Bony fishes

Hollow Lowlands 
Cris couldn't carry a fishing pole because she didn't have one. On the way here, she'd tried to use a stick like a fishing pole slung over her shoulder for effect, but whenever she wasn't paying attention, it would fall through her body. (It was much easier to focus on holding onto things with her hands.)

There were swampier bits, sure, but this time of year they were more dry and you could make your way to the lakey parts way easier. Not that she needed to worry about getting mud on her shoes, but she didn't exactly float.

She saw a familiar splash of yellow hair ahead and smirked, real quietly grabbing hold of a cattail and pulling it up from the earth. Cris held the fat bit at the end loosely, sidling up to the same stretch of water as nothing more than an invisible force holding a plant until she appeared, suddenly, a few yards from her vampire friend.

From there, she flopped the front of the plant forward like it was a fishing rod, then gave a little hissing sound like the line was casting out far.

Marybeth, almost always, was attuned to the sounds and smells of her environment. This had be come so much more true after she had died. But even supernatural awareness could not account for ghost presence, and it was a staggering shock to hear the sound so close to her, and to turn and see—and see?? AND SEE?

Mouth open, pole clattering to the ground, she staggered backward and fell onto her butt. Her voice, when she found it, came out like a scream. "Cris?"

It wasn't quite the kind of scare she'd given Osvald, but it was similarly enthusiastic. Her cattail fishing pole fell right through her hands, landing with a soft sound on the earth.

"You're gunna scare the fish!" she said, but it wasn't a scolding. She approached her friend, though unfortunately there would be no helping her up. The only thing worse than watching someone fall down was having them phase through your hand and eat shit again.

"Y'alright?" she asked instead, flashing teeth that implied she knew her appearance here held mischief.


Marybeth stayed on the ground! Cris was...STANDING in front of her and smiling and a STICK fell through her body?! And for a second all she could manage was to draw in a shivering breath.

Then it hit that she was seeing her friend, who was dead, and instantly her throat tightened and her eyes welled up with tears. "What is happening??"

This was all a lot.

Cris did what made sense in the moment if Marybeth was going to stay earthbound. She took a seat on the grass, half the blades bending beneath her, the other half leaving tingling spikes into her crossed legs.

Ugh. Ghost problems.

"You're freaking out, kinda. And I'm visiting."

Spoken pretty gently for someone like Cris. She'd found a new sort of patience in the time after death.

Marybeth smushed quivering lips together, watching as her friend who was dead sat down on the grass beside her. A little breath hiccuped out of her, and she wiped at her eyes. Ghosts??!?!??!

It took a little bit, but she got her breathing under control, and eventually reached out to pat at Cris's knee. It was a lot of work to not absolutely bawl. "What does it mean?"

She'd feel the knee as something solid, but it would probably tingle at the tips of Marybeth's fingers.

Cris gave a small shrug to the question.

"That I figured I'd say hi," she said. "Doesn't mean a whole lot more. Sometimes things are that simple."

Marybeth had always had an oddness about her, but it was the kind that inspired Cris into sort of a sighing patience. That wasn't a bad thing.

"You catch anything?"

The knee was there, but not. Cris and her voice were real and here, but not. She felt her hand begin to go numb, but didn't move it.


There was a lot inside of her, connected to Cris. A lot of fear and grief and guilt, and it had all been packed away without resolution or closure; it seemed to shimmer around her now, there and not. "I just got out here," she answered quietly, and stared at her hand on Cris's knee.

She had to ask. It had to come out right away. "Cris, what happened to you? Why...h, how did it happen?"

Those questions would show up eventually. Everyone needed to know. Cris worded it differently each time, but it was never a lie. Just maybe not every detail.

"Lost a fight," she said. "With some vampires. And those things are kind of high stakes, I guess."

She gave kind of a huff.

"I got sloppy and should have been smarter. It happens when you're a normal person involves with all that stuff."

It had happened with Osvald to a lesser degree. It had happened to Katya.

Oh, no. All of it, oh no, oh no. She had mashed them down once but the tears were up again, flooding her eyes, pulling her hands back to cover her mouth. Oh, no. Oh, no.

It had been her fault. That worst possible outcome, that she had not helped her friend to be safe, and now hearing on top of it, it had been people like her[/mdash]

What an awful thing to learn, instead of fishing. would take a minute. To get through all of that feeling. Her eyes were shut tight, and she whimpered into her hands.

