The Rise of Old Temple West

A collection of pure trash from an extended family of alien weirdos.

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Ed
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The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by Ed » Tue Jun 11, 2019 12:56 pm

When they had first discovered the building several years ago it had been a decaying, decrepit dump with a leaky roof and drippy pipes. Not even fully three stories tall, the exterior was constructed of red brick that was at least a hundred years old. It had probably been a single family house but had since been renovated over time to contain three separate apartments on three separate floors. They had started their occupancy in the basement unit.

Originally they had rented the efficiency under Ed’s name, a false one: Smith. Officially he was the only person living there. The property was once owned by an elderly woman named Agatha Oglesby who lived in the unit just above theirs. She had passed away two years ago. Her grandson, John Rowe, had inherited the property, but after a couple months of awkward interactions he had mysteriously disappeared.

This particular neighborhood on the west side of Old Temple was falling apart and completely infested with rats. They weren’t exactly, technically, squatting. Nobody had come around asking after the landlord. There didn’t seem to exist such things as tax collectors. No bank owners had dropped in threatening to evict them for failure to pay on anything. That was just one of the many wonderful benefits of the lawlessness that was Rhydin, and Ed’s family took full advantage of it at every opportunity.

Since first moving into the building several years ago, the family had grown tremendously. What had started out as one nearly adult boy with a pet rat had turned into a crowded cluster of various individuals. Ed’s basement apartment had been transformed into the communal gathering space, chaotic meals and family movies were shared around coffee and card tables and an L-shaped, tattered red couch. It was also where their spiritual leader, Tabitha “Abby” Jones, kept a shrine to City Momma, their deity of choice.

The oldest woman of their pack, known only as Auntie Sizzle, lived in the living room of the first floor apartment above. Aside from the occasional trip to the bathroom and cooking of large, cheap meals, she practically never moved from the rocking chair set up by the kitchen island. The children liked to gather at her feet and listen to the clack of her knitting needles, as well as whatever stories she felt like sharing that day. As the eldest, the other adults looked to her for guidance and advice. Her opinions were highly respected.

Olive, the second-oldest woman, often resented this. Frankly, she seemed to resent just about everything. She was a bitter, middle-aged woman with no known children. Nobody knew exactly where she slept, nor where she kept her personal effects. Among them she was the most squirrely and secretive. Her negativity seemed to be a much needed balance for an otherwise cheery group of lower class misfits.

The single bedroom in the first floor apartment housed a family of six consisting of mom, two girls, and three boys all ranging from the ages of not yet one to eleven years of age. Nellie Dean was doing her best to raise a small army after the untimely death of her husband Jerry. Without the help of the rats of Old Temple West, known kin, she would not have been as successful as she was now.

The Dean children swarmed the building daily. Eight year old Wade spent most of his time in Ed’s shop around Kabuki Street with Noodle, avoiding the hustle and bustle of domestic chaos as much as he possibly could. Eleven year old Cindy, on the other hand, relished in helping care for the babies, especially newly born five month old Wesley Wegman and her own seven month old baby brother Gary, the last of the Dean brood. Mable, now five, and Warren, two, were well looked after as well.

Other babies were on the way, everyone was learning, too! Morning sickness had hit a couple of female residents around the same week in late April. Tempers flared high enough to chase off most of the male population. Gus and Jack in particular had bunkered down in the old tunnels beneath the city where they raised their crops of mushrooms. They feared pregnancy much the same way other people did rabid dogs. Pregnant women were perhaps arguably more scary.

The top floor unit was occupied by Jack’s girlfriend Beth, mother of Wesley, and Pert, a slim and quiet young woman whose primary role seemed to be caregiver for the numerous orphan children they had wound up with over the years, including Ed himself at one point. Pert was also one of the two who was newly expecting a child of her very own. The single bedroom upstairs had been turned into a nursery. Baby Polly spent a lot of her time there when she wasn’t being cared for by Ed and his fiance Goshen, whom she had adopted as her guardians.

