The Pain From Out of Season

By billtremendous

I waved at the newly exiting couple as the wife eagerly dragged out her husband by the wrist. She looked so sweet, pulling him along like that…

I set my tea set back down on the table and slumped back into the "chair" that Mrs. Silverman so kindly gave me. Deep ones I swear that thing’s putting more creaks in my back than any of my days exploring the caves of my spawning. The Captain was sweet, certainly, when she wasn't threatening to bring her force down upon my head, or actively cutting into my paycheck. Deep ones give me strength, I almost twisted around something in her mind, but she would have caught on, if that sharp mind of hers was any indication. At least she was an easier fix than the barb-tongued corrupter.

And of course none of them knew how easy they had it.

The new world clock, indeed, time in general, was still a somewhat tricky thing to understand, but was still a necessity in this new world of people. Only six and eleven. Deep ones preserve if I’m to maintain my duties through the rest of the day. More tea would need to be brewed for the next few appointments. I almost wish that they took longer to deal with.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 What seemed to be an eternity later, after several cycles of the hands, a knock on the door arrived shortly after the last problem couple - another pair that didn’t see eye to eye with one another (or, rather, at a similar height to one another, what with the imp’s size). Tuzi, my hakutaku co-worker, peeked her bovine horns into my office, jovial and happy as ever. “Hello Mrs. Lyi'ahcth! It’s the end of another productive day!”

I looked over from my tea set to the clock before her. Three and Five. And I wish she would call me as I’ve described. I put on a coy little smile, surprised look as I looked back. “Oh,” I replied, “So it is. I must’ve ‘spaced out’ in regard to the time again.”

 Tuzi gave a slight pout at my response. “Don’t tell me you misread the clock again Mrs. Lyi'ahcth. You know I can assist in such regards as learning. It needn’t be so difficult.”

 I lean on the chair’s handle as I smile softly at her. “I don’t know there ‘Teacher,’ maybe if you sent me less word salad patients, I might be more willing to take you up on the offer~.”

 “It isn’t MY fault that happens so often! Sometimes the routes of knowledge get all tied up with muscle memory! Surely you make mistakes sometimes as I do.”

 I gave a shrug. “Not really. When I work, I tend to keep a clean record. Even then any mistakes I make are always inconsequential, they never matter.”

 More pouting. “Then you at least know how muscle memory can be so difficult to work with at times. It still eludes hakutaku as to how it fully works you know.”

“Well, that is certainly true. Muscle memory is an odd thing to work on at times. So many bundles of nerves to work with, in addition to many of the girl’s nerves of dealing with someone like me~.”

 “Yes yes, nerves are truly strange, but we’d be better discussing it with legs walking homewards, wouldn’t we?”

 “Indeed. Shall we?”

 “Let’s.” Tuzi replied.

 A quick sign out on the mechanical screen and a wave to the still crestfallen Mrs. Silverman was all it took to be released from the manmade cave of glass. The soldiers that were posted outside the front door earlier were long gone; the captain must have been satisfied with our service. But I could tell they’d likely be back to help cajole the crowd that’d be lining up in front of our front lobby.

 “So Tuzi,” I started, using that thought to jump start the conversation, “Have you any thought as to why Mrs. Silverman might have seemed so down today?”

 “Was it because her desk broke?”

 “Well that’s…part of it. But it had to do with that one ushi-oni you treated earlier.”

 Tuzi’s eyes lit up with the sudden spark of realization. “Ah! The ushi-oni! Yes, I remember now. Was she the one that broke the desk?”

 “Yes, she is. She’s a captain of that one Zipangu regiment and, as difficult as it’ll be to deal with it, she’s been very clear about making our place official.”

 “Why that’s wonderful! It’ll mean we get to help more people with their problems!” I couldn’t help but give a pained smile at her being so close yet so far to what that actually meant.

 “Tuzi, you do realize that means we’ll be working with many more clients but will also get less money to do it right? Instead of shares or commissions we’re going to get whatever they deign to pay us minute by minute.”

 Tuzi cocked her head quizzically as I brought up the point of wages. “I mean, it is not that different to what we do already, yes? We’ll help enduring and suffering couples to fully realize their love for one another, don’t we?”

 “Well, that won’t change…” Tuzi held up a triumphant finger as she beamed with an almost self-satisfying conclusion.

 “Then nothing will change! We will then help more and thus profit far more! Our bounty of good karma from helping blooming love will be greater with this development than ever!”

 “Tuzi, as much as is nice you can’t very well eat or buy anything with love itself.”

 A smug smile from Tuzi. “You should know how love is Lyi’ahcth! It’s one of the most fulfilling things in existence! Didn’t you find a man on the first day our people arrived in this world?”

 I look away to hide the tightening edge of my lip. “Of course. How could I forget? I’m practically quivering already at the thought of being able to treat with him tonight~.” Deep ones be kind where was that street corner to take a left at?

 “See? You know what I mean! Thus do we build greater karma with our efforts to then focus into our own!”

 “Yes, indeed,” I interrupted, hoping to change the subject. “How goes your study into that ‘American pastime?’”

 “Oh very well! Apparently, it is popular in a land of similar aesthetic to the Zipangu! Timothy plans to take me to a game once the expansion stabilizes and things calm down. Tell me, do you have plans for the future?”

 “Well, not particularly yet…”

 Tuzi gave me an indignant look as I spotted the familiar signpost just ahead of us. “Surely you do not plan to continue working into the weekends like you’ve hinted at.”

 “I need to make sure I’m saving up for what I’m planning.” I quickly responded.” Oh, look at that! My turn is here. I’ll see you tomorrow Tuzi~.”

 “Oh, yes, yes, it is.” She admitted. “A discussion for another time, then. Have a good evening with your husband Lyi’ahcth!” Tuzi continues to walk straight as I take my turn on the sidewalk home.

 “I will! And call me Latch! It’s much easier than my home name!” I shouted at her. Tuzi gave a slight wave as she walked the little distance further back to her home, where I could hear her audibly squeal with delight as Timothy was there to greet her at the door. If only she knew. I let my smiling façade drop as I reentered my apparent isolation in the quiet, “California” suburb. Despite all of the miracle work I’d performed with spiders today, it was still going to be nothing compared to what I would have to deal with at home.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The house itself was nice. The lawn was cared for with vibrant, green grass and cultured flower beds that was accented with the occasional small stone and cactus gardens. The only hint of upheaval from the outside was the shuttered screens and the utter closed-off nature of the doors within the house, despite the moderate heat outside. I felt my skin crawl as I walked across the lawn and towards the front door. The door to my most challenging patient. I brace myself before it, taking a deep breath of air into my chest before exhaling and pushing forward.

Despite the near darkness of the inside of the house, it was still much more visible than the caverns I had previously called home. The inside of the house was a mess, just as it was this morning when I had left. The various portraits of art and photographs of various vistas from around the globe remained turned to the wall or rested face down on the floor. All suffered the wrath of my patient in his throes in dealing with his condition. Various beer bottles and cardboard beer packets also littered the house, my patient’s coping mechanism. Then there was the patient himself…my spouse, Trevor.

Trevor was an unassuming specimen, with long, wavy, ginger hair and a goatee to match. He was physically unassuming, but his prowess came in the form of his wonderful mind and skilled hands. A photographer, a journalist, and an artist, his mind was constantly brimming with sights, sounds, and of such variety that he was singularly the most interesting man I have had the pleasure of diving into. Only, despite him sitting just at the table in the living room, he was still so far away.

 I greet Trevor with “Hello darling.” as I have done before. Trevor turned his head slowly, the bags under his eyes still visible through his messy hair.

 “Hello, *darling*” he responds with an obvious venom.

 “I see you’re still upset at someone who’s trying to help you. And my proper address is Doctor, Trevor.”

 “If you’re trying to help then close the door, you’re letting in light, ‘doctor.’” In a moment of negligence, I had left the door open, and minor shades of light had intruded upon my patient’s domain. I walk through the door frame and quickly close the door behind me, a minor foible on my part. It was quite unfortunate, his condition.

 I had met Trevor on the night when the Maou’s forces had broken into this reality. He was capturing the chaos on that night with that little video recorder of his, a simple hand-held thing, when I came across him. He was slippery, to have been able to evade so many other women that night if what I saw was correct. Only he didn’t manage to slip by me when it mattered. It was a simple maneuver to restrain him and to introduce myself to him, which included a typical forceful union.

 Only…it hadn’t gone as smoothly as I had hoped.

 Trevor’s mind is truly a rare specimen, if not totally unique. His mind’s eye not only remembered most if not all of what it sees, but also possesses the ability to visualize objects and memories with ease. The only downside of this, however, was that it conflicted heavily with my introduction. As a result, he suffers from crippling “migraines” which were exasperated by lights and heavy thought.

 “I apologize darling. Is that better?” I asked.

 “Yes, thank you *Doctor.*” He replied.

 “If you wanted it, darling, I can make all that pain go away very easily with my skills, versus needing to care for you like this.”

 “Oh no!” Trevor scolded, waggling his finger at me. “There’s no way I’m making that that mistake again! Ignorance or not, I refuse to let you touch me like that ever again.”

 “Oh but Trevor,” I reassured him, “the circumstances are different this time! I know what I need to change to make you feel ~fine~.” I tried to move closer, but Trevor was quick to pick up a discarded beer bottle, holding up by the neck reverse as a threat.

 “Don’t you take another step; you bottom of the sea, squid tentacle wench. I will not hesitate to shove you inside a bottle if you put me to it. You are NOT going to touch me.” He threatened. I couldn’t help but sigh as he slowly set down the bottle back on the table, his glare remaining on me the whole time. Despite being wrong about the origin of mindflayers, his colorful insult still belied some essence of him that still remained. It told me that I could still save him.

 “Then do tell, darling, how do you want me to help you?”

 “If you really want to help, I’m all out of beer again and I could really do with another case or two.”

 I sighed in dejection at his predictable request. “…Miller light?” I clarified.

 “The usual.” He reaffirmed. “Cash is on the lamp table.” Taking said cash from the table, I turned on my heel and walked back to the door to let myself out. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Trevor retorted as I left. Back outside, I began my slow, but shameful walk to the liquor store near my workplace to pick up Trevor’s chosen medication. Not that the motion would win me any favors, he’d still sleeping in his bedroom tonight, with me on the couch.

