

“Worm,” Dello spots some syrup on another table and turns to get it. “I – hey, where’d you go?”

I hear those last words from behind me, presumably addressed to my still-spinning stool, as I accelerate towards the door.

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