Lamia - Chapter 18

Published at 4th of August 2023 05:34:33 AM

Chapter 18

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Even if Hallowe’en only involved staying home and handing out candy, it was a good excuse for dressing up, and that was always fun.

Christian checked that he had everything he needed laid out on the bed and the top of his dresser, then stripped to change. Val would be here in a couple of hours, and he wanted to be ready well before she did.

Girl’s underwear, substantial enough to keep boy bits tucked back more or less out of the way, and shimmery-gold pantyhose over legs he’d shaved earlier; a bra, into which he tucked a pair of balloons with peanut butter inside, shifting them around until they were symmetrical and stable.

The dress had been his mother’s, and she’d given it to him with her blessings a couple of Hallowe’ens ago. Peacock-blue with a swirly pattern in vivid green and purple, it reached to his knees, and the sleeves fit close down to his elbows and flared into dramatic bells from there to his wrists.

He’d bought a pair of comfortable knee-height black boots with low heels some time ago, because they worked with most of the costume ideas he came up with for any situation.

With half a dozen chunky plastic bangles on one wrist, it actually didn’t look too bad, he decided. Since he wasn’t all that confident about his ability to do anything more elaborate with his hair than a ponytail or a simple braid, he brushed it out and used an elastic hairband, the blue similar to the dress, to pull it back from his face while leaving it otherwise loose. That was going to have to do.

Lying on the dresser, next to the glass box they normally lived in, was a pair of earrings.

Cecilia had made them, incredibly delicate things knotted from embroidery thread in a rainbow of colours. With help from her own hulder friend Hanna and from Rosa’s harpy friend Iambe, she’d woven into them a subtle illusion.

Watching in the mirror, he slipped them into place. Because they were irreplaceable for both sentimental and practical reasons, he added regular earring backs onto the hooks to make sure they couldn’t slip off by accident and get lost.

The illusion didn’t change anything dramatically, just softened lines a bit, smoothed out the tone and texture of his skin, made his lips look more full, blurred just enough to make the rest of his preparations look just a little more realistic. Despite having been created during his last year of high school, they did nothing to make him look younger. That wasn’t their purpose.

Iambe had been the first to start referring to Chris with female pronouns whenever those earrings were in play; when Chris had gone along with it, the rest of the family had done so as well. No one had ever made a fuss about it. It just sounded sensible. They were meant to enhance the impression of being a girl, so why undermine that by using masculine pronouns, even for internal dialogue? Gender labels mattered about as much as orientation labels did: mostly they were something being applied from outside in an attempt to categorize something that, for Chris, lacked any hard edges.

All dressed, with the earrings on, she had only makeup left to do. She couldn’t afford the really good kind, especially not when she used it so rarely, but she did know reasonably well how to use what she’d picked up. A little research at the public library had confirmed what she’d expected for the era: go heavy on the eyeliner and blue eye shadow, but stick with just darkening her lips with a matte bronze that looked natural on her golden skin and leave it at that. Doing makeup while leaning over the dresser with a reading lamp on wasn’t ideal, but she could manage.

Knuckles rapped on the half-open bedroom door.


Mark pushed the door open, and paused. “Well. That’s... colourful.”

Christian winked at him in the mirror with one half-painted eye. “Hallowe’en is fun.”

“Hallowe’en is worth the effort of illusion? Which you aren’t very good at?”

“I’m terrible at illusions. This was a present from my grandmother. Also not great at illusions but it’s a small one.”

“Your grandmother gave you an illusion to help you look like a girl. Seriously.”

“Yes, and my mom taught me how to do makeup and stuff. I’ve been doing girl costumes for Hallowe’en and for parties and things since forever. Why?” She switched to a deeper blue for the outer corners.

“I... nothing. Forget I said anything. I’m the last person to care what you wear or how it fits with gender roles, whether it’s special occasions or every day.”

“Now you’re being silly. It’s way too much work for every day, for those of us who can’t just visualize a look and have it come out perfectly. And makeup and a lot of extra clothes get expensive. Plus trying to figure out whether I’m going to have to explain to anyone... not worth it, I just don’t feel that strongly about it. But it’s fun when I have a reason. Was there something you wanted?”