 I clutch at my ring, that little thing on a necklace around my neck. I wanted so badly to give it to him, but I just can’t. He’s not ready for it. I had to fix him first. It was draining work, it was tiring work, but I will persevere in my endeavor. I can make him better.

 I can fix him. I HAVE to fix him.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Several weeks later…

 Business with Mrs. Silverman did, in fact, pick up in the days and weeks that followed the arrival of the captain. She hadn’t lied when she swore that she’d make us official; banners, homemade propaganda posters, guards and actual set salaries soon came to the office. It had added some actual benefits to the workplace, namely the actual chairs and furnishings meant for girls of a more ponderous nature. And, thankfully, I could finally relax in a more comfortable and ergonomic chair that actually supported my back. The humans of this world certainly knew how to sit back and relax, or at least to sit for long periods of time.

 Though I’d be lying if it didn’t come with any downsides either. The cut in my pay was noticeable and deep, Mrs. Silverman wasn’t allowed to give out commission fees anymore because of the drastic drop in price and regulation. To make matters worse, I was now getting paid by the hour, so now I couldn’t take the day off without suffering terribly in terms of income. Though, at least it wasn’t like before when I’d potentially have hours of down time where I’d sit in my own thoughts, as now I had more couples to occupy myself with Although that was a double-edged sword in of itself, considering the bags of nuts that I worked with.

 Hour in, hour out. Different couples of all different sizes, shapes, and afflictions that I had to mediate away with my wily charm. Their problems ranged from the minor to the major, from problems as small as a difference in how to spend time, to the fact that someone looked like a little girl or a guy was starting to feel like a little boy. Things were so different from home in this new world, there was going to be no end to new business it seemed. Not for years at a minimum.

 At least some of those cases, however, had the common courtesy to only have one appointment like the two web-spinners from last month where they took up my time. Others weren’t as polite and insisted on having multiple follow up appointments to have me resolve their dumb, negligible faults every single step of the way. And yet here I was, smiling that dumb, smug little smile to help reassure them that everything was going to be just fine, just sip that tea and let me fix all of your problems.

 Gaaaah! I bury my fingers into my scalp as I remain lost in my thoughts.

 “Uhm, Latch?” Tuzi’s voice shook me out of my frustrated state as I stirred to attention. Her face was not its usual cheery self as she peeked into my office. “It is fifteen past five, again. You seemed lost in thought.”

 “Oh, Oh! No no!” I cheerfully deflected. “I must’ve lost track of time again. Helping people with their little foibles with each other tends to have that happens, it seems.” Tuzi’s expression didn’t brighten whatsoever, my act must have lost its touch.

 “Yes, indeed. Do you wish to walk home or did you want some time alone or -“

 “No not at all! I love our little walks home and all the conversations we have!” Tuzi gave a shy smile, but I could see it in her eyes. She was onto me, and the shy smile was only to conceal the look of concern and pity in her eyes. I know her game. She silently filed back out and awaited me as I gathered myself to leave the office.

As we walked out the front door, Mrs. Silverman called out from behind us “Mrs. Latch! Before you go may I speak with you for a moment?” She had seemed to have recovered from her depressive fit about officiation. Certainly, I could’ve sworn I heard her muttering about a bottom line now and again, but it seemed like she had recovered well from the matter. Maybe it was due to her husband’s bank account? Though she likely had to deal with more red tape or processes, she seemed to be better with handling customers to their faces.

Tuzi looked to me with a slightly worried look, but a reassurance that’d I’d be right out seemed to calm her down. Silverman smiled at me as I followed her back to my office, but I could already ascertain her reasoning, I could see it in those raccoon eyes of hers.

“What appears to be the matter Mrs. Silverman?” I ask coolly as she shut the door for privacy.

“Oh, it’s nothing major Mrs. Latch, just, I received a customer complaint earlier today from a couple you treated earlier.” Damn it, of course that’s what it was. With the office becoming official for the Maou, that also meant that any pair of shit stirrers could file complaints about service or how they thought they were ill-treated at any counselor’s hands. “It was a couple saying that they felt that in their session, they could…uh,” Silverman shifted slightly in her position as she thought back to the complaint, “they could hear the ‘echos of disdain from our counselor.’ Rough day?”

I know exactly which couple it was with the complaint. It was a salamander and a scrawnier man. One liked to fight, the other one didn’t, and the only reason the salamander jumped onto him was because he had to stones to fight back when everything started. Such a tripe little matter that was resolved by telling them to get interested in one another! The salamander was glaring at me the entire time after I finished their little session. “Yes, sadly. I just don’t know where my mind’s been as of recent.” I respond.

“Please be more careful in the future then. You know how lizard brains like them can get all in an uproar over things like that. Honor, bushido, whatever it is they call it.” Obviously she’d only been better in hiding her racism from customer’s faces.

“Yes, of course, Mrs. Silverman. It won’t happen again.” She seemed satisfied with the answer and bade me farewell. I quickly rejoined Tuzi outside for our walk home, feeling simultaneously happy and apprehensive about returning home. “Sorry about that! Just little office things, Tuzi.”

“Ah,” Tuzi sighed with relief, “Just a little problem?”

“Just a minor complaint. You know how it is with people that are bickering, they’re always looking for anything to blame someone but themselves.”

“Ah I see! Just counseling issues! That is good to hear. Don’t you worry about it, Mrs. Latch, such things are always over such little matters. Why I keep getting somewhere of an average of two or three a week and nothing seems all that wrong!”

“…aren’t most of those unwanted sexual advice if not your little wire up mistakes?”

“It hasn’t been happening as much lately!” Tuzi pouted.

“So it hasn’t…” I smugly reply, starting us on our walk.

My breath coalesced into a visible mist as I exerted myself on our walk. The air had been getting chillier and the days had begun to darken quicker though snow was absent in this part of the world. I’d been told that we’d arrived in the months leading into winter in this world, and this time in the year was typically festive. One celebration usually followed another month after month, particularly in this country, the “United States.” Odd name. When we showed up, they didn’t seem very united at all.

“So Mrs. Latch! Are you excited for the Xmas celebration coming up soon?” I raise a questioning brow in response. Xmas, or, “Christmas” was in December.

“Tuzi, it’s the middle of ‘November.’ Even I know that it isn’t for another month.”

“Ah but already the preparations need to start! Decorating the house, feeling out family, talking to family, buying gifts, and wrapping them, and it’s not like Thanksgiving requires decoration…Oh!” Tuzi’s expression lightened up at the arrival of a new thought. “Will you be buying gifts for any of your family, Mrs. Latch?”

“Oh, well, I’d have to feel out what it is that Trevor would want for this season,” I admitted.

“Good good! What about other family? Do you have sisters or relatives that have come over perhaps?” I let out a laugh as she suggested my own family.

“Oh please Tuzi!” I guffawed, “Even if my sisters were here, they’d never accept whatever I get them. They’re horrifically prideful like that.” I lied. “You know how mindflayers are.”

“Oh, well that’s, unfortunate. What about Trevor’s family? Surely he’ll have some relatives who’ll be more accepting.”

I put a finger to my chin in thought. He certainly does, from what I’ve seen. I’ll just need to convince him to leave the house to go shopping. Maybe it would help him to open up to me? “I’m certain he does. I’ll be sure to ask him what he thinks on the matter.”

“Most excellent! I personally plan to give Timothy a sports ball from back in the Zipangu! It will take some work to get one genuinely from home, but I just know I can get it to him!” Tuzi pulled her fists down in excitement as we arrived at my turn off, something she thankfully noticed herself. “Oh, the turn off. Well, enjoy your evening Mrs. Latch!” I give Tuzi a wave as I turn off, and once again let my typical, self-content smile wear off as I contemplated the soon to come weekend. This weekend was going to be a living hell. Because of the new work regulations I couldn’t work them anymore, I HAD to stay in that miserable little house and find something to do.

Nothing much to do in the house either, less I rouse Trevor’s ire with too loud a noise or too bright a light. I could only read the “Culture, Burgers, and You!” book and whatever else was in Trevor’s library so many times before my mind rebelled at being forced to take in so much information. Trying to clean up the house was out of the question for much of the same reason; I’d only be able to watch the grass grow out of control and the flowers outside to die. I wish he would at least attempt to leave the house. I’d love nothing more than to be out of that dark, half reminder of home that I tried to get away from.

I stop myself a block away from home, anticipating a confrontation with Trevor about his “medicine.” I’d probably be helping myself if I brought him it without having to be asked. It’d be better than having to spend any more time in that place than needed. Waiting a brief moment for Tuzi to be inside her house, I turn on my heel and walk down the street, towards that ever-present liquor store that Trevor had so gladly pointed me to.

It was a short walk; the store was just a little before where I work in the same business plaza. It was a slightly rugged, though personable little store, with steel bars on the windows due to the value of their merchandise.

The value of alcohol, that horrible, golden hued liquid; the cause, and solution, to all of man’s problems.

I walk through the glass doors, a beeper over the door marking my presence with a shrill alert. The owner, a man from “back east” who moved here and set up a liquor store for a retirement was at the counter, idly watching a TV inside. There wasn’t much to watch on it, every time I’d been here it was turned to some sort of news channel, be it either local channel, a pirate signal from the forces of the Maou, or some more national news, all with differing points on the invasion. On the pirate signals, a constant stream of matchmaking information and “species of the day” posts as well as propaganda encouraging intermingling. On the local news there was general dissemination of local goings-ons as well as general clean up, shortages, or even developments of relations between local town governments and mamono. The national news was complete and utter tripe, rife with misinformation about the “maneaters” and their war crimes of “raping prisoners of war and taking slave spouses.”

Please. It’s called forceful union and taking husbands.

“Hey there squids.” The owner called out in greeting with that endearing little nickname of his for me.

“Good afternoon.” I reply, heading to the fridge to find the beer. “Just going to be more of the usual.”

“More? At this rate you’ll be taking up the rest of what I have in stock alone. Friggin’ suppliers don’t know when they’ll be able to get shipments back on track man, it’s crazy.”

“I doubt the Maou will let something like that result in empty shelves.” I reassure him, in that old, sweet tone. “There are more than several species of mamono who’ll lose their minds without any alcohol.”

“Oh really? Does that include big, red-looking ladies or ones with raccoon tails?”

“Onis and a danuki, yes. Some of them need it like water.”

“Is that like their culture or something?”

“I honestly don’t know. I suspect it’s part nature part nurture.” I look to where the owner typically keeps a supply of Miller light, only to discover a distinct lack of six-packs. “Do you have any more packs of Miller light in stock?”