Polly was a miracle, born with her two middle fingers and two middle toes fused together, a condition known as syndactyly. Some might have considered this a birth defect, but everyone at Old Temple West insisted it was a manifestation of just how special she was. Her mother Linda had died in childbirth. Goshen had delivered her. The story was quite a traumatic one and nobody really talked about it much. Everyone knew, though, especially Polly herself, that Ed and Goshen were her parents now. Once she had learned the words, she even named them: Daddy and Papa.

Goshen kept a small apartment with a loft bedroom in a nicer neighborhood not too terribly far from Old Temple West. Ed spent most of his time there with him now, visiting on occasion, especially when they needed free childcare for Polly. If she wasn’t being watched by Pert, they often took her to Goshen’s parent’s farm. Margot loved nothing more than having a grandchild to spoil, and Margot being happy made Fox happy. They couldn’t have asked for anything more, but ended up with a daughter of their very own as well!

For her tenth birthday, the previous year, Ginger Maxwell had been offered an official adoption by the Greene family. A quieter life on the farm among all the animals she had come to love interacting with was extremely appealing. The Greenes treated her kindly and she found it difficult to say no. That August, Goshen gained himself a sister, and Old Temple West lost a resident, making a little more room for the next generation to come.

Jameson didn’t really live inside Old Temple West so much as out of a nondescript black cargo van parked just out front, with his moonshine and his dynamite. Having noticed that the spreading rat infestation had chased away their neighbors in the adjacent, nearly attached building, it was he who suggested taking it over. They didn’t even need to use force, unless one counted busting the locks.

The expansion of Old Temple West caused old man “King” Frank to resurface. Older than Sizzle by nobody knew quite how many years, he had single-handedly fathered and increased the population of the critters responsible for making the neighborhood deteriorate. Preferring to stay closer to the ground, he took over the basement unit on the other side and called it his own personal palace, even though it was a dump. Olive started spending more time over there as well. More rats lived in building two now than the first, including a woman named Starbuck who, like Pert, was pregnant.

At this rate, King Frank delightfully proclaimed, they were bound to take over the city. Maybe, he thought, he should run for governor.
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Abby
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Re: The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by Abby » Tue Jun 11, 2019 1:11 pm

Some time last year...

When Ginger Maxwell was nine years old she became the last surviving member of a family that once consisted of seven; herself, her parents, and four older siblings. She was the youngest Kin that Abby had ever infected with the Birthing Plague. For abnormally ethical reasons, she often rejected her visions and refused to infect the young, but Ginger’s parents had insisted. All of them, they had said. All together or not at all. They had been very insistent, and now Abby was kicking herself with regret for giving into their whims. Ginger was the only one left. All the others had died.

She had warned them of the risks. Not everyone survived the Plague. Nine times out of ten the infected died. Only the strongest survived, the fittest, like Darwin said. If she was being honest with herself, she was actually surprised that even a single one of them had lived. They had smelled weak. She hated that she could detect that through her nose. She hated worst of all that now she felt responsible for Ginger. The poor girl had nobody, only her, only the growing pack at Old Temple West.

“Stay here.” She sat her on the stoop out front. Frail and probably malnourished, the girl easily complied. She looked nothing like her name would suggest. Her hair was brown and straight, though it was hard to tell due to the abundance of tangles that desperately needed combed out. Scissors would probably work best.

Vacant blue eyes stared at a spot on the sidewalk. The girl folded her arms tight against her stomach and drew up her knees. Abby’s heart broke all over again just looking at her. She took a deep breath and reminded herself that at least the girl wasn’t alone. Not anymore. She had family here. They would just take some getting used to.

“Hi, Abby!” Hearing that chipper voice made her instantly smile, and she turned to embrace the energetic young man that had arrived, just in time.

