Authors: Benjamin Kane Ethridge
“You’re golden. You’re fine,” said Banch. “Just try again, babe.”
Banch stepped closer to him, their lips nearly touching. “Yes.”
“It was larger and more complex to move around. I got, I don’t even know how many shocks before a big one came and I’d hardly searched around. I am NOT doing that again.”
With a snort, Banch said, “Do you need Mommy to hold you?”
“Stop making fun of me.” Jared turned away, rubbing the singed spot on his sleeve.
Sputtering, Banch dropped down and stuck her arm inside the shadow.
“Easy for you to do,” said Jared. “You know all about this interdimensional flim-flam.”
The banshee focused as she searched. “I know—” Her body went rigid with an apparent shock. “As much—” She moaned through the pain. “As you do…” Another shock came and she clenched her eyes shut for a moment. “…about this particular shadow.”
With a look of defiance, she tugged free a fistful of lime green dirt. “Here,” she swallowed, “rub this on your face and arms.”
Jared accepted the dirt, which felt and smelled like soil of a normal sort, nothing strange at all except the color. He applied it to his arms and noticed it left a slight discoloration on his skin for a moment before fading. Banch retrieved two more fistfuls and set them on the sidewalk. “For your legs,” she said, and then wearily stood. “From your knees down should be enough, but get your feet too.”
Jared caught sight of her arm. A couple burns streaked there and one had ruptured and seeped a vibrant red trail of blood down to her elbow.
“Banch, I’m sorry—”
“Forget it. Let’s get the dirt applied so we can get moving again. There’s more to masking the scent than just this.”
Jared did as he was told. He took off his shoes and lifted his jeans up to his knees. When he was finished, he still felt horrible. He’d given up too quickly and had disappointed her.
“Banch… I was scared it would get worse. That’s all.”
She turned to him and placed a cool hand on his cheek. “I know, Jared. I know. No worries right now, okay?”
She pulled her hand away and he was sad to feel her touch go. She started off and he followed, the dirt making him tingle all over.
“We need a couple items from your apartment.”
“What about the Assembly?” he asked.
“This involves keeping them at a distance. No dawdling. Move it.”
Jared hurried to her side. “Banch?”
“Who is going to hail my death if you die?”
She hesitated, then said, “There are plenty of other banshees to take your assignment. You’ll be seen to.”
He nodded, then said, “I’d rather have you though.”
They continued down the street a few paces before Banch glanced over at him, a sad smile in her eyes.
“It’s good that cosmos thingy you did spit us out so close to home. That would have been a bit of a walk from the doc’s office. Pretty lucky.”
“And lucky you live on the first floor,” said Banch.
“There’s that too.” Jared fumbled with his keys. He looked nervous with Banch standing so close behind him.
“Yeah, it was all lucky. Nothing but.” She blew on the back of his neck and he jumped.
Jared grabbed his neck in reflex. “You mean, it was planned—you made it bring us here? Why didn’t you just take us straight to the beach?”
“That would be because of the inception of a disturbance paradigm. This was the best I could do. We’re good that we pulled through where we did.” Banch gave an
and rolled her hand for him to continue opening the door.
“That sounds like a risk you shouldn’t have taken then.”
“Had I not used the Cosmic Scream, you would be in the Assembly’s possession and I would likely be facing punishment in the lowest dungeon in their fortress.”
“Jared!” Banch seethed. “Open the frigging door!”
He hummed discordantly, but obeyed. As he pulled open the door a rush went through Banch; she’d lingered on the fringes of Jared’s personal space since his birth, but the rooms he dwelled within, observed from her own dimensional axis, were only shadows within shadows. Such a familiar territory brought her a smile, despite not having had an actual presence in this place. A familiar warmth spread through her, a homecoming, even if she’d frequented many homes in this world. Still, there wasn’t time to get nostalgic. There wasn’t time for much of anything now that the Assembly had arrived. She would have to find a way to keep them from heading them off at the beach. A slight detour might be necessary.
“Do you think Eun Sun can spare a box of detergent?” she asked Jared. “We’ll need an entire box.”