“’Fraid not in the size you want squids. You got the last one yesterday. All I’ve got are the twenty packs.” I grit my teeth in frustration, those things were too large to be hidden in one of the bags that he provided.

“What about those bigger sized bottles? Do you have any of those?”

“Sorry, not in Miller Light.” Damn it, that means I’ll have to just heave it all the way home then, in full view of everyone who might be looking. Determined to make progress, I grab a twenty-pack carton from the fridge and bring it to the front counter to get ringed up. As I begin to dig out the money needed to pay for it, the beeper at the door sounds off and the absolute, worst case scenario I could have thought of occurs.

“Oh! Hello Mrs. Latch! I did not expect to see you here!” It was Tuzi, and I was essentially caught red handed with the alcohol. Play it cool, just need to play it cool.

“Ah! Tuzi! What are you doing here?” I blurted out. She gave me a quizzical look at my apparent apprehension.

“Timothy said that from what he’s heard from connections of his, his family’s country of Japan might be considering opening diplomatic channels to the Maou. He mentioned that it’d be a great idea to get either wine or champagne to celebrate. Are you alright? You’ve been acting strangely as of late and you look quite shaken.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, nothing at all Tuzi!” I wave off, trying to regain my composure. “Just buying a little something for me and my husband.”

“An entire pack of alcohol of twenty?”

“It’s just that Trevor prefers to buy in bulk, so it lasts through the week.”

“Twenty in a week? That’s…almost two a night for each of you.” Tuzi’s naïve worry was apparent, maybe I could distract her by saying I can handle the stuff.

“Doesn’t sound like that much.” The owner spoke up. “I know some folk who bought a twelve pack a day,” The owner shot a brief glance to me, as if knowing the response his knowledge will elicit. “if not twice a day.”

“Ah! Such irresponsibility!” Tuzi gasped. “Don’t they know that such thirst is a recipe for self-destruction? They must really underestimate how horribly alcohol can destroy a person.”

“Yeah, it can really screw someone up. Gotta be careful with how you deal with certain problems before you make them even worse.”

I scoff at the two-front assault of concern, preparing my own rebuttal. “Yes, that’s quite the horrible conclusion to come to. Thankfully there’s always like professionals like us to help guide people to a healthier lifestyle, right Tuzi?”

“Oh, yes of course!” Tuzi replied, “Thus do we build even greater karma by helping those who have lost their way and back to a healthier lifestyle. Uh, wine or champagne is back here, right?” She pointed off into the back of the store.

“Back and on the shelves.” The owner answered. “We’ve also some of the ones that need to be chilled in the fridge.”

“Ah, thank you!” Tuzi disappeared into the store as I heard the owner begin to fish change out from the register. “Latch what do you think Timothy would like? A dry champagne or a white wine?”

“I don’t know,” I answered, glaring at the owner as he handed me my change. “Maybe you should go for a wine since it’s not set in stone quite yet. Oh and I’ve got to go! Have a good evening!”

“Oh yes, have a good evening with Trevor!”

I left the store with haste, hoping to avoid any further meetings with people I knew. Who in the depths did that owner think he was to lecture me like that? Of course I know it wasn’t healthy, it was the only thing keeping Trevor even slightly agreeable by mitigating his headaches. Even though progress with him has been slow, FRUSTRATINGLY slow, it was progress, nonetheless. He was back to drawing and painting like I’ve seen him do in his off time.

I couldn’t afford to stop now, I had to keep pushing!

 It was only a short walk home, and thankfully without any further interruption. All the way back to that rapidly deteriorating house. Trevor wasn’t inside the living room as before, and more likely, was in one of his side rooms, potentially his little studio. A green light from beneath the door to his little art studio answered my question. I set the case of beer on the living room table and quietly made my way to the door.

 He’d made a pretty amount of money from his journo efforts. Each room was assigned a specific purpose, something he made ample use of despite the relatively small size of each. One closet was a dark room for developing professional photographs, another closet was an art studio with plants galore to inspire creativity. And yet, despite such utility, the house itself was a library of all the different travels he had undertaken, each picture a story, each piece of art a creative process. Each decoration a story to be told; each a tale to be read by someone like me.

 Trevor was sitting in his studio; green lights having been installed haphazardly into the ceiling lights as he worked. He was working on what looked to be one of his more abstract works, a swirling blackness with hints of grey and purple splotches everywhere. I couldn’t make out any shapes or differing, minute shades due to the green light pervading the room. I’ll have to ask him about it later if I get the chance. He turned to me as I opened the door and let myself into his little world of art. “Welcome home.” He said sharply, “I would’ve said ‘I’d appreciate it if you had knocked’ but I imagine you have an answer for it.”

 “I know well enough about your headaches that I know how to keep them from getting agitated darling~” I respond, maintaining my sickly-sweet demeanor. “I brought you a pack of Miller Light.”

 “How very forward thinking of you. I’d say you read me like a book, but you’ve already done that.”

 “I tend to have that effect on people. How are the headaches Trevor?”

 “They’re better. I can actually think now that it only feels like my head’s in a vice.”

 “Good,” I reply, “that means your memory’s adjusting to my exposure.”

“Oh, wonderful.” He sarcastically celebrated.

“Yes, while it’s good that your old ones are adjusting, how would you feel about creating some new memories, Trevor?” He raises a brow in my direction and sets down his brush before turning to me fully.

 “Creating new memories huh? I see you’re trying a new approach. What’d you have in mind?”

 “Tuzi told me that Xmas preparations were going to begin soon and I was wondering if you’d like to do some shopping with me.”

 “Christmas shopping? It’s the middle of November.”

 “I know!” I ecstatically replied. “I said the same exact thing, but she was just so adamant about it that I thought we might as well do it.” Trevor looked back to his painting and sighed, deliberating the idea.

 “I don’t know. I quite enjoy only being in moderate pain with my head versus having to go outside into the light.”

 “Ah, but even a cave dweller like me knows enough that a change in scenery can change moods for the better. Won’t you consider it?” I needed to push him in the right direction, hopefully to make more progress. “I know that your sister Bethany might appreciate something. You’ve been meaning to get a gift for her since you were away for a bit before we met, haven’t you?” Trevor winced as I brought up Bethany and his own innate desire, likely a spike of pain from his memory.

 “Yes, YES.” Trevor grunted. “Yes, I had been considering it. Fine, I’ll go with you to shop, but only when it gets dark. And…” Trevor picked his brush up and pointed it at me. “Don’t you bring her or anyone else I know up again. You know what happens whenever you do.”

 I smile at his answer, having gotten my way for once in a while. “I know Trevor, I know.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 It didn’t take long for it to get dark out, but despite the ambient darkness, and my own discouragement, he insisted on wearing a set of sunglasses outside. Likely for his headache. Thankfully, he had remained dry enough during the day to drive us to a shopping plaza that he remembered, much to his own pain. Though parking was somewhat difficult to come by, it wasn’t long before me and him were walking through the semi streets of the plaza.

 The shops seemed to have recovered from the Maou’s chaotic entrance into this dimensional reality, although certain shops still retained boarded windows due to the destruction of their storefront. Despite this, the entire plaza was afire with business from both man and mamono, couples and singles both. An occasional single human, usually a man, would sometimes be seen, with envious and predatory mamono not far behind them. The kind like hellhounds and manticores would be eyeing the men and silently stalking them through the crowd. Single, human women, on the other hand, would be stalked by the more diabolic ones like the succubi, ever eager to add to their infernal ranks. Other than those clueless or desperate outliers, all the others were enjoying their time as they explored the area. It was rapidly beginning to infuriate me.

 A duo of oni sisters and their respective husbands sat at a waffle sandwich shop and heartily devoured their bread and bacon for dinner. A gandharva and what was likely her husband sat at a corner, bundled up for the evening cold and playing their guitars, their sweet scent propagating the plaza and wooing any bystanders for their spare change. An entire clan of orcs were crowding around a food truck, their boss trying to order from a beleaguered owner. But it wasn’t even the worst part, not even close.

 As me and Trevor walked through the shops, practically aimless, I spotted a familiar sight, an atlach-nacha, the very same from a month ago sitting idly in her spider husband’s mouth. More than clothed for the cold and with a tie wrapped around her head, she idly lounged in her husband’s mouth, looking horrifically intoxicated. Paper bags from various different outlets dangled off whatever spikes were available on his body like coats in a closet, and what couldn’t hang off of him was placed plainly in his mouth along with her. She lounged idly in the inactive mouth, seemingly content to point out different stores, much to the seemingly, non-fluxed manner of the husband.

 “Yes of course” She shouted, uncaring of the ruckus she was causing, “I know you’re not made of money, rather right now you’re just made of chitin and muscle.” He husband relayed a joke in that abyssal tongue of his, a language only ever truly known by his bride. “I know! Ha! Good joke! I told you you’d enjoy cutting loose like this. Ah, hey, another drink?” She pulled out a bottle of alcohol from one of the bags and, with no sense of restraint, began to pour it where she was sitting, forcing the husband to lap at her body with those myriads of tongues and extremities. He was visibly enjoying the treatment, his eyes looking upwards in enjoyment as he rattled off more of that speak of his. “Yeah! Now you’re getting with it!” She flung herself back into his maw like a sofa, enjoying the lewd display she was giving, the crowd jeering or cheering around her. “God it’s great that you’re not a stick in the mud anymore!”

 Looking back to Trevor, and his uncharacteristic disregard for such a spectacle. If he had been his old self, he’d be taking a high-quality photograph to send to a local newspaper to write a little, funny article on without delay. It’s the kind of thing that would help reignite his passion in doing things and potentially accelerate his recovery. “Do you have your camera on you by any chance?” I ask him, despite his straightforward gaze.

 “No,” he grunted, “I can’t stand to look through a lens with these migraines.”

 “You did see that with that spider at least, right?”

 “I did.”

 “Maybe you can write an article about it, maybe get a spot in the paper with all the new goings on~.” I encourage.

 “I can’t stand looking at screens either. Trying to figure out that green light shit online was bad enough, I’m not going to force myself to write and edit an article.”

 “Well, keep it in mind then, I guess.” After the smoldering end to our brief conversation, I gingerly extend my hand towards his to try and gauge his feelings, and to assuage my own rampant desire. If he takes it, maybe I can get him started soon on the oaths, maybe after that I can offer him the third oath in short order. To no avail, he moves his hand away from mine, deftly dodging my attempts to hold onto his in pace with his walk. I swore I could feel eyes upon us as my maneuver backfired with Trevor remaining as distant as ever.