It didn't feel good to watch. Cris wasn't here to make anyone bawl. It didn't make her any stronger. But she wasn't here to coddle, either. It was why she'd told Osvald the details of her death even if he hadn't seemed to want them.

Of course, she wouldn't do that to Marybeth. Cris wasn't a fucking monster. Instead she sat quiet, plucked a piece of grass up and folded it once, then reached over to set it on her friend's leg.

Dumb, quiet stuff, deciding she was better off waiting it out than trying to ask a question.

Eventually, probably, it would be good to know. Most people were haunted by painful mysteries rather than the actual people involved. For now, though, this knowledge was like a bright stinging welt across her face; it made her feel breathless.

Cris was...being nice. She realized after a little while she'd left a bit of grass on her leg. Marybeth's face wouldn't stop pulling into a tragedy mask. "I'm so sorry. I wish, I wish," auuauaughgubla, "I'd do anything to go back. And help." She had been the worst friend.

The crying continued. Cris could be patient, plucking another blade of grass, folding it into quarters that left slightly damp edges, and setting this one on her own leg.

Eventually, though, there were words again. Not ones that Cris could do a whole lot with. Apologies, even now, were not something she found any interest in. But it was something, a move in a better direction than wordless tragedy.

"Well. The first thing you gotta do is know that you can't," she said, grabbing another bit of grass to repeat her process. "And that's okay."

Crying made her need to breathe. She had to draw in big shivery breaths in order to push them back out in as pathetic a manner as possible, muscle memory from her literal first days on earth. And though she was absolutely full of the feelings that had made her need to cry from that day onward (Oh no! I feel bad! I don't like this!), she worked to suppress that response anyway. She was not a baby :'(.

Cris told her that it was okay she couldn't help anymore and, well, Marybeth could kind of believe that. Her friend was here, whole, herself.

"Okay." She sniffled and wiped her nose a little with her arm. "Do you want me to do anything for you?"

Marybeth continued to be better, and Cris continued to bully blades of grass, folding and depositing them between her and Marybeth's knees, back and forth.

"Nah," she said, shaking her head to the offer. It was without being dismissing; there was just nothing she needed here anymore. "I was just wondering how you were doing."

Cris huffed a little, then smirked.

"If you found anyone else to help with library books."

Marybeth was now able to smile tearfully at all the grass, thinking, that was something she did, too. Hands that needed to be busy.

And Cris was just. Checking in on her. Marybeth was touched.

She shook her head at the last comment, trying to not get sad about this too, right now, the absence of mortal people in her life. "No library, no." She couldn't imagine going since that card had brought her face to face with a frightening detective. "I had a good last few months, I guess, I got a new power. But now I'm feeling weird about...being with vampires all the time."

Her own hands pried at each other in her lap. It wasn't fair to ghost-Cris to talk about all this.

Bummer about the books. Cris had never been much of a reader herself, but she could recognize the loss of an avenue to a hobby.

But now there was a new dilemma, one Cris hadn't really meant to cause. She took to grabbing one very long piece of grass to fold a tiny flap on the very end, then fold that, then fold that, then fold that.

"Because of what happened with me?"

Well. Now, yes, definitely. But it had been unsettling her for a little while now.

"Partly." Her mouth twisted as she tried to think it through. "A lot of people in my Clutch — vampires — talk about humans and shifters and psychics like they're not human, like. Like they're a different species. But if that's true, then..."

She looked up at Cris, all wide eyes and angry pointed eyebrows. "Then that's saying I'm not human. But that's not what I feel."

Maybe that didn't even make sense.

Cris listened, looking out at the water as Marybeth spoke. Taking it in.

She didn't consider Osvald human. She didn't consider the shifters that turned Katya human. Cris was (had been) human, but... some other psychics? Not human.

Marybeth, though. She seemed human. It was a weird, nebulous scale to fall on, humanity, She looked back to Marybeth, thoughtful.

"I think some people are more human than others. I've met vampires who aren't human. And shifters, too. But you seem really human."

A shrug.

"Shifters and vampires are different from humans, though. And from each other. It's not the same playing field."

It made her gulp in a tremulous breath. Being told she was human. It felt like, she had known, and all this time since she had died the world was telling her she was wrong.

But she was a person, she had ideas and feelings and she cared and worried about things, including her vampire friends, including her friends who had never died. It would be so wrong to give that up!

