"Lucy. Lucy, come out! It's your bedtime."
There was a girlish giggle that seemed to come from every direction at once. It was exactly the sound a horror movie protagonist would hear before turning around to find the demon-kid standing behind him with a huge knife.
Dave turned around, slowly. There was no one there.
"Lucy, I mean it! Your mom and dad are going to be pissed if you don't get to bed on time!" Another burst of laughter, this time sounding right in his ear. Dave jumped and spun around again. Still nothing there. The hairs on the back of his neck were bristling and he felt like something icy was trickling down his spine, and dammit this was stupid.
Dave threw an accusatory glare around the room, then sighed and walked back over to the kitchen table, where Mia was sitting with homework spread out in front of her, scratching away at a math problem. "Mia, do you know where your sister is?"
"No." She didn't even look up. Dave muttered a curse to himself and glanced around, looking for inspiration. Okay, so she was creepy as fuck and could float through walls and shit, but she was still mostly just a little girl, right? And if he was a spooky kid, where would he hide...?
"She'll come out eventually if you stop looking for her."
"Yeah?" He looked over at Mia, who had paused in her work, staring up at him in that way she had, not really looking at his face but somehow watching all of him at once.
"Howard and Cheryl pretend to not notice until she gets bored and stops playing. Then she doesn't get dessert for being a nuisance."
Dave took one last look around, then shrugged and sat down across from Mia. "That works, I guess." He couldn't help but throw the odd glance over his shoulder, though. He just knew Lucy was going to pop up and give him a heart attack as soon as he let his guard down.
He could seriously use a drink right about now, but Howard and Cheryl didn't keep anything stronger than orange juice in the house, for whatever reason. Dave hunched forward in his chair and drummed his fingers on the table as he thought. Honestly, what was up with that? Didn't they ever have company?
Across the table, Mia went back to work. She held her arm out at a careful angle so her blade wouldn't scrape against the table while she wrote, and the kitchen lights dazzled off its long, wickedly sharp edge, throwing tiny flecks of light onto the walls and ceiling.
Dave rubbed his eyes and looked up at the clock on the microwave. God, it was only, what, nine? And here he was trying to get this fucking kid to bed so he could go to bed. Jesus, he was getting old. Although having three morph-kids running around the house all weekend would be enough to tire anyone out.
It was totally fucking unfair for Cheryl to ask him to watch both the kids while she and Howard went off to some conference. It wasn't like he'd asked them to look after Jean that many times, and Jean was a good kid anyway. At least she didn't come floating through the wall just when you thought you finally had some fucking privacy.
For a few minutes Dave watched Mia work. She ignored him, expressionless as she moved steadily through her math exercises. She liked math. Dave wasn't so sure about English and history and all that "humanities" bullshit. At least Cheryl had never gotten a hysterical phone call from Mia's math teacher about the scyther-morph turning in an essay about how it made economic sense to cull the disabled.
Out of idle curiosity, Dave reached out and took the squat little book sitting on top of the pile in front of Mia and turned it over so he could see the front.
"Huh," he said, staring down at a cover crowded with depictions of legendary pokémon from around the world. "The Quest for the Legends. Talk about your classics. I read this back when I was your age, too."
Mia paused and gave him a blank look, obviously unsure why he was talking to her about this. "Do you like it?" he asked after a moment.
"No." Mia went back to working on her math.
Dave had to grin at that. Mia the literary critic—now there was a thought. "Why not?"
"Because it's not real. It's all made up. I don't get why they teach us made-up stuff in school."
"Well, sure, it's not real. But the kinds of things the characters have to learn are still important to people in the real world. Courage, friendship, all that good stuff."
"You got mad that time you heard about the school that was teaching kids about the Bible."
"Well, yeah, but that's different. You aren't actually supposed to believe any of this stuff." He tapped the book against the table. "I mean, nobody actually thinks the War of the Legends is a real thing or that Mark was a real person or any of that. Hell, Ouen doesn't even exist."
"If you're not supposed to believe it's real, why does it matter? Why are you supposed to decide that what it's saying about courage and friendship is true if everything else is a lie?"
"Well, I mean, you're supposed to believe it, but not that kind of belief. It's not like with the Bible, where you're supposed to think God is real and judging you and all that shit. It's just," Dave frowned to himself and stared at the book as as though it could help him figure out how to word this, "it's just you believe in the story, right? Like if this kind of stuff could happen, this is how it would go. And even though the people and the plot are made up, you can see some elements that are the same as what happens in real life and learn from those."
Mia put her pencil down and gave him a serious look. Well, shit. He hadn't explained that right at all.
"If you want people to learn about courage or friendship, you should just say that courage and friendship are important instead of wrapping it up in a bunch of lies."
"Sometimes it's more effective to show people the kinds of things that happen when they act a certain way than it is to just tell them what to do." Mia looked skeptical, though to be fair, that was pretty much how she always looked. "Anyway, stories aren't just about teaching people things. Sometimes a good story is just a good story—it's entertainment."