 The pit in my chest was slowly growing.

 “See anything that’d make for a nice gift?” Trevor asked, not acknowledging the attempt.

 “Nice gift? Hm,” I deflect, looking for any answers I can. I had completely forgotten about finding a gift for Bethany. “What about a nice piece of jewelry?” I propose, pointing at a local diamond shop.

 “No, that’s too expensive and too intense for just a little gift.”

 “Hm, then how about professionally made food?” I offer, pointing out the waffle house. “Certainly anyone would enjoy a meal with a relative.”

 “Too cheap. Buying a gift card while being away for a bit is a scummy thing to do anyways. Though having lunch wouldn’t be…too bad an idea. But I need an actual gift.” My frustration was mounting, but I had to keep cool. There was still time to spend, after all.

 “Hmm, how about…” I look around the plaza, trying desperately to ignore all the other couples that are enjoying their time together. Browsing the various neon signs, my eyes fall upon the only storefront that would catch an eye due to being different. Instead of the various, unnatural hues of white, blue, and green, neon signage, the store was lit with a much more homely orange light, akin to flames of a lamp. The front of the store was stylized to look like a wooden cabin, with the front windows large enough to display whatever products they had on display. The plain fake wood sign simply read “Dunmire Antiques.”

 “How about something from there?” I answer, pointing at the antique shop.

 “Hm, maybe.” Trevor replied, much to my own joy. “We’ll have to see what’s in there that’d make for a decent gift. Something small but still novel.” Finally turning our attentions to a shared goal, we pivoted to our destination and left the street behind to enter the shop.

The inside was small, and almost seemed to betray the outside cabin aesthetic with more modern looking floors and walls but retained the homey aesthetic with the various shelves and display cases that littered the store. Within such displays, various bits, trinkets, and bobbles competed with one another for attention, each flashing their own sticker applied price tags as they almost seemed to await a new home. Several, older couples, consisting either longer lived mamono or regular human couples haunted the several lanes of display cases while the owner sat behind a cash register. The owner himself was a shockingly gruff looking man with a bald head and a goatee who seemed more at home in a pawn shop in the city than a cabin. It’s probably what this place was, for that matter.

Wordlessly, Trevor gave me a curt nod before drifting off to wander the lanes of the store by himself, looking for something that’d make a good gift. I took after his example and began to browse on my own, looking over various different old knick-knacks from decades past in this world. There were pointless consumer antiques, like a lamp made from a Coca-Cola bottle or bobble heads of players of the “American pastime,” and then there were actual antiques that were worthy of the title. They were kind of things that families would attempt to pawn off after a relative dies to make money or to clear out space in their homes. The latter category interested me more, considering what Bethany would enjoy having in her house.

Though the search was tedious and boring, I eventually came across a suitable specimen that might interest Bethany and Trevor. It was a large, wooden container the size of a small dog and painted to look like a woman. When opened, it revealed another smaller, similarly painted container that held its own smaller doll and so on until all that was left was a single wooden piece. A novel kind of doll, a large one, and likely something Bethany would enjoy. Now to convince Trevor of it.

He was easily found in a separate row, looking over a set of glass paper weights and desk decorations that took the form of various different animals. “Find anything?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

“Not over here.” He answers. “Did you have any luck?”

“I think I did.” I lead him over to where the painted containers were and showed him the painted container.

“I don’t think she’d really be into a matryoshka doll.” Trevor denied. “She prefers more cloth and fabric sort of things. And besides that, I think that price tag is uh…” I practically see him squinting his eyes as he gazed at the price tag. “That price tag seems a little inflated for something like this.”

“Aoh, what if I help pay for it?” I offer, trying to deflect from the $300 price tag. “I might not be taking home commissions anymore but I’ve still got a decent salary.”

“Even if you did, I still don’t think it’s really her thing anyways. It’ll be best if we keep looking.” The frustration over his refusal was beginning to wear on me, and I was beginning to wonder if I would need to force the issue.

“What if we don’t find another?” I protest.

“I’m almost certain we will and if we don’t, we’ll get this one. It’s that simple.” Trevor was getting noticeably agitated at my insistence on the doll. He was right in that it wasn’t Bethany’s typically enjoyed souvenir, but I couldn’t let up on the pressure now, not when we have so close a moment to at least agree on something, something to get my foot in the door with him. With his still continuing resistance, and his refusal to meet me even halfway, I was going to need walk more than halfway, and grab him in his own territory. I don’t care if I have to drag him screaming and kicking out of his territory and back towards mine, I WILL fix him.

“Y’know,” I began, knowing what to say, “I do think Bethany would like this kind thing, like that one doll with the wooden joints and what not.”

The reaction was both immediate and spectacular.

“ERRGH GODDAMN IT!” Trevor almost shouted, gripping at his head. The exact combination of subjects and nostalgia triggered one of his migraine attacks. Although the process was painful to him, it gave me an opportunity I needed. I could fix him here and now; correct any wrongs I have done in the past.

“Oh, Trevor! I forgot about the trigger!” I fib, extending my tentacles to his precious little ears. “Don’t worry, I think I can fix this!”

“Don’t you dare- “

“Too late~.” I slide into his mind, as quietly as I can, as smoothly as I can to begin my work. I wouldn’t have too much time; people were already staring. I quickly move to pin down his pain impulses and his ability to move, to keep him from knocking me away or from being in any more pain than he already is. Now that he was disabled, I could finish my work swiftly, a conclusion to the weeks of Trevor’s treatment and my suffering.

I was immediately diving through the surface of his thoughts, past what constituted conscious level thought. Words like “Betrayal” “Damn you,” “Why?” passed by me as I dove past his inner monologue before a new vista opened up before me. A memory Trevor and his sister Bethany when they were teenagers, specifically when he had gotten her a doll he found at a yard sale that she absolutely adored. It was a neat little doll, one with a wooden skeleton that was covered in fabric which, while it made it a bit stiffer, made it great for posing. She had loved it, and I rode on the waves of satisfaction he felt from such a treasured find.

I took pride in my ability to weave my presence inside of that memory, being the one to point it out and recommend the doll to him. It helped bridge the gap between us and would smooth over the relationship once I fix him.

Trevor’s monologue faded away as I moved even deeper towards his subconscious, the area where thoughts lie in slumber at the bottom of the mind’s sea. If I could get to the bottom of it, I could place a tiny stop gap on his memory to help him adjust to the new ones thus mitigating the pain responses. It’d stifle his creativity for a bit, and maybe he’d be a bit slower in the head, but it was better than watching him suffer in silence and destroying his body with alcohol. It wouldn’t take much longer for him to get acclimated, for the pain to go away. It’d just be a temporary measure. Just temporary.

My dive is interrupted by another sight that’s caught my mind’s eye. In the section just after the surface but just above the subconscious was a subliminal thought process of recent memory; the painting he was working on earlier. That swirling blackness of various dark hues of black and purple that reminded me of home. I pause in my descent and drift towards it, my curiosity causing my head to swirl.

I would help him…but first I’ll just take a quick peek at his next work. I’ll just get a sneak peek at his creative process, and the meaning behind such an abstract piece. Just one less secret to be kept from me.

I push the memory back to watch the process unfold. In but a moment’s time, every single stroke, every single thought that crossed the sea as he was creating it began to play in reverse. Practically rewinding time, I watch as stroke after stroke of paint was undone so I could watch, in time only achievable in the span of a firing synapse, the progress of his creativity returning. This would likely be the last time in a while I’d be able to watch such a show. But something was wrong, I soon discovered that this was not a creatively driven work, but an emotionally driven one.

I wince as emotions began to bubble and radiate from the work. It was terrible, spiteful, malice-filled emotion that boiled with hate and only intensified as the portrait continued to be undone. I move to try and stop the portrait from unraveling further, but to no avail. A knife practically plunges into my chest as my attempt fails. This has never happened before, how could this ever happen?

Watching with equal parts shock and apprehension, I feel myself pushed away as the portrait finally lays bare its secrets, most of the brush strokes having left the canvas. All that was left at the end, the beginning of the painting, were but several strokes that were covered up by the newer ones. Drawn on it, in a very forceful hand was two words that served as a repelling force that pushed me away.

“GET. OUT.”

All at once, I am shunted from the depths of Trevor’s mind, past his surface, and back out into the store. I recoil from the pushback and catch myself, messily and loudly, on a display case opposite of where we were looking. That shouldn’t have been possible, none of the elders told me a human could do that!

Trevor, still clutching at his head, slowly stood up, shaking his head from my intrusion. He turned to me, and the stares from the other customers paled in comparison to the sheer, flaming glare coming from him. Even with his sunglasses, the heat and utter revolt he directed at me was unbearable, and I was forced to avert my gaze, lacking the spine to look back.

“We’re leaving.” He said, slowly and willfully.

 The short ride home was short and painful, with Trevor remaining silent the entire way. I maintained the silent atmosphere until we got in the driveway, where he dismounted from post-haste. “Trevor,” I start.

 “Get away from me.” He demands in response.

 “Trevor, I’m sorry! I was only trying to help!”

 “Bullshit! I bet you planned it from the start! To try and get me in a spot where you could work your little mind tricks again!” He hastily drew his house keys and unlocked the house as I followed close behind him.

 “No I wasn’t! I was trying to help make new memories and to put an end to your pain! Don’t you want that!?” The lock undone, Trevor forced his way inside and towards the pack of beer still on the table.

 “If it weren’t for you, I WOULDN’T be in this situation in the first place!” Picking it up, he furiously ripped it open and, taking advantage of a bottle opener on his keychain, quickly availed himself to that amber colored poison. “And I CERTAINLY wouldn’t be trapped in this fucking cave either.” He took a long swig from the bottle, downing most of it in one go before taking a breather. “And the only reason I’m still even here, and not away from YOU, is because of these damn migraines. Your own, self-created cage.”

 I pause my advance as he spits such poisonous accusations at my conduct. “Y-you don’t mean that. Not after the little moment we had when we first met.” I stammer. Curse my weakness!

 “Yeah, I do.” He finished the rest of the bottle and grimaced as the alcohol began to take effect on him and plucked the case of alcohol from the table. “I’ve got a killer headache from the stunt you pulled. I’m going to bed and I don’t want to see you again. And don’t you even start with that ‘mate for life’ bullshit either.” He walked past my dazed self, eyeing me with contempt as he searched for the last drops of beer in the bottle.