“Eddie baby,” she crooned, gathering him into her arms. They hummed in unison as they pressed their cheeks together. She dropped a kiss on his as she pulled away and looked over his shoulder, expectant. She was only mildly surprised that he was alone. It was still early in the day. Goshen was probably working.

Ed swiveled aside to look back the way he had come, too. His smile had a slightly mischievous edge that seemed constant these days. Abby liked that look on him. Happy. “Who’s this?” he asked, twisting back and flapping a hand at the girl sitting dejectedly on the stoop. She hadn’t expressed the slightest curiosity, had not even glanced up.

“Eddie,” Abby said sweetly as she lowered into a crouch in front of the girl. They were more or less at eye level, but their gazes did not meet. “This is Ginger. She’s new. Will you sit with her while I go in and announce her to the house?”

“Oh sure,” Ed agreed enthusiastically. That’s what Abby loved best about him. Eager to please. Friendly to a fault. He flopped down onto the stoop beside the girl, who didn’t even flinch, with a winsome smile. Abby stood back up, finding his expression contagious. She pulled her fingers through his hair, and then drifted past him to head inside. She heard him begin to babble pleasantly as she shut the door.

The building was buzzing with activity, as always. She could feel it in her bones the moment her bare feet set down on the landing. Upstairs a baby was crying and she knew it wouldn’t be long before someone would come recruiting Ed for help. Before she spread the word, though, she had to light a candle or six for the souls that they’d lost.

Abby padded downstairs into the basement apartment. It still lacked a bed. The entire corner that had been Ed’s bedroom once was now stacked with mismatched furniture containing clothes for just about everyone who came and went and lived here. Atop the fridge was their tiny shrine to City Momma; a bobbling hula dancer figurine surrounded by tealights and an old soda can they used as an incense burner. Abby lit the candles and a stick of jasmine, whispered a few prayers, and then headed upstairs. She didn’t bother to change her clothes.
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Jameson
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Re: The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by Jameson » Tue Jun 11, 2019 1:22 pm

Little Warren Dean had just celebrated his first birthday. Jameson well remembered the celebration, full of balloons and confetti and screaming noise makers. Herds of children had stampeded around the house joyfully. By the end of the afternoon, baby Warren was covered in frosting from the smash cake he had delighted in destroying. He had the true making of a future twitcher, that kid.

The news of Jerry Dean’s death had not come entirely as a shock to the family. Nellie knew her husband worked a dangerous job at the electric company. Most of the children knew, as well, but that didn’t stop them from wailing when they were informed of the tragedy. Everyone, that is, except for little baby Warren who was fortunately too young to understand.

A week later ill fortune wrecked the family again when their house burnt down. It was only by some small miracle of luck that none of them were home at the time. They lost everything, however, and Nellie was too distraught to think straight anymore. That’s when Jameson decided to move them into Old Temple West.

Arguments immediately arose over the fact that Nellie was completely human and none of her children had yet been blessed with the Birthing Plague. The fact remained that their father had been one of them. In the end, charitable hearts won out, especially when it was discovered that Nellie was pregnant with yet another. Olive was the only member of the pack that remained bitter about the situation, but that probably had something to do with the fact that Auntie Sizzle evicted her from the second floor unit’s bedroom and gave that space to the family.

There were three other children in the Dean family, all of them older than baby Warren of course. The fifth on the way remained a mystery as to the sex, but the little tyke presently had two older sisters and one older brother of varying ages. Jameson was pleased to discover that the eldest, Cindy, had instantly made friends with the orphan, Ginger, that Abby had brought home only a few days previous. They were not that far apart in age, Cindy ten and Ginger nine. It was good because Ginger desperately needed someone.

Ginger had been moved up into the third floor unit’s bedroom, sharing space with Pert and helping take care of baby Polly from time to time. This had bumped Ed back down into the basement, but he hadn’t minded in the least. There was no one more thrilled to see so many children at Old Temple West as their Eddie. Jameson had helped him lug mountains of second hand clothes and toys scored from thrift shops and charities from all over the city to their building. Installing two sets of bunk beds into the Dean family’s room had been quite a challenge, but well worth it in the end.