Dave turned the book over in his hands and opened to a random page. It looked like the middle of a gym battle. Funny, he hadn't even thought about this story in years, but sitting here now, with the book right in front of him, it was all starting to come back.
"But it's not a good story. It doesn't make sense. If Chaletwo was worried about the war, he should have just killed all the legends and then it wouldn't be a problem anymore."
In a conversation with Mia it was only a matter of time before she decided mass murder was the obvious solution. "No, he shouldn't. The legends were important. They controlled the weather and the tides and everything. If you killed them, the whole world would get fucked up."
Mia gave him a look like he'd just told her he was secretly the Easter bunny. "No they don't. The tides are caused by the moon's gravity, and weather is just changing conditions in the upper atmosphere."
"In our world, yes. But it's different in the world of the story."
Dave could swear he heard gears turning in the scyther-morph's head as she stared at him. Finally she said, "They still should have killed them. The legends were all going to get wiped out by the war anyway, and if they got killed before they started fighting they wouldn't have a chance to destroy everything."
"Well, maybe. Chaletwo's plan was kind of dumb, I guess; that was part of the point. But there's other stuff in the book that's good. There was a scyther character that was important, wasn't there? Did you like him?" God, he had no idea why he was trying to defend the book. It was just something he'd read way back when he was a kid. It was crazy that they were still teaching it in school.
"There was a part where the tyranitar stepped on a bad guy," Mia said, a brief, predatory grin flitting across her face. "I liked that part."
No surprise there. "Right. Sure. How far have you gotten in this, anyway? Because if you like that part, the end—"
It all happened too fast for Dave to follow. Lucy's head popped up through the center of the table, her huge red eyes alight with mischief. Books scattered as Mia lunged, one of her blades slicing straight through her sister's skull and slamming into the table with a solid thunk! And all of a sudden Dave was on his feet, his knee ablaze with pain after he'd banged it on the table. And Lucy was laughing, laughing, shrieking giggles as her wispy flesh started to knit together again over the long tear Mia's blade had left through the middle of it.
The ghost-girl drifted the rest of the way out of the table, ignoring Mia, who was slashing at her in a whirl of glinting blades. The strikes passed straight through the misdreavus-morph's body, sending eddies across it but doing no apparent damage. A broad grin split Mia's face, her eyes wide and intent on her prey.
"Lucy, get to bed, now!" Dave clutched his stinging kneecap and tried to get a grip on the situation. His heart was racing like he'd just run a mile—or, you know, gotten boo'd at by an actual fucking ghost.
Lucy alighted gently on the floor, then stuck her tongue out at Dave and took off running with another delighted shriek. He watched her leave with tired resignation. Well, at least she'd gone in the direction of her room. Maybe she'd even gotten bored of her little game and gone to bed after all.
Mia watched her sister go, too, her muscles tensed and her shoulders hunched like she was going to pounce at any moment. "Come on, Mia," Dave said, and her head jerked towards him so abruptly that he could barely stop himself from jumping. "Let's get these cleaned up. You should be getting to bed soon, too."
The scyther-morph turned to look where her sister had gone one last time, then relaxed and bent down to pick up one of her books. Dave let out a long, thankful breath, and started gathering up Mia's papers. He couldn't stop his eyes from drifting back to the long crack down the center of the table. He was sure Cheryl and Howard were used to their furniture getting cut up by now, but holy hell.
"I didn't like the scyther much," Mia said absently, her books now in a neat pile. The Quest for the Legends, the smallest, rested square on top. "He was a coward. But he was right about death."
"Oh?" It took Dave a moment to figure out what she was talking about. "Oh, right, what was it? 'Death is not to be feared,' or something like that?"
Mia nodded. "Yeah, I guess he's kinda right about that. Still scary, though."
"I am not afraid to die," Mia said simply. She glanced around the kitchen as though wondering whether Lucy might pop up again and provide some more entertainment. "Everyone dies. There is no reason to be scared."
"Well, I guess not," Dave said. "But you don't really need to worry about it anyway, right? You're not about to die anytime soon." Mia turned and gave him a blank look that killed the laugh rising in his throat, then nodded and looked away again. She was obviously done with the conversation.
Good fucking riddance. He was done, too. "All right, Mia. Go on and get ready for bed, then. Good night."
"Good night." The scyther-morph clomped off without bothering to look at him. Dave watched her go, then rubbed his face with a sigh. Lucy was probably out there getting up to some poltergeist shenanigans, or maybe waiting to jump out of the wall as soon as he walked past. Well fuck that. She could live up the ghostly shit as much as she liked and deal with whatever punishment her parents had in store for her when they got home.
Dave sat back down at the table, rubbing his aching knee and again mourning the lack of alcohol. After a moment's consideration, he pulled The Quest for the Legends towards him and opened to the first page.
What the hell. In the past half hour he'd tried discussing literature with a half-scyther kid, had multiple paranormal experiences, and not long from now he'd have to go out and check whether his own half-human kid was comfortable on her air mattress. After all that, he was prepared to buy just about any made-up story out there.