It felt really good to think about this, all of a sudden. She thought what made you human must be caring for each other. But Cris's words cracked like an egg over her sudden mind adventure. "It's not," she said after a pause, peering at the incorporeal image of her first friend in Mountainside. "But that's how the world is, anyway. It's not very fair."

She wished she could take Cris's hand. Her smart, strong friend, not alive anymore but still okay. Marybeth was the same. "Is there anything you want to go see? When do you have to go back?"

It was old news, but it never felt that way. The world wasn't fair. It never would be. It wasn't really designed to be, as far as Cris could tell.

But she didn't hold a lot of bitterness about it now. She listened to Marybeth, thinking about how shitty it was to turn someone like her into a vampire. On one hand, it wasn't a bad thing to allow a good person to live forever.

The reality was there, though. Marybeth had to do not-good things to survive, even as a good person. And it was shit someone put that on her.

"I don't have a real long time. But it's probably easier that way, for everyone," she said.

There was a moment of pause. She wasn't here really to see anything in particular. Just Marybeth.

"Find out any cool animal facts lately?"

Marybeth pressed her lips together and nodded. Just temporary. Of course. She thought for a moment. "Did you know sometimes chickens will lay an egg with meat inside?"

Cris barked a laugh, a genuine if unpleasant sound.

"Like a... chicken breast in a shell?" she snorted, looking to the abandoned fishing rod.

It would be after a beat that she decided something worth doing.

"You think you could teach me how to cast?" she asked, gesturing to the fishing pole.

That was a good question! "I think it's just like a blood clot inside the yolk. Or a little piece of meat." Yuck. Then she followed Cris's attention, picking the rod up off the ground and tilting her head curiously back in Cris's direction. "Can you hold it?" It seemed...hard to do if her ability to grip things faded in and out. It took some skill to cast a line successfully.

That was way grosser. Good thing she didn't eat eggs anymore.

Cris eyed the rod as a question was put to her.

"If I focus," she said. "Probably can't make it go really far out. But it's like every power. Gets easier with practice."

What a reassuring thought, that Cris was still practicing and getting better at magic, even in death.

Marybeth got back to her feet and reeled the line in from the creek, displaying the rod to the ghost. "Okay, what do you know so far about fishing?"

What did Cris know about fishing? She tilted her head left and right.

"Not much. You use hooks and bobbers and stuff. And bait. If you cast wrong you can get a hook stuck in your face."

She broke into a grin for that. It probably wouldn't even hurt, now, if she did manage it?

"I've watched a lot of people fish so I know there's... technique and all that. i just don't know it."

Eek!! "Or somebody else's face!" But that was beside the point! She began to explain the essential components of the rod, part by part. "This down here is the reel, that's where all of your fishing line is. And over that you have a bale, and if this is open, you can let more line out, closed, it holds it tight. And to cast, you put your hand here, like this, and you just hold the line with your finger." She demonstrated, before shifting her grip up the pole and offering it to the ghost.

Oh shit, someone else's. Somehow that hadn't occurred to her and she gave a husky kind of laugh for all that the idea of hitting the only other person here was not funny in the slightest.

Marybeth fell into explanation, and Cris listened with a focused gaze on each part as it was explained. There was kind of more parts than she realized?

"Cool," she said simply, taking the rod into her hands and trying to adjust accordingly. She got it right, though the line threatened to clear through her finger when she touched it.

That looked good! "Okay. So the bale is open, so your finger is what's keeping the line in place until you let it go. So you just do a kind of overhand motion," —she demonstrated, "pointed at the water, and let the line go at the top of the arc."

Marybeth was excited to see the cast, and also was stepping out of the way of any potential lures to the face!

Seemed simple enough. She eyed the rod, then the water, then gave a fairly confident first flick of the rod.

But something, somewhere, went wrong, and the line went out only a few feet before swinging back toward her. She huffed, holding the rod way out ahead of her as the hook swung back.

"Do I just reel backwards to pull it back in and try again?" she asked, hardly deterred.

Marybeth smiled and nodded, with a look in her eyes that suggested she was calculating what went wrong. "Reel it back so there's eight or ten inches hanging. Try letting go of the line sooner this time."

Marybeth was patient and Cris not easily deterred. It was a nice combination, and she nodded as she reeled the line back in, losing hold of the handle only once as she sought to whirl it too fast and felt it phase through her fingers.