 “…Until when?” No answer. He walks down the hall and out of sight, and before I can recover my senses and pursue him, I hear the master bedroom door close and lock. I lean up against the door and slam my fist on the door. “Trevor. Trevor! Please! Just let me- “

 A brief woosh of air preceded the impact of a glass bottle against the door. Shocked, I fall backwards away from it as I hear idle rummaging around the room, and the pop of another beer cap from within. I shakily wait for any other action or sound from within, to no avail. A tear begins its trail from my eye to my bosom as I sit in the darkness, totally alone and defeated.

 It’s not fair. All that time and effort, for NOTHING.

 How many others had it so much easier, WHY should they have it so much easier?!

 I clutch the ring about my necklace and hold it tight. Damnable Maou, damned Dagon to have both cursed me to falling in love with this man.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 I barely slept through the night on the couch, and when I awoke this morning Trevor was still secluded in his room. I wearily prepare my morning for today’s work shift. I move like a slug, my body heavy and my eyes stinging from the salty tears I had lost during the night. At the pace I was going, I abandon any attempt to fix my looks to not be late. I lean up quietly against Trevor’s door, careful to not alert him in case he’s still got throwing ammo. “I’m…going to work now darling.” I muse to myself. “I’ll be back later tonight, and I’ll make sure to bring something to…help with the headaches…” I drift off. I silently finish with a whispered, “I love you,” before departing.

 Tuzi met me at the turn off, and instantly noticed my disheveled look. “Goodness! L-Latch!” She blurts out, “Are you alright?”

 “I don’t want to talk about it.” I mutter back. She takes my unspoken request for silence and lets us walk in peace, for once not regaling me with what her and her husband did the last evening, or what they plan to do. As much as I hate to admit it, it would’ve probably helped me from stewing in my own thoughts. Focusing on work on whoever came in was a hopeless endeavor. It didn’t matter what the couple was or what the “problem” was either. I’d just give them little bits of advice, tell them what they thought of each other and that’s be the end of it.

 The end of their dumb, little nonproblems that they think they have instead of being able to focus on my problems, always distracted by these dumb little couples who think-

 “Who think about what exactly?”

 Damn it! I quickly bring myself back into focus as I think back to the couple in front of me. I pull myself from their minds to hide my own thoughts, leaving instead both of them staring at me with offense as I gather myself back up. “I apologize,” I force out, “But there’s been a slight problem I’ve been dealing with at home. I might need to reschedule with you two later. Will that be fine?”

 The succubus pulls her thoroughly exhausted looking husband up by the hand and leaves my office with a huff, slamming the door behind her. Another complaint for Silverman to grill me on. I bury my head in my hand in frustration and take a sip of my tea in the other. It’s long since gone cold and tastes like sugared water. I barely even like sage tea anymore. I can hear some whispers behind the door, likely the succubus and her little boy toy hubby of hers. I grip my teacup with increasing fury as I listen to the nondescript whispers. What would they know about problems? She wants to have sex often and he doesn’t; what kind of hare-brained problem is that?!

 And they DARE to talk behind MY back about their nonexistent problem?!

 I hurl the teacup at the door with all my fury and watch as it shatters powerlessly against the wood grain, staining the door with my drink. I lean back in my chair, my hands massaging my temples as I attempt to calm myself down, naturally, to no such fortune. Then a knock comes and Tuzi pokes her head cautiously into my office.

 “…Mrs. Latch? Silverman wishes to speak with us.”

 Great. Fantastic. Right on que for today. “Her office?” I mutter out, earning a nod in response. I peel myself from the office chair and follow Tuzi to Silverman’s office, all nice, prim, and proper with actual furniture.

 “Mrs. Latch, could you please take a seat?” Silverman beckons with a fake, friendly demeanor. I take a seat at one of the gaudy, leather, office chairs with Tuzi joining me in sitting in the other. “Do you know any reasons I may have called you in here today, Mrs. Latch?”

 “Is it the complaints?” I weakly ask.

 Silverman let her expression darken, as I naturally start us off straight to the point. “In the span of today alone, you’ve received *six* complaints in a row from six different couples. All of them cite the same exact reason. ‘Counselor unhelpful or rude’ with even more specific complaints being ‘projecting her problems during our session.’” I look down to my feet as she goes on, not willing to give her any mind as I half pay attention to the reprimand. “Ordinarily, I’d be asking you what you think you can do better, give you a stern warning that the next time this happens you’re fired, and sending you on your way. But,” She motioned to Tuzi, who looked rather worried for me, “your colleague Mrs. Haacha told me that you were looking much worse for wear this morning, and that in general you’ve been acting strange as of late. I’m going to ask you point blank. What’s going on? Is something in your life the cause?”

 Damn it. The jig was up. I couldn’t pretend like nothing was wrong anymore. “It’s…homelife.” I started. “I’ve been having major difficulties as of late.”

 “At home? Does it involve Trevor?” Tuzi asks.

 “’Does it involve Trevor’,” I repeat back mockingly, “OF COURSE it involves Trevor!” I begin by going into detail about the events of what’s been plaguing him the past few months, his migraines and how they’ve crippled him. And how I was responsible for it, all the while devolving into a tearful mess.

 The night I had met him, I did what any normal mamono would do and had a forceful union with him. To help smooth things over with my appearance, I tapped into his mind and changed things around in his memories, inserting myself into many of them to help us bond and to have a better relationship in the long run. The only thing was, because of his photographic memory and his ability to picture things so well, his mind rebelled at the changes I had made to his memory. As such, his mind was in constant turmoil over his normal memory and the changes I made, like festering wounds beneath a stitched quilt that manifested in the intense migraines he endured on a daily basis.

 “They were starting to get better,” I choked out, “like his mind was starting to heal. But then last night I tried to operate on them to make them better, and instead they got worse. Now he’s at home poisoning himself to slow down his thinking and to stop the pain, and there’s nothing I can do to reach him! Tuzi and Silverman were silent as I took a spare tissue to blow my nose.

 “’Tried to operate?’” Silverman scoffed indignantly. “You talk like, tsk, you talk like he’s…”

 “Like he’s a patient.” Tuzi finished.

“Mrs… Latch. He’s your HUSBAND.” Silverman scolded. “You don’t treat someone you love like they’re some sort of mental case like the ones we help here!”

 “What other choice do I have?!” I shouted. “He’s been in pain this entire time because of what happened! I’m the only one who understands what’s happened to him! I’m the only person who can fix him!”

 “Latch, he’s been in this pain because of what you did, especially with what happened last night. You can’t just say that you’re the only one who can help him.”

 “I have to fix him! It has to be me!” I sink into the chair and pull my legs up to cover myself, my tentacles covering my face like a curtain. “It has to be me. Otherwise, I’d be saying that I screwed up and that someone else had to fix my problem. That I really am nothing but a burden to him.” I felt Tuzi’s hand rubbing my shoulder as a gesture of support.

 “You can still be the one to help him, Latch.” Tuzi reassured after a period of silence.

 “How.” I demand.

 “You can still be the one to guide him to get the help he needs, and the help you need.” I look up to her, to that reassuring smile. “We’ve helped dozens if not hundreds of people over the course of these past several weeks Latch. Each of them had problems that they needed someone else to mediate, to help them reach a common understanding of what the other partner wanted. They’d never be able to get to that point without us, and the same thing applies to you. You’re no better or worse, but you’ll never reach that point by continuing to push Trevor like this. You’ll just be repeating what each of our patients have tried before they came to us.”

 I look over to Mrs. Silverman, who’s expression is much less soft than Tuzi’s. “I think I’ve heard enough. Mrs. Latch, I’m giving you a leave of absence to resolve whatever problems you have at home and to hopefully pull yourself together, effective immediately. Please get help for your relationship.” Without anything to say, I stood up out of my seat and gave a curt bow before leaving Silverman’s office. Tuzi followed in suit, staying ever at my side.

 “If you need any help, me and Timothy will be here for you.” She confided. Despite all the envy I had for her and Timothy, I couldn’t deny the wisdom in her words.

 “…you’re right.” I admit, swallowing what was left of my pride. “I was the one that put him into this situation, and by trying to push my point I’ve done nothing but push him away. He’d be better off alone than in spending any more time with me.”

 “Latch…” she put another hand to my shoulder, something I waved off.

 “No. I’ve done nothing but hurt him. If it hadn’t been for me, he’d probably be one of the first people to take photos of everything, to be the journalist he was meant to be. But because of my mistake he’s trapped in the confines of that house like I was at home. He doesn’t deserve someone like me.” I look towards the various other conflicted couples waiting in the hall and quietly sigh to myself. Me and Trevor needed help, but I couldn’t bear to look at him again. “Tuzi, how is your knowledge of medicines?”

 “I may or may not have gotten some information from one of the couples we’ve worked with.”

 “I need to know what medications would help dull pain or help slow thought processes. It’s the best thing that will help Trevor deal with his migraines.”

 “I can share that. Just take my hand.” I follow her instructions as she takes my hand gently into hers as she put her other hand to my forehead. Immediately, I felt a surge of knowledge flow into my mind of various kinds of human, prescription medicines that would help Trevor with his headaches. I grip the ring as I start to cry again, simultaneously knowing that it was time to give my ring to Trevor, and that I would never see him again.

 All I needed to do was to make a call to someone I knew first.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Darkness, pain, and cheap beer. It’s all I’ve known for the past several weeks, ever since she showed up into my life. Ever since that tentacle haired squid showed up, I haven’t been able to do anything I used to do. No writing, no art, not even thinking. It all hurt the same.

 I lay curled on the bed, my head hurting in on and off intensity since last night when Latch tried to intrude on my mind. The fact that she had the nerve to do something like that, in public nonetheless, and to lie about it. The nerve that she’d bring up Bethany and that memory, that sweet, joyful memory.

 I clutch at my head as I remind myself of how she changed it and move to take another drink of the bottle I’ve been nursing. I hold the bottle upside down, trying to drink any drop of beer that was left, only to come to the sad conclusion that I was all out of beer again. Now it was just me, the pain, and the darkness.