“I’m heading out. The city’s full of parties tonight, public ones and private ones, and I can get myself invited in anywhere. I expect to be very well-fed by morning.”


“That said... I will have my phone in reach and I will be listening for you. I’m not the only one who considers Hallowe’en a good night for hunting. You should be fine if you’re just here in the house handing out candy with Val, but if you do decide to go out, let me know, please? I’d like to be able to make sure I’m not on the other side of the city from you or something, just in case.”

Not that there was anything intrinsically special about Hallowe’en as a date on the calendar. It was all cultural. Humans broke their own rules for it and abandoned many expectations, and so they were more likely to see what was actually there without even knowing they were; liminals, in turn, often found that irresistibly tempting. It was highly improbable that anything residing in the city was going to go on a murder spree, but there were tricksters out there who would be living it up.

“I will. I still don’t know whether I’m going with Val afterwards or not. Depends on how I’m feeling after dealing with lots of kids, I guess. Although it can’t be that tiring, watching a movie and eating Chinese food and giving out candy.” There. It wasn’t quite perfect, the way the two blues shaded together, but it was unlikely anyone else would notice that. Carefully, she added a narrow line of blue under her eyes.

“You’ll, mm, probably pick up a few admirers, looking like that. You’re going somewhere safe if you go out, right? Nowhere it’s likely for someone to recognize you and get rude?”

“AIDS project dance. Val says she’s heard that the local drag queens who do shows now and then are all coming in full glory. Me being dressed like a girl is nothing.”

“Okay, good.”

“You’re a little paranoid, possibly. I’ve survived Hallowe’en every year before.”

“With Vadin around.”

“Mm. I guess. I’ll make sure you know where I am.” Chris switched to a near-white blue to add highlights near the inner corners of her eyes.

“That’s all I wanted. Have fun.”

“You too. Good luck hunting.”

“I don’t need luck.” Mark left the door ajar and walked away.

Chris spent a bit longer fussing with makeup, trying to get it to look the way it did in her head, and finally concluded that it was as good as it was going to get and anything further would just mess it up. She put her glasses back on, checked the overall effect in the full-length mirror, and smiled at her reflection, twisting her head a little to watch the rainbow earrings shimmer with the motion. Created with limited resources and expertise and a hint of magic, it nonetheless pleased her.

There was still some time before Val was due to arrive.

She picked up her current book and took it downstairs with her.

Since the dining room was familiar and right inside the front door, she left her book there. While the kettle was heating for tea, she filled a large bowl with a mixture of mini chocolate bars and similar goodies. It was still early, but it wasn’t impossible that parents might start taking kids around the neighbourhood well before sunset. For one thing, the temperature dropped fast after dark, especially under the kind of bright clear sky they had today. Winter coats were the bane of many a child’s Hallowe’en costume.

She took a moment to check on Sid, who was safely locked in the den with a litter box in one corner, food and water in another, a radio on low, plenty of toys, and his favourites among Cecilia’s blankets. He’d be much safer, and much less likely to get scared, while still being close enough that she could peek in on him now and then. Hallowe’en, like many other human holidays, wasn’t fun at all for pets, and making sure he had a quiet, low-stress night mattered.

The broad window bay at the front of the dining room comfortably held a rather elderly couch with a bedspread in somewhat better repair over it to make it look a bit less disreputable when clients came over for more detailed Tarot readings than they could get at the store. Chris settled there with her book and her tea to wait for Val and listen for early trick-or-treaters.

A knock at the door drew her out of the story, and she hastened to answer the door.

“Hey, Val. C’mon in.” She stepped back to make room.

“There’s a bit of a bite to the wind out there,” Val said, coming quickly inside so Chris could close the door. “It’s been worse on Hallowe’en, though. At least there’s no snow.” She handed Chris the string net bag she carried, then unzipped her coat and shrugged it off, hanging it on the free-standing coat rack not far inside the door. “How’s it going, gorgeous? Gotta say, if I saw a cute girl looking like you at the dance, I’d be trying to find a way to talk to her.”

Chris laughed. “Thanks. Oh, wow, that looks great.”