Jared turned to her, brow softly furrowed. It was apparently still difficult for him to grasp how she knew everything about his life, including his neighbors, the Kangjun family, who fed him and did his laundry.
“Uh… we can ask her,” he finally said. “I think she’s home.”
“No,” Banch said, rethinking the idea. “On second thought, let’s not involve anybody else. We can buy some detergent on the way to the beach.”
“So why are we here then?”
“To finish what we started with that dirt. Now we need to get you into some blue clothes.”
“Do I have a speech impediment?”
“I… don’t… think so?”
She rolled her eyes. “Can you find it inside yourself to just let some things go unquestioned? We really need to move quicker than we have.”
“Sure. Blue clothes. All of them?”
“Underwear, shirt—uh, those jeans aren’t blue enough—pants then, and socks. Oh, and wear your old Nikes under your bed, they’re mostly blue.”
“This is so crazy… that you know so much.” Shaking his head, he went through the living room, past the kitchenette and into the hall. “Why do I need to wear blue?”
Banch groaned. “Oh great shit, fine, I’ll explain while you search.”
The bedroom was plastered in movie posters from the 80s and 90s, with some abstract art prints he’d taken a liking to when he’d briefly attended art school. Over the single window was a stop sign he and Kaitlin had stolen from that very same time period.
He rounded the unmade bed and opened the top dresser drawer. “Okay… Blue.”
“Some of these things aren’t easily explained, Jared. In my world the senses are unified and transferred interchangeably at times. The color blue will further distort your scent with the green color of the soil perking beneath your skin. It adds another layer over the scent of the Gift and will make it more difficult for them to sniff you out.”
“Does it now?”
“Not even remotely. But very little does make sense today.” Jared tossed some blue boxers on the top of the dresser.
“The ones without the stripes,” Banch noted.
He glanced over his shoulder.
She snapped her fingers. “Today, guy, today.”
He went back through the drawers and found the blue boxers, some navy dress socks, and a sky blue t-shirt. It would have been better if every article was a similar tone of blue, but it would work almost as well.
“I have some blue sweatpants next door in the laundry, but that’s it for my pants options. I guess we can go buy something.”
Banch shook her head. Too many detours. They really needed to get out in front of the Assembly; the farther, the better. “We have to get you clothed quickly or the blue won’t grasp the green as well.”
Jared snorted. “Well that sucks.”
“I can run over there to the Kangjuns,” he said, shutting the drawer and standing up from the dresser. “You can wait here. I’ll be fast.”
“I can’t leave your side.”
“Not even for five minutes?”
She took his hand and pulled him close. His eyes didn’t leave hers. His whole life, all in those eyes, and now in his death… She didn’t want to think of it. Even without the Assembly involved, the news of her favorite project’s early demise had twisted her heart. Death wasn’t fair. She knew that better than most, but why him? Why so early? Why couldn’t he have more time to grow into himself? Many special people had been taken and she was weary of it. So unbelievably weary. With the right guidance, Jared could evolve into greatness; the universe needed more like him. He just needed a chance. And now, he would never have one. All she could try to do was prevent the agony that the Assembly promised for him. It was the one way to show him how much he meant to her.
As they lingered, she drew even closer to him, thinking these thoughts, feeling the warmth of this apartment and of him. His lips approached hers. “This really is real,” he said. “Isn’t it?”
“Do you want it to be a dream instead?” she asked with a grin. “Would it be mine, or yours?”
He swallowed loudly. “Mine, of course.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
Suddenly she got hold of herself, took in a deep breath, and pulled away. Awkwardly, she patted his shoulder and squeezed it.
He nodded. “Right, yeah, we should...”
“Go,” she added. “Yes.”
With a shy signal to the hall, he led her out of his bedroom. “Since we’re seeing Eun Sun, we can ask if she has that detergent we need. As strange of a request as that is, I have left that part of this unquestioned. Proud of me?”
“Always, honey. Always.”
Jared blushed and looked away.
Banch really needed to focus on why she was here. This wasn’t wish fulfillment. This was saving Jared from an afterlife of endless pain and spiritual torment.
doing what she needed to do for herself. The one selfish part in all of this, but it would be her reward if they made it to the beach.