Laughter now filled the halls of Old Temple West, where previously Jameson had suffered a constant barrage of hushing from cranky old ladies (Olive and Sizzle, at least). The weather was not yet warm enough for the children to take over the neighborhood, but he dumped a bucket of sidewalk chalk off on the front stoop anyway. He lit a cigarette just as young Wade Dean, age seven, poked his head out the door.

“Hey, kid,” he said, grinning around the filter.

The little boy scowled at him. Though just as he moved to duck back inside, Jameson saw a delighted gleam hit his eyes at the sight of the bucket of chalk. Leaning against the exterior wall, he listened to the stampede of little feet running up and down the stairs. Within moments, the children of Old Temple West had decked themselves out in layers of hand-me-down over-large sweaters and pounded out the door to snatch up the chalk. They quickly got to work decorating the block.

Jameson smiled through a haze of cigarette smoke as he watched them work. Soon he was joined by an inquisitive Ed and Noodle who came strolling up the street from the south. “Oh my gosh,” he heard the young man squeak. “Sidewalk chalk! How fun!” It did not take him long at all to join the kids at play.

“Look at you,” Noodle said, leaning against the wall beside him. She stole his cigarette and dropped it, half finished, under the heel of her boot. “The secret softie side of Jameson exposed.”

“Just wait,” he said humorously. “Tomorrow it’ll be bubbles.” He started to light another cigarette, but Noodle punched him in the ribs sternly. “Ugh! Okay, okay. No smoking around the midgets. Got it.” He held up his hands, palms out, and she nodded firmly at him.

By the end of the day, it started to rain, which washed away the rainbow of chalk murals that had spread all the way out into the road. Swirls of color bled into storm drains, but the joy that had infected the children of Old Temple West was not forgotten. The next day, as promised, Jameson left them a crate full of bubbles.
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Noodle
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Re: The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by Noodle » Tue Jun 11, 2019 1:47 pm

Children were so noisy, and Old Temple West had become overrun with them. Most of the inhabitants didn’t seem to mind, not even baby Polly. In fact, she slept best when the building was reverberating with sound. Noodle, on the other hand, was beginning to turn mad claustrophobic, and people were starting to notice. One person in particular wouldn’t leave her alone.

She was halfway across town, just beyond the border of Old Temple and well into Dockside, by the time the sound of scuffing shoes finally set her off. Her tail thought he was being sneaky, but he was honestly terrible at playing the part of shadow. She could have lost him blocks ago. With an enormously exasperated sigh, she stopped, turned, put her hands on her hips, and squinted at the garbage can where she could see the button on the top of his filthy ballcap poking up.

Why,” she asked, with a heaping pile of annoyance, “are you following me?”

The trash can rattled in alarm and the ballcap ducked down further behind it, but she did not receive a verbal response. Rolling her eyes, Noodle marched right on over, picked up the bin, and moved it three feet to the left. Crouched down before her was a skinny brat in second hand clothes two sizes too big for him, still pretending that he was hiding. This was Nellie’s seven-year-old; Wade.

“You’re not very good at stalking people, you little creep.”

“M’not stalking you,” he mumbled defiantly.

Noodle put her hands back on her hips and bent forward, shouting, “What’s that? Speak up! I can’t hear you, Mumbles!”

The volume of her voice startled him into lifting his head and irritably shouting back. “I said I’m not stalking you!”

“Oh yeah?” Noodle kept her voice raised. Sailors three blocks away could probably hear them arguing. “What do you call tailing me all the way from home like the worst ninja in training?”

The little boy stood up with a frown. Alarmingly, he could nearly look her directly in the eye. Another couple of years and he was going to be taller than her, she was sure. “If I’d’ve asked to come with you, you’d’ve said no!”