 I don’t know how much time passed, it’s all been a big smear these days, before I heard the front door to my house open. Someone, likely Latch, walked into the house, and audibly set something on the living room table. If it was Latch, she would have been home earlier than usual, if the way light squeezed by the blinders meant anything. If she was smart, it’ll be with another case of beer to help make up for the shit she pulled. There was silence in the house before I heard her walk to my personal office and open up a set of drawers before quieting down again. She then made her approach to my room and I clutched the empty bottle in preparation for a repeat of last night. When she reached the door, there was no knock, no talking, nothing. She seemed to just wait there, as if she was preparing herself for something.

 All at once, I heard something slide beneath the door before she retreated back to the living room, and eventually, out of the house. I raised my head to the glass abused door to see what it was she had given me. Lying amidst broken glass was a note, neatly folded and with the big words of “Read me” scribbled across the front. I turn away, my migraine already exasperated by tilting my head up as I slump back into the sheets of my bed. Eventually, after some indeterminable amount of time, the migraine subsided enough so that I could function again. With a groan, I pushed away the empty bottles that surrounded me and forced myself up and off my bed. It was probably early in the evening, and the sky was beginning to darken as the sun set. Sitting up, I slowly made my way to the door to the note, carefully picking it up to read.

 “Dear Trevor,

When I first met you, when I first dove into you, I had no idea that you were such a well-traveled man who had risked his freedom, and sometimes his life, to bring light to whatever story you thought should be known. To show off different sights and vistas you thought were interesting to people who, without you, would never know of such wonderful sights and locations. The stories and art you’ve created, each of their own meaning, also beautified me as to the endless wonders that your mind could conjure. From the moment I saw it, I knew I had to have you all to myself, and yet I…

 I screwed up. I hurt you beyond what any other mamono would be capable of and crippled the most precious thing you had because of my own selfish desire. What’s worse, instead of admitting to my fault and getting the help that we both so desperately needed, I forced myself upon you as your only caretaker, hurting us both in the process. What I have done to you, both over the course of these few weeks we’ve known each other and last night, are unforgivable with a mere apology. What I have done was inexcusable, and the best thing for us both to recover from the depths of where I’ve put us is to leave you, so I don’t hurt you again.

 But please, before you throw away this note, please fulfill one last request. Please, don’t destroy yourself with alcohol because of what I’ve done. I’ve left a container of medicine that should help treat your pain. In addition to the relief such medicines can provide, I’ve also made a call to a sister of mine to provide her services. She can make the false memories, and thus the pain, go away. Her number, and the payment she’ll want, will be on the table. If you need anyone to talk to, Timothy and Tuzi, good friends of mine, will be around to help.

 I will be going back home. It’s for the best that you don’t look for me. I love you.

-Latch”

 At the bottom of the page, I notice, was a small, wet circle, like a drop of water had been applied to the paper. Certainly prospective of her to write something like this, she probably spent all day today at that clinic thinking this up with what stationary she could get her little hands on. She even went so far as to not say another smug word on the matter before leaving. She was certainly going the effort.

 Carefully, I step over the broken glass and out the door, moving to the living room, determined to see how much effort she was going into her act this time. To my surprise, what awaited me was a bottle of medication along with another folded up letter, with that ring of hers keeping it weighted down. Looking at the note, it had two phone numbers on it, one labeled “Gilatcha” and the other “Timothy + Tuzi” which I recognized as Tim’s number. The ring was…unusual to say the least.

 The ring was made of some strange metal, of silver color that reflected various colors from the dim light that touched it. The outside of the ring was rough and coarse, as if belonging to a chunk of rock while the inside of it was smooth and polished. The strangest thing about the ring, however, was the strangeness of trying to wear it. No matter what finger it rested on, it seemed to fit perfectly, and wearing it created a slight warmth within the chest. Odd.

 I clutch at my head again as I look about the living room in an attempt to gather my thoughts. Every frame and every portrait was a memory waiting to pop up and destroy my head. I couldn’t bare looking at any of them.

 I decide, much to the irritation of my migraine, to try the Gilatcha number first. I pull out my smartphone and, wincing the whole while, tap in her phone number and raise it to my ear, careful to make sure the volume was low. The ringtone played only once before a woman’s voice, already full of herself, answered.

 “Hm~ yes hello this is Gil’ahcth how may I help you?” I let out a quiet groan as her manner of speaking reminds me exactly of Latch already.

 “This is Trevor Newhouse,” I answer. “Latch said- ”

 “Aah! Yes, Trevor! Lyi’ahcth told me you’d be calling. I take it this is about the appointment?”

 “I..I guess. Do I need to make one or something?”

 “No no, not at all. Lyi’ahcth took care of that for you. Do you have a paper handy? I’ll give you my address and you can come right over. Just make sure you bring that little ring that Lyi’ahcth left for you and I’ll make everything all better~.” Latch had at least had the courtesy to leave a pen next to the paper she left. “Alright, now listen carefully…” Gilatcha’s address was a motel in a different area closer to Los Angeles, likely something that the “Maou” had taken control of in order to help settle the mamono. “I’ll see you soon Trevor!” Gilatcha hung up, leaving me alone in the dark with a glaringly bright phone screen.

 I was in no shape to be driving around, between my distracting migraine and the slight buzz of beer. Naturally, this left me with one other option, though I dreaded the potentially greater risk to my own safety.

 After turning down the brightness, I dialed Tim, my political analyst coworker, to see how genuine her relationship with him was. This time, not even a ringtone passed by before being picked up, as if he was expecting a call. “Trevor?” Tim’s voice answered.

 “Did he finally call?” A woman’s voice pestered.

 “Yeah,” I groan, “It’s me.”

 “Thank god man, thought for sure you’d never call! Hey, are you doing alright? Latch said you weren’t doing so hot when she left.”

 “So she DID talk to you, then.”

 “Well, she talked to- “

 “Yes she talked to me about you Trevor!” The woman’s, stupidly upbeat voice replied. “Hello! I’m Tuzi, Timothy’s wife. Pleased to meet you!”

 “…you got married?” I asked.

 “Oh, yeah that was uh, a little bit back after all this stuff went down. I mean it was a little bit after they showed up and I was walking around and- ” There went Tim on one of his speeches all about how something happened.

 “Ok, OK. Tim!” I interrupt. “Latch talked to you guys?”

 “Oh, uh yeah! She asked, since we’re friends and that, to try and help you out. She mentioned we might need to drive you somewhere?”

 “Yeah, I think I have an address for someone that can apparently help me. You guys free tonight?”

 “Oh totally dude. You want me to swing by right now? I’m just, I’m good to go wherever.”

 “Just come on by and I’ll be out. See you in a bit.”

 “Yeah, see you in a bit man!” I ended the call, and put a hand to my temple to help quell the still raging beat of my head. Ok, maybe she DID talk to them, and meant something of it. Just up the street, I could hear the engine of Tim’s turbo-charged Nissan roaring to life as he was likely just waiting for the call to action.

 I popped the container of headache medication and swiftly swallowed a pill, hoping for it to take effect before Tim’s ride, which would likely be off the rails.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 The car ride was a silent but intense one, Tim practically a road monster as he’s always been, possibly a side effect of working in Los Angeles. Though my migraine subsided in intensity, the stark movements of his sudden lane changes still made my head feel as if water was sloshing about in it. Tuzi, the “hakutaku” as she’s went on, had gotten quiet after she had managed to introduce herself to me and how she and Tim met, most of which I tuned out on because of my migraine. All in all, it was very awkward, and all I could do was keep my eyes closed to block out light as I leaned against the door in my seat.

 Tuzi eventually managed to break the ice. “Hm, so, Trevor, Latch told me that she was going home, where we came from.”

 “So she wrote to me.” I answer.

 “Aren’t you, curious at all as to where it was she’d be going?”

 “Nope. Not really.”

 “Not even a little?”

 “I’ve much bigger concerns on my mind right now Tuzi. And besides that, she’s said not to look for her so I might as well oblige her. She might have given me something for my head but it doesn’t excuse what she’s done to me.”

 “Oh…”

 “Ah c’mon man,” Tim spoke up, casually ignoring the mess he was making on the asphalt. “Maybe you’re being too rough with that. When I talked to her it looked like she was all torn up. I think she regrets what she did. Maybe you should talk to her about it.”

 “Hey,” I retorted, “You try living for a month with a constant, horrific migraine because of something some woman did to you and then forgiving her.”

 “I’m just saying man, that old saying. To forgive is divine.”

 “Yes! And to err is human, right?” Tuzi spoke up.

 “Yeah, and like money, it’s easier to spend forgiveness when it’s on someone else’s platter.” I finish.

The car descended into silence again, before Tim’s GPS spoke,

“In 100 feet, your destination is on the right.”

“Uhm, anyways, we’re here.” Tim spoke up. The address itself took us closer to LA, to a seedy looking hotel that went by the name of “Stardust motel.” So seedy, in fact, that the bars lined every single window to every single room. A contingent of soldiers of cow, snake, and demon women kept a heavy guard on the location, keeping an eye on any cars that passed by. They especially looked towards us as Tim pulled into the parking lot, as if expecting trouble to emerge from our car. It honestly reminded me of the Middle East, much to my head’s, pained agreement. “Me and Tuzi’ll wait in the parking lot. You think you’ll be alright Trevor?”

“I should be.” I answered. “I’ll be a couple minutes.” I left the car, only to be immediately met with a gruff looking cow woman’s sizable chestplate, a minotaur from the size of her. Her armor, something like a knight would wear, gleamed dully from the street lights in the area as she towered over me like a fun house mirror.

“Name.” She grunted. Definitely Middle East treatment. I puff myself up with confidence to deliver my answers at the predictable routine.

“Trevor Newhouse.”

“Marital status?”

“Uh, taken. By a mindflayer.”

“Damn it,” the minotaur grumbled. “Reason for visit?”

“Uh,” I stammered, thinking of what to say. “Visiting…a Mrs…Gilatcha?”

“Room 12, second floor.” Without any further interrogation, the minotaur left me alone and shouted to her fellow guard in some language I didn’t understand, something they all acknowledged before going back to her post at the entrance of the parking lot.

“You should be good to go!” Tuzi blurted out from a rolled down window. “We’ll be waiting out here as your ride!

“Right, thanks.” I mutter back. It was only a short walk across the parking lot and to the main hotel, despite the various pairs of eyes watching me. The hotel itself was the definition of run down, with rusted and flaking hand bars and faux gravel stairs that sat on sheet metal construction. Passing by the doors was the same story, complete with flaking paint, worn appearances, and even a bullet hole or two in one of them. The only other thing that remained the same was occupancy, as from several I could hear mattress springs straining and the sound of rough intercourse playing out from various couples. They really were taking whatever digs they could get.