Val grinned, straightening her tricorn hat over a ragged red-and-black-striped bandana. “Arr, but of course, matey, and my thanks.”

A white blouse, a black velvety vest with holes up the front to lace it overtop, red-brown tights and a length of that same red-and-black-striped fabric tied over it in a sort of asymmetrical scarf-skirt, laced ankle-high boots, all worked well together. She’d added a loose belt with an obviously fake dagger on one side and sabre on the other, a lot of cheap gold-toned costume jewellery, and a tricorn hat with a red feather in it. Altogether, it was unmistakably piratical.

“Seriously,” Val added, “a lot of pirates were educated and upper-class and even military, and there were some kick-ass women, but who cares these days? It’s Hallowe’en. I’ll go back to respecting history tomorrow.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

“So, hang out in the dining room and hand out candy, then order Chinese to eat while watching Mars Attacks! which by all reports should be wonderfully warped. And after that I’ll head to the dance, and you can come if you feel like it by then. Right? Still on the same page?”

“Absolutely,” Chris said.

“Just you and me still? I’m fine with Mark joining us, he knows that, right?”

“He knows. He has other plans for tonight. He doesn’t feel left out, trust me. I’m going to duck outside and make sure the candle is lit in the jack-o’-lantern. Help yourself to the kitchen, you know that. I’ve just been sitting in the dining room, since it’s close to the door.”


Lighting candles, especially in the confined space of a pumpkin’s insides, was much easier when there was no need to mess around with matches. It had taken Chris ages to gut and carve it, with a bit of assistance; the birds and squirrels had taken care of the innards with enthusiasm. Leaving it on the porch, right next to the steps up, might be asking for someone to kick it, but she wasn’t worried.

With a Hallowe’en mix-tape on Chris’ small portable stereo, they relaxed on the couch, indulging in the odd bit of candy themselves, just chatting between visitors. The first few were spaced out more widely, but as it grew later, the frequency increased.

“Those are both really good costumes,” Val said, offering the bowl to a pair of four-foot boogeymen, one grey-brown, one more grey-green.

One of them grinned past her at Chris with teeth that were much too sharp, but said innocently, “Thanks. And thanks for the candy.”

“Oooh, peanut butter cups,” the other one said enthusiastically, reaching into the bowl with a clawed hand. Val presumably thought that was a glove, and that the tail dragging on the ground was fastened to a belt or something under that ragged tunic. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” Chris said. “You have treats, so no tricks.”

“Of course not,” the former said.

A bit later, Chris heard multiple voices outside, and one of them outright shrieked.

“What on earth...” Val started.

“Mostly a good neighbourhood but there always seem to be a couple who try stupid pranks. I’d better make sure no one got hurt.”

“I’ll come. If anyone’s in that kind of mood, you’re safer if you aren’t alone.”

Right in front of the house stood a trio of older teenagers all in black. One was holding a plastic bag that very obviously had the shapes of rolls of toilet paper inside; another had one that was almost certainly cardboard cartons of eggs. A third was trying to clean egg and egg shells off his sweatshirt, cursing vehemently the whole time. They ignored the door opening a few feet away, more intent on each other.

“Problem?” Chris asked casually. It was rather funny, and hard not to laugh. He must have thrown the egg at the front of the house, and one of the resident liminals or elementals had intervened.

All three whipped around to face her.

“What the fuck?” the one covered in egg spluttered. “Eggs don’t bounce!”

Chris shrugged. “Apparently they do. Are you expecting me to apologize or something? If you hadn’t thrown it, you wouldn’t be wearing it. It’s a really old house. There are stories about ghosts on Hallowe’en who really don’t like anyone messing with it. Maybe one of them threw it back.”

“There’s no such thing as ghosts!”

Yes there were, just not here. “Just bad luck, then, I guess. Stay off my property and away from my house, and that includes throwing things at it. There will be someone awake and present all night, and we will call the police if you come back.”

The teenagers spat more profanity, which Chris assumed was meant to make them feel like they were more in control of the situation; she shrugged again and simply closed the door. She paused to listen, though, holding up a hand to stop Val from speaking.

Sure enough, she heard a very faint thud, and then the swearing escalated again.