“Maybe! This ain’t exactly the safest neighborhood, you little snot!” Rocking back on her heels, she flung out an arm to indicate the surrounding, decrepit buildings and the stink of fish. “Your momma’s probably having a fit wondering where you are right now! Why don’t you run along home before you get eaten up by a merwolf.”

Wade scoffed and put his fists on his own hips as if mocking her. “Ain’t no such things as merwolves,” he said.

“And how do you know?” countered Noodle. “You ever seen one?”

“Well no,” the boy hedged.

“Well I have,” Noodle lied, convincingly .”I’ve seen them scuttle right on up to shore and gobble up little boys just your size.” She put some space between the last three words, punctuating them, and adding a jab of a finger to his bony little chest for good measure on the last syllable.

Wade blinked owlishly and scratched his chest. “Well,” he said, “you’re not much bigger’n me. How come they don’t eat you?”

“Psh! Duh, stupid. They only eat little boys. I’m a girl.”

The boy’s eyes narrowed shrewdly, not because he didn’t believe she was a girl, but because he could sense there were obviously some holes in the truth of her tale. Because of this, he annoyingly did not seem at all convinced into turning around and heading home. Noodle sighed and relaxed her stance.

“Seriously, kid, why’re you following me?”

“Well,” said the boy, scuffing the street with his filthy shoe. “I heard you’n that other guy talking ‘bout a workshop and I…” He rubbed his arm defensively. “Well it sounded way cooler’n being stuck at the house with my sisters and the babies.”

“Dummy,” Noodle said, jabbing at his shoulder with her fingers. “You could’ve just asked.”

Hope lit up his great big eyes when he lifted his chin to look at her. “I didn’t think you’d’ve let me come along.”

“Oh puh-lease. If you’d asked Ed he would’ve jogged you all the way here riding on his shoulders. I’m not that nice. I’m making you walk.” Noodle turned an about face and immediately started marching in the direction of Kabuki street.

Thirty seconds later, she heard his shoes quick scuffling to uproot themselves from where he stood, and the tick-slap sound of his laces striking the stones as he jogged after her
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Jack Jack
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Re: The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by Jack Jack » Tue Jun 11, 2019 1:50 pm

The basement apartment at Old Temple West was more than just Eddie Baby’s bedroom, it was an all around crash pad for the various Kin that drifted in and out of the building at any given time. It’s also where most of the communal meals took place, especially dinnertime--when it seemed that just about everyone converged on the space all at once.

The kids spotted him first. Jack grinned in the wake of their delighted squeals of anticipation, and he held up both hands which were laden with plastic bags full of delicious, steamy take-out from half a dozen nearby fast food restaurants. He glanced over his shoulder to his brother, Gus, who carried a pizza box balanced on his shoulder and an armful of two-liters.

“We come bearing gifts!” Gus yelled as they sauntered across the street to the apartment building they called home.

Cindy, the eldest of the Dean children, and on apparent babysitting duty, stood up from the stoop and hefted baby Polly onto her hip. Little mother hen that she was, she turned to her younger sister and clucked her tongue. “Come on, Mable. It’s time to go inside.” The four year old whined, but released the cat-sized rodent she held cradled in her arms. It hopped out of her lap and got up on its hind legs to wriggle its nose against her cheek before darting inside ahead of them.

“Ginger?” Cindy asked while turning to address the pack’s newest addition. She gestured to one year old Warren who was entertaining himself with a game of hide and seek. The little boy, who had only just recently learned to walk, toddled drunkenly to peer under a rusty folding chair. The rat he found crouched there squeaked in feigned surprise, causing the boy to shriek in delight. He grinned around his pacifier at the rat, which bounded away to hide on the other side of the wide porch in an empty planter. Warren immediately gave chase.