* * *
Banch could feel the Assembly’s unease. They were regrouping and she’d have to be ready for their next move. As Eun Sun answered the door, Banch went through some of those moves in her head and tried not to flinch when the woman’s eyes moved from Jared’s to hers. It was strange to realize people in this place couldn’t taste your thoughts. After that bracing realization came over her, Banch’s heart brightened. Meeting Eun Sun in person was an honor she’d not expected. The woman and her husband Bae had been so gracious for Jared helping them with their English. They’d treated him like a son for years. Since Jared couldn’t cook—or was afraid to try—Eun Sun prepared his breakfast and his dinner. Before the Kangjuns had moved in, he’d always eaten out, three meals a day. He was saving money now, losing weight, and no longer had his friend Kaitlin coming over to help with the coin-op laundry down the street, a chore which she’d been giving him a hard time about for years.
“This is?” asked Eun Sun, extending her hand for Banch.
Banch returned her soft, sincere handshake. “It’s not Betty, that’s for sure.”
“Eun Sun, this is my new friend, Banch. We were just, well, I needed to find my sweatpants in the laundry.”
“Not washed yet.” Eun Sun’s eyebrows lifted with grim concern. Laundry was a source of dignity to the woman. She’d often make Jared strip off wrinkled shirts at the table and flee the table to iron them rather than finish her own breakfast.
“It’s good that it’s dirty,” said Banch. “More of your scent.”
“That’s fine, Eun Sun,” Jared insisted. “Really.”
“Please, come.” The older woman beckoned them inside.
“Oh, do you have another box of detergent? I’ll buy you a new one. We need one right now.”
Eun Sun looked positively startled. “You want… clothes washed… someone else?”
“No no, this is for my friend Banch. We are… uh, testing out her new washing machine.”
After a moment’s thought, Eun Sun nodded. “I see, you, and you, want to eat? Too early? For dinner—no, lunch?”
“Oh thanks, but we’re in a hurry. We have to go soon.”
A quick nod and Eun Sun shuffled down the hall.
“She’s come a long way. You’ve tutored them so well,” said Banch.
“They’ve taught me a lot too.”
“You’re a good teacher. I’ve always wondered why you didn’t teach kids. Isn’t there good money in that?”
Jared shrugged one shoulder. “Not really. And besides, I’m not much of a kid person.”
“Got to make peace with kids.”
“It’s like reconciling the past,” Banch told him. “I was never a child so it’s a foreign idea to me, but I think it’s useful to make peace with children. It’s coming to understand life in its rawest form.”
“If you say so. Snotty, loud, and destructive, as far as I care to know.”
Banch laughed. “So they are…” Her eyes lit on a fish bowl and suddenly her mind raced with an idea. She picked up the bowl. Two circling purple fish seemed to be stirring the mixture for her. She sniffed the water.
“What are you doing with that?” asked Jared.
That would do nicely. She dipped the bowl on its side and spilled half the water on the carpet near the door. The fish swam around madly as their world lessened.
“Banch! What’s gotten into you?”
“They aren’t fresh water variety,” she explained.
“They’re going to be the no-water variety if you keep holding it that way!”
“My apologies.” She set the bowl back down. Jared looked at the puddle on the floor, awestruck. “Do I need to go fill it up with more water?” she suggested.
“No! Just don’t touch anything else and we’ll be good.”
With slow grace, Banch ran a finger down the side of his smooth arm. “Gonna sue me now?”
Eun Sun emerged with a basket of Jared’s clothes. “Sorry no more—extra? Box of soap, the, the, the…”
“We got it, that’s okay. Thanks for looking.”
Jared bent over and rummaged through his clothes.
Eun Sun looked at him and then Banch, searching for the right word. She smiled. “He… good person. People? Good man.”
A faint smile came to Jared’s lips, but he didn’t look up from his work.
“Geuneun ibnida,” said Banch. “Naneun olae jeon-e geuwa salang-e ppajyeossda.”
He is. I fell in love with him a long time ago.
Eun Sun blushed and sniffed out a little laugh. Jared drew up his sweat pants from inside the basket and regarded them both. “You two up to no good?”