Val peeked out the window. “Seriously, they immediately tried again? And it looks like the same thing happened. Do you have protective ghosts in this house? ‘Cause I’ve never seen eggs bounce like that.”

“Dunno. If so, it’s only on Hallowe’en, never picked up on anything otherwise. And presumably they’d be my ancestors, since my family built it in the eighteen-fifties. I’m not going to interfere with them if they want to drop by and keep the place safe from vandals. Just in case, I usually leave a little something out for them overnight once I’ve gone to bed.” Val would understand that kind of thing. If the gift was to thank the liminals and elementals, not ghosts, well, what difference did it make? It wasn’t impossible that one or more might follow the trio, if they were offended enough, and interfere with attempts to vandalize other houses. “I’m just grateful I’m not going to have to spend tomorrow scrubbing egg off the front of the house, or whatever else they come up with.”

“Makes sense. Oh, good, they’re leaving. There are kids across the street who were hesitating about coming closer with them there. Honestly, some people really need to figure out a better use of their time than making other people’s lives more unpleasant just because they think it’s funny. I just do not get the sense of humour behind stupid pranks.”

“Yeah, me too.”

The rest of the visitors were human children, in costumes, just seeking candy, with the exception of one trio of small female flower-fairies with butterfly wings. They were normally even smaller, and humans could rarely see them. They were delighted with the treats.

“I think that’s probably about it,” Chris said, surveying the street after a single child scurried off to catch up with her mother. “I don’t see any other kids out and about. About time to call it a night, I think.”

Val nodded. “It’s getting pretty late for the little ones.”

They blew out the candle in the jack-o’-lantern and moved it up onto the porch out of sight; tomorrow it could go in the back yard for the wildlife to take care of. Right now, with the porch light off, and the lights in the dining room as well but the kitchen and hall lights still on, it should be clear that the house was neither empty nor still offering candy.

In the kitchen, they called to order Chinese, choosing less-messy dishes with lower odds of costume destruction. Someday, Chris thought, she should really try to get better at cooking meals that were a bit more complex and respectable, instead of quick meals that often as not were made all in the same pot. Eating takeout was expensive and probably not all that healthy, although Mark’s tendency to vary the source and then share probably helped. It wasn’t something that was going to change tonight, though.

Sid, freed from the den, joined them and daintily accepted occasional small offerings. He showed no sign at all of stress, which was an enormous relief.

Sometime after Mars Attacks! and food, Val stretched.

“It’s late enough that there are probably people actually at the dance by now. Going to come?”

Chris said nothing for a moment, gathering up empty food containers. “I’m not that great at crowds. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun, but I don’t think I’m up for it tonight.” Val would almost certainly be the only person she knew, and she had no desire to mess up Val’s night by being a tagalong responsibility. “You go. Have a great time. I think I’ll go rent another movie and just relax here. Give the ghosts some backup if anyone else decides to be rude and stupid.”

“All right. It’s up to you, and I’m not going to tell you what you should do. It’s been a cool night so far, though. We could do this again, without Hallowe’en as an excuse.”

“I’d like that. Don’t worry about cleaning up, I’ve got it. You go dance and flirt with cute girls.”

Val chuckled. “If you’re sure.”

Considering the hour and the weather and her costume, Val called a taxi.

Chris locked the door and went for a walk around the block, taking her time and making note of all the liminals that were out celebrating the night. She stopped one pair that were winding up to do some tricking at a house that had not offered treats; they grumbled but wandered off. Others she simply exchanged greetings with. One told her about a liminal on the next block that was spitting at passing cars, and that liminal could spit with the volume of a small egg; Chris detoured to have a talk with that one and suggest that it was not appropriate behaviour since it could cause an accident.

Finally she made it to the movie rental place. She wavered over options, avoiding the horror section, but picked up Beetlejuice and Ghostbusters, both movies she’d seen before but they seemed about right for Hallowe’en night.

As the first movie started, she settled on the couch with munchies and a drink, bare stockinged feet tucked up beside her. Around her, at least a dozen brownies showed up, helping themselves to the oatmeal cookies and vanilla pudding cups she’d left out for them. Sid sprawled next to her.

Even if Mark was out and Val was at the dance, she wasn’t alone.

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