Soon, I came to Room 12, another nondescript door, and knocked loudly, much to my own discomfort. Some movement inside preceded chains and locks being undone before the door opened, to a disturbingly familiar sight of mine. Another mindflayer, complete with fleshy looking dress and tentacle like hair, smiling smugly at me. She even spoke in the same, sickly sweet manner as her sister. “Ah! You must be Trevor. How do you do~.” She offered a hand in greeting, something I wearily took.

“Fine, thank you. Gil..atcatcha, was it?” I ask, stumbling through her name.

“Gilatcha is fine. So,” Gilatcha clapped her hand together, in excitement, “do you have it? That thing?” Obviously straight to business.

“Yeah.” I reply. I dug the ring Latch had left me and held it out to her. She squealed as she saw it and eagerly took it out of my hand and ogled at it, as if it were her precious.

“Oh, most excellent, excellent! Please come in! Latch already told me about you~.” She threw open the door and beckoned me inside the darkness of her room. Casting a glance at her, I step into the hotel room where the noise from other couples was somewhat louder, from the thin walls. The inside itself was also depressingly standard, with only random bobbles and trinkets from wherever Gilatcha had come from decorating the various desks and lamp stands decorated the room. The air smelled of a mix of cavernous moisture and of cheap perfume, something that was likely to make the place smell more like home. She gently closed the door behind me, plunging the room into near darkness. “Please, get comfortable, have a seat! I’ll see about fixing you shortly~.” I winced when she said “fix,” it sounded like something Latch would say.

I took a seat on the cheap, spring mattress bed as she walked towards her dresser, where a pile of apparent souvenirs had been gathered. “Let me be the first to apologize for my sister,” she bragged as she walked over to the pile, “she’s always been a bit prideful and stubborn. Even when we were mere larva. Always got on everyone’s nerves about how great she was, how she was going to get out of our nice, sweet cave, and it only got worse when she found this stupid thing.” She set the ring down amidst the pile before sauntering over to the bed. “How do you feel?” I twist my head in discomfort as she got uncomfortably close.

“Like my head is full of water.” I answer.

“Ah, good. Remember what that feels like.” She lifted the tentacles from her head as she snapped her fingers. “Just you wait. When I’m done with you, you’ll be a whole new person~!” Another wince at another line Latch would say. As she approached, I leaned backwards, wary of how eager she was to work on me.

“…What’s the deal with the ring? It seems you know a lot about Latch.” I inquire, trying to buy time.

“Ah, it’s just some piece of mithril she found as a child. But enough about her, let’s fix you~!” She grabbed my head within her hands and brought it close, the tentacles hovering out of view. “Brace yourself, this’ll feel a little wet~.” With the same force that Latch did, she plunged into my mind, and I found myself beginning to dive with her into the inky blackness. “This won’t be long.” I heard her echo. I could feel the tentacles wriggling within my mind and swiftly stopping my ability to move. Next, various memories I had almost forgotten were being dredged up from the depths, most of them featuring Latch, and in short order, began to either disappear entirely or change so that she was no longer present. I could feel the weight on my head beginning to ease, the removal of Latch’s changes an obvious solution, it seemed, to my problem.

“Yes, it is darling, just a little problem my sister caused. Don’t worry, it’ll all be gone soon~.”

Damn it, I had forgotten that mindflayers could hear this sort of thing. But despite the almost instant relief I was feeling, something was still nagging at me. My question didn’t get answered.

“Your question? What, about that dumb ring?”

Yes! I heard Gilatcha sigh as the process paused. “Hearing me sigh outside? You DO have a strong mind. Fine, I’ll tell you. My sister found that ring in the depths of the caverns we called home. When she found it, it was broken off of a larger vein of mithril and was, shockingly, in the perfect shape to be made a ring. When she found it she declared, in front of Dagon and everyone, that she was going to have it refined, and that she would give it to the man she truly loved when she met him. She’d always go on and on about that, to me to everyone around her.”

The man she loved?

“Yes, and if I had to guess she went with you. It’s just a shame she messed up so much with you. But her loss is my ability to gloat the next time I see her, doesn’t that just perk you right up? Now, do me a favor and quiet down. You’re making this much harder for me to focus on fixing her mistake.”

The man she loved…

“Yes, dear, the man she loved.”

 I think I needed to have a talk with her, and I needed Gilatcha to stop whatever it was she was doing.

 “Oh, not right now dear! I’m totally in my element right now~.”

 No, she needed to get out. Now.

 “Or what? What can you even hope to do about it little man?”

 This. I began to envision my portrait, the swirling blackness of my creation.

 “What’s this? Oh, is this art? Do you mind if I just look at this a bit? I wouldn’t mind being able to tell her that…this…meant…AAAH!”

 The mindflayer took the bait, and I found myself suddenly surfacing back in the hotel room as Gilatcha recoiled from my mental trap, her tentacles pulling out of my head with a disgusting POP. The portrait, the trap, was a recollected moment of sudden, vitriolic emotion that was powerful enough to shunt her directly from my mind, and something I didn’t know worked until I used it on Latch. Gilatcha backed away from me on the floor as I cracked my neck and stood up, the migraine slightly lessened in severity.

 “That’s- that’s not possible. Nobody ever manages to get away from a mindflayer once we’ve got someone!” I ignored her bleating as I stood up and retrieved the ring from the dresser.

 “Thank you for the help.” I said, leaving the room. “I don’t think a relationship would have been possible without this.”

 “Wha- “ I shut the door behind me, coming out to the chilly outdoors as the sun was halfway through its final descent past the horizon. I probably didn’t have much time, and I had no clue where she’d be going, but I had to find her. If she was going home, then I didn’t have much time to get on her trail. Maybe Tuzi would know something, with how eager she was to divulge information. Practically bounding down the stairs I ran back to Tim’s car, much to his shock, and threw myself into the backseat.

 “Tim,” I blurted, “Did you take Latch to wherever it is she needed to go?”

 “What? Uhm, yeah. I did. Why do you- “

 “I need you to get me there. Fast. The trail’s going to get cold before very long and I have to find her.”

 “Find her?” Tuzi asked, “You mean you’re- “

 “I need to talk to her, something’s come up. And if she’s going home, I need to catch up to her any way I can. Tim,” I turn to him, knowing what to say, “Remember how many times you’ve complained about traffic going to work?”

 “Yeah?” He replied.

 “Let me remind you that I don’t think the new regime is out in force giving out speeding tickets yet.” Tim’s eyes lit up as his hand, seemingly on its own, turned the key to the ignition before darting to the clutch.

 “Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 It was another short drive away from the outskirts of LA and out towards a shipping depot that the mamono had occupied to coordinate their efforts. Tim, the absolutely mad man he was on the road, managed to get us there in record time. The negligible amount of traffic that was still on the roads posed little threat as he careened from lane to lane at breakneck speeds. On numerous occasions, I knew that if I hadn’t had my seat belt buckled, I would have flown all about the back seat of the homemade supercar. Tuzi laughed and whooped nervously the entire way, obviously not knowing of Tim’s reckless habit of driving like an utter madman.

 Eventually, Tim’s wild ride came to a pleasing stop on (not by) a sidewalk near the shipping depot. I scraped myself off from the bottom of the seat and undid my buckle as Tuzi regained her breath. Coming down off of the speed high, Tuzi exclaimed “Ha, haaa-, Tim! I never knew you were such an intense ride~!”

 “Hey, if you think that was crazy, you should see me without my pants on.” Tim let out a self-satisfied chuckle as I opened the door, hoping to escape anymore turns and innuendos before my head exploded. As I caught my breath and calmed down the butterflies in my stomach, Tim leaned out of the car and shouted, “Hey, we’ll be around, I’m just gonna take advantage of there being less cops around to get back in the saddle. Just give me a call when you need me to pick you up, alright?”

 “Alright, but don’t expect anything quick. I may be a while.” I respond, my head still swimming from the experience.

 “Not a problem man, just gives me more time.”

 “And Tim, Tuzi, thanks again. I’d probably still be stuck in my house without you two.”

 “Hey no problem man. Hey, just make sure you put a mention of a maniac, road warrior dominating the I-10 in your next article after this alright?”

 “I’ll be sure of it!” I shout back. Tim returned to his seat and let out a maniacal cackle as his wheels began to spin away.

 Just over the squeal of tires, I could hear Tim’s new wife shouting, “Timothy, please, gently! Be GENTLE!” before the car sped off, leaving me alone in the dark and chilly night. I turned to the supply depot, brimming with both military activity and calmer civilian activity as a multipurpose location. Latch was in there somewhere and the only way inside was to at least attempt to walk in. The first obstacle, a gate house with two, disinterested, mamono guards. I check my pockets, hoping to fish out a wallet that I unfortunately left at home, along with any money I could use to potentially bribe the guards.

Welp, there was always the nice way.

 I begin my approach, keeping a subdued smile and a confident stride as I walk up to the gatehouse. Both guards, one some sort of centipede woman and the other a black feathered bird woman with glasses, eyed me with marked suspicion. “Hello!” I start, “Can I go in?”

 “No.” The centipede responded.

 “Ah c’mon! What’s it going to hurt? I’m just looking for a girl is all!”

 “You and a dozen other guys now, if my memory is correct.” The bird woman responded.

 “Ah what if it was someone that was already in here? A specific someone maybe?”

 “Then you’re REALLY not getting in. After what happened in Santa Monica, we’re not allowed to let something like that happen again. If you want to meet a girl then go and take a hike. One’s bound to find you.”

 “What happened at Santa Monica?” I ask.

 “Some madman come tromping straight towards us demanding a ‘waifu’ or something and causing utter havoc as he looked for a girl.” The centipede answered. “Point is, you’re not getting in.”

 “Not even if I specifically know the name of the woman I’m trying to find?”

 “No. Buzz off.” Damn it all! I had to get in to find Latch, but I was rapidly running out of options. Trying to call her was out of the question, Tim and Tuzi tried already during the ride and it always went to voicemail, meaning her phone was off.

 All that was left was flaunt a typical, journalist’s loud mouth.

 “Ah c’mon!” I shout, raising my voice for attention, “All I’m trying to do is find one specific woman who’s here and you guys are here keeping me down!”

 “Sir,” the centipede growled, “Don’t make me have to detain you.” There it was, the tough guy act. She’d fallen right into my attention trap.