She eyed the water, finding some target, and tilted the rod back before flicking it forward again, this time hearing the spool twirl in a satisfying buzz. The cast wasn't perfect, landing closer to the bank than she'd hoped, but it did land with a plunk into the water.

And Cris gave an immediate, giddy woop.

She gasped at it, and turned to beam at Cris with as much proud, silly happiness as you would expect! "That was really good! And your second try, too!" Her dead ghost friend was so TALENTED!

She broke into a lopsided grin, toothy. Bright-eyed for a ghost.

"You should do the actual fishing part," she said. "This'll go right through my hands if anything pulls on it."

This was about the time to consider how she'd make an exit, pop back into oblivion. Goodbyes were hard, and she worked to avoid them. Cris offered the rod back, and if their hands touched at all, it would be a vibration of nerves.

"I can't, uh. Stay very long. But. I wanted to make sure you know you're a real good person, alright? No matter what shit other vampires get up to."

She took the rod. They hadn't really aimed it at anything, so probably no fish would ever bite on it, but that was okay. She was looking down the line when Cris said more things that made her want to crumple up in a cry-ball.

Her lips twisted up kind of, but she looked up at Cris, tall and angular and fierce and still probably her smartest friend. Except for all the vampire stuff, she guessed. "Thank you, Cris. I'm still sorry."

Cris could say a whole lot of things. She could say it was okay. She could say that Marybeth didn't need to apologize. She could shrug it off and change the topic.

But none of that was really fair or honest.

So instead, she reached a hand out to rest lightly at Marybeth's shoulder and spoke with simple clarity.

"I forgive you," she said. "You don't have to be sorry anymore. We were both doing what we felt like made the most sense at the time. And that's okay."

She looked at Cris, and let the words settle on her skin. It felt...well, as good as something horrible like this could get. Marybeth was terribly sorry, and Cris knew that and forgave her. "Thank you," was really all she could say.

A little grateful pause, feeling her shoulder go numb and wishing she could hug Cris very tight. "Can you go see the president?"

That was unexpected in the sense that she could not have predicted they would be the words to follow. And yet, they weren't at all, because this was Marybeth.

"Maybe one day," she huffed, a little dark-eyed at the thought. Politics hadn't crossed her mind in a long time. "But I'd rather visit people who are good."

She let her hand fall, but was careful not to time it like it was some kinda related sentiment.

Huh. Well, that was fair. "When you're not here, um. Are there other people around?"

She didn't like to think that Cris was all alone.

Here came the tricky questions. Her mouth opened, then closed a little, then opened again.

"Can't really tell you anything about it," she admitted. "It's a rule I can't break if I wanted to. But I can tell you that I'm not lonely."

Maybe that would help. Maybe that would be enough.

"I'm not in a bad place."

Then she flashed a smile, toothy.

"Maybe not the very best one either."

Marybeth nodded thoughtfully at that; that was good. Also now that she thought about it, it sounded like this was not the afterlife she'd been raised to believe in? Which felt strange, and would be scary if she hadn't thought a lot about how being a vampire and undead and everything might send her to hell. She didn't think the bible said anything clear about being vampires. "Do you know any good jokes?"

Marybeth wouldn't make this an easy parting. Cris would have to be quicker about it. The question caught her by surprise, and she squished her face thoughtfully.

"I think you're better at jokes than I am," she said. Cris had been quick-witted only in the sense of sharp insults, typically. "Give me a good one. Then I'll spend between now and when we meet up next to think of one myself."

Was Marybeth better at jokes? Than anyone? She didn't understand what made anything funny, so this seemed unlikely. Still, she had been charged with a task, and she took to it seriously, thumbing at the bale. "Okay, what do you call a French man in sandals?"

Cris immediately found herself trying to figure out the answer. "A sandwich?" her brain suggested first, which made no fucking sense. Something with baguettes? Eiffel Tower? What the hell else was French?

"I dunno, what?" she settled on eventually.

Bonjour something?

She held onto the punchline for a moment, smiling bashfully. "Philippe Philoppe."

Was that good?!!

Cris hadn't guessed even a little right, but she did honk a laugh, teeth flashing.

"I'm going to steal that one," she said, and with a grin still on her face, she vanished.

There was no kind time to do it, especially for someone like Marybeth.

They'd meet up again, one day, and Cris could only hope that the world was one that allowed her friend to stay and wholly good as she was for that long.

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