While Ginger tried to persuade the baby to abandon his game, Wade leapt off the stairs to greet Jack and Gus. “We’re starving!” he exaggerated emphatically. “What’d you bring us?” The boy bounced excitedly before them, his hyper movements carrying him backwards with each tiny hop as the two men strode forward with their loot.

“Broccoli,” Jack said, straight-faced.

Wade scowled, but called him on his BS. “No you didn’t. Gus has pizza!” He provided empirical evidence by pointing to the box in plain sight, but Jack scoffed at him.

“It’s full of ‘shrooms and **** from the tunnels.”

Jack and Gus spent their days cultivating a large, always expanding underground mushroom farm. It was an expensive, labor-intensive business, but the customers were loyal and the price of mushrooms didn’t vacillate like other crops. Their uncanny ability to find that perfect, delicate balance to encourage the various environments necessary for each of the different species of mushroom growth meant they raked in an astronomical profit that helped keep the family fed and clothed.

“Nuh-uh! Liar,” Wade accused, sticking to his guns.

Gus wheezed a laugh and Jack smirked down at the boy. “Here,” he said,” handing half of the bags to Wade. “See for yourself. Take it downstairs for me.”

Cindy and Mable had already gone inside, but Ginger was still trying to get little Warren to listen to her. Every time she pulled him toward the door, the boy wailed as though the world was ending. The moment she ceased her attempt, he stopped making a fuss and returned to playing with the rat (which did not seem inclined to encourage the little boy to obey).

“Come on, Warren,” Ginger sang timidly. Her eyes darted to the two men, unsure, but she smiled shyly at them both.

“I’ll trade you,” Jack offered, holding out the other half of the bags to the little girl. Her smile stretched into an expression of relief. She followed after Wade and disappeared inside without another word. Jack narrowed his eyes at the baby. He wouldn’t be so easily put off by the wailing as Ginger had been, which is exactly what happened when he scooped Warren into his arms and away from his little rat friend.

Warren’s ability to make so much noise, even through the pacifier, was impressive, but Jack knew better than to cave to the boy’s terroristic demands. When the baby pitched himself sideways in an attempt to escape, Jack pretended to nearly drop him. The terrible sensation of falling only lasted a second or two, until Jack caught him again and turned the kid upside down. Startled out of his fit, baby Warren giggled, chubby fingers clinging to his captor’s shirt.

The baby was still upside down when they got to the basement. Auntie Sizzle rescued Warren with a laugh, crushing him in a squeeze against her ample bosom.

“It’s not broccoli,” Wade repeated, brandishing an already half-eaten burger up in Jack’s face, who responded by snatching it away and taking a bite. “Hey!” Wade yelped, and pounced on the older man.

Jack chuckled, chewing his bite of stolen burger with his mouth open, and held the rest of the sandwich out of reach, even as Wade tried climbing his way up his body. But then someone punched him in the kidney hard enough to make him lower his arm. Wade snatched the burger back and scurried away, but not before grinning over at his savior.

Noodle beamed back at him for a moment, then tipped her head back to smirk up at Jack. “Quit being mean to the kids.”

“I’m not!” he protested lamely. She rolled her eyes at him, chuckling as she walked away to score some food of her own. Jack lost her in the sea of writhing bodies, each jockeying for something to eat and a place to sit. Rats and humans alike bustled noisily around the room, squeaking or shouting requests from across the room at one another, laughing and chattering loudly between bites of food.

Jack carried his plate over to the couch. He sank down onto the arm next to Eddie Baby and said, “Move.” The lanky boy squeaked into his solo cup of soda. There was no more room on the couch, so he scooted over into his boyfriend’s lap. Jack eyed the copper-haired human with a measure of thinly veiled dislike, but tipped sideways into the recently vacated seat beside him.

Throughout the course of the meal, Warren balanced himself along the furniture, flitting from person to person like a bee searching for nectar--except the boy was more interested in french fries and bites of sandwiches. Gus offered