 “Oooh! I see how it is. The moment a woman comes in here she’s suddenly off limits! A man can’t march in to find a specific girl he likes just because she’s on hallowed ground? Are you guys trying to spread some message of peace and unity or are you just another regime looking to move in?!” My raised voice was having the intended effect, as several of the mamono inside were already beginning to look over in my direction, some confused, others…hungrily. The centipede woman began to advance at me, bearing a set of pincers from her back side that advanced disconcertingly slow as I continued my tirade.

 “Oy!” Came a voice from deeper inside. Just the intonation and cadence of it stopped the centipede woman in her tracks, indicating some sort of difference of either rank or power. It’s origin seemed to be some sort of green skinned, spider woman with horns, clad in samurai looking armor with a strange looking band of cloth draped across her head and face. The two soldiers immediately stood at attention as she approached the checkpoint, a singular, emerald eye darting from me to the soldiers. She asked them something in a foreign language which the soldiers responded to before she turned to me. “I’m Captain Aiko, what do you want?” She asked me, in a shockingly, American-accented voice.

 “I’m looking for someone.” I repeated.

 “You and the last dozen guys now.” The captain repeated.

 “Goddamn it, a specific woman! A mindflayer! Goes by the nickname Latch. Is she here?” Aiko’s eyes lit up when I mentioned the specifics of my query, the fire of recognition igniting.

 “A mindflayer named Latch? Yes, actually. She arrived a short while ago wanting to head back home.” Yes! A lead!

 “That’s great! Is she still here?”

 “She is. She’s just waiting for a caravan to show up to tag home on.”

 “Is it possible I can come in to see her? I need to talk to her.”

 “Humans aren’t allowed within the depot, not since the Santa Monica incident. I can’t let you in.”

 “Aoh c’mon! Can you at least bring her out here so I can talk to her?”

 “I don’t think she’ll want to come out. That caravan is due at some point tonight, and from how she was looking she seemed dead set on getting on it.”

 “C’mon, captain, please. I’m begging you, you’ve got to help me. Me being able to talk to her may be the difference between her going home and hating the rest of her life or at least being at peace with herself and someone she loved!” The captain looked me over and put one of those large, clawed hands to her chin, in obvious thought. Now to apply pressure. “Isn’t it true that the deal with mamono to unite with humanity to help create a new era of peace and prosperity or something? Me not being able to talk to her would delegitimize that and let me tell you I’ve got quite the reach in terms of influence- ” Before I could continue my pressuring fast talk, her expression hardened as she growled in her throat, before waving off the soldiers at the guardhouse. Immediately, the soldiers broke their stance and returned to the post at the entrance, casting a glance at me as they went back onto their watch.

 “Fine. I’ll bring you to her.” She leaned in and put a clawed finger to my chest, thumping it roughly against me. “But only because she helped me with my marriage problems. Consider it good karma for her help. Follow me, keep your hands to yourself, and stay close. I can barely smell her on you and I can’t imagine how grabby some of the girls here will get.”

 I sigh in relief as Aiko mercifully motioned for me to follow her inside of the depot, allowing me a sight possibly unknown to any other man yet. The inside of the shipping depot was rife with activity, various mamono of varying shapes and sizes lounged all about inside the depot, like the floods of refugees that had descended upon Europe just a scant few years ago. Various desks of various goods and services, each written out in a language I did not yet know, littered the area, offering necessities like food and water to the temporary residents of the place. The cargo containers that had been in this place when they moved in had been totally cleaned out, with some of them either being used for more living space or to act as more storage for various different supplies. Being the only male in the place, I felt eyes from a hundred different places all staring in my direction as I stayed near the captain.

 “She’s around the corner.” The captain stated. “You’ve got a couple minutes. I can’t let you stay for very long otherwise I’m going to get a bunch of girls up my ass about having men in here.”

 “That’s fine. I only need a couple minutes.” True to her word, around a corner in the shipping depot, sitting on a pile of trash lumber, was a mindflayer. The moment I saw her, my head began to throb in pain as memories that never involved her presented themselves to me, while my mind rebelled at the falsities being forced upon it. It was Latch alright. Only, now that I was actually here, I didn’t know what to do. Why was I even here? It’s not like I had a particular fire burning in my chest for her. I could leave her, but would I be able to live with myself with this page unturned, this story unfinished?

 For a split second, I considered turning about and to leave despite this, only for her to idly turnabout and spot me. “T-Trevor?!” Latch shouted. She stood up from where she was sitting and turned to me, as if she was seeing a ghost of a long dead relative. She had been visibly crying, with red, bloodshot eyes and traces of runny make up. I didn’t know what to say, I felt like a spectator watching a movie. I merely stood still as she slowly approached, wary for any illusions or retaliation that was befalling her.

 The captain roughly nudged me in the side, silently egging me on. Out of options, I mirrored Latch’s approach until we were face to face with one another. We both stood there, silently, and seemingly trying to look anywhere but each other out of sheer awkwardness. There was the mindflayer that crippled her lover, and the man who kept her at arm’s length because of it. The captain cleared her throat behind us, trying to break the very thick ice between us. “It’s not my place to say anything about your relationship, but the two of you share a language. You’d probably be best off talking to each other about it.”

 “I uh,” I start, taking the captain’s advice, “I got your little care package.”

 “Oh,” Latch responded, looking away. “Good. Good.” She paused before she looked back to me. “Trevor, what are you doing here? I told you not to look for me.”

 “I had to talk to you. I don’t know what about, but I knew I had to talk to you about something.” Latch’s shoulders sank, probably that it wasn’t an out and out confession of love.

 “What is there to talk about. I hurt you and that’s the end of the story. You don’t deserve someone who did that to you.”

 “You’re right, you did hurt me. But I feel like there’s more to all of this that we’re missing on. Like the kind of thing that makes something like this look like nothing in comparison.”

 “There’s nothing else to talk about.” She looked away and took a few steps back to the lumber pile. “The fact you’re even able to stand looking at me means you’ve gone to my sister and gotten her help. And paid the price.” Her shoulders began to rise and fall as she let out a few sniffles, prepared to cry at the thing she’d given up helping me. It tore my heart out to see her like this, but why?

 “Well, yes and no.” I somewhat chokingly replied. She turned back to me in confusion, as I began to feel tears beginning to well in my own eyes from how dejected she was. Just from seeing her it was obvious that she meant every word she had written on that letter. “Yes, I did see your sister, and no,” I fished the ring out of my pocket, that little hunk of alien metal, “I didn’t.”

 She stared at me and the ring before reapproaching me. “You, you didn’t?” I shook my head as she gingerly put forward her hands to support mine. “But, why? You didn’t have to!”

 “That’s an excellent question.” I respond truthfully. “I don’t know. But I guess since I’m here and I’ve still got it…” Latch looked up to me, her eyes welling up with tears as I made my offer. “You want to fix me up?”

 “Y-you want me to… yes of course. I’ll make it fast.” She took the ring back and held it against her chest before pulling me into a hug. I reciprocated her advance and wrap my arms against her waist as her tentacles slithered up my neck and towards my ears, forcing me to fight every reflex I had. “Get ready, they’re going in.” She sniffled out.

 Once again, the tentacles forced their way inside my mind and I found myself diving with Latch once again. Carefully with words now. Her influence, quickly and like a tide, reached for memory after memory, and undid her stitching on each of them. Lifting change after change away, it felt as if stickers or bandages were being pulled away, letting my mind breathe a sigh of relief.

 Not too long after, Latch pulled away the last of her influence from my mind and I found myself back in the shipping depot, holding her against me. The weight that had sullied my mind for all this time had vanished, and I took a deep breath of relief as her tentacles left my ears and rested against my neck. Latch was now breaking down into quiet sobbing as she nuzzled against my chest, refusing to look me in the face.

 “I’m sorry Trevor,” she sobbed, holding me even tighter, “I never meant to hurt you. I only wanted you to like me more.”

 “Latch…”

 “I didn’t want our meeting to end so badly.” She blubbered, letting her true feelings spill out. “I just wanted to have what they promised we’d get when we came here…you don’t deserve to be stuck with a fool like me.”

 “It’s ok Latch. You didn’t know what to expect.” I push her slightly away to drive her gaze back to my own. “It was never going to be as easy as it was made out to be. The start and expectations you had were wrong. But nothing is going to go anywhere if we refuse to move forward.”

 “So what do we do now?” Latch asked, looking up at me.

 “We figure things out. We start over, get on a better path than one we started on.”

 “Start over? After all that? Just like that?” I nod at each question in response.

 “I don’t know anything else to do to keep us both happy, since we’re kind of stuck together like this. Maybe a new start’s all this sort of thing really needs.” The floodgates of tears that had stopped momentarily had reopened as Latch threw her head against my chest, holding me excruciatingly tight as her pulled her even closer. It’d make a nice photographic moment if it hadn’t been me in the middle of it. Something that’d make the front page of any paper, like a sailor kissing a nurse at the end of a war.

 “No changing memories.” Latch mumbled. “Only new ones.”

 “Only new ones.” I reaffirmed.

 New ones, and Latch was going home…

 I turn to the captain, who was visibly trying to hide a content looking smile. “I don’t suppose men like me can go to where you guys came from?”

 “That favor will only get you so far, Mr. Trevor.” The captain denied.

 “Well, it was worth a shot.” Pulling myself together, I turn back to Latch and try to pull her off of me. “C’mon, we should get home. I can show you around town tomorrow to make up for lost time.”

 “Do you have a ride?” Latch asked.

 “Yeah, Tim and Tuzi, though…” Now that I focused on it, I swore I could still hear the revving of that turbo Nissan roaring in the night. “I think I need to call him and tell him to knock it off before any cops actually show up. And I think I might have set him on a warpath tonight.”

 “Warpath?”

 “You saw how he drove right?”

 “I’d have to have been blind to the outside world not to feel it!” Latch chuckled out through the tears.

 “Just be prepared for a bumpy ride.”

 Eventually, I managed to unroot Latch and myself from our position as the captain escorted us back out, much to the clamor and whooping of any onlookers.

 I had no idea what we were going to do. There was cleaning up the house, there was showing her around town, hell, maybe she could help me write a story for this. The only thing was that it was all tentative at this point, and still probably going to be weighed down with the baggage of the previous month. I don’t know what she was thinking, but if I had to guess, she’d be thinking forward to Xmas gifts.

 Probably, hopefully, it’d involve that ring in more amicable circumstances.


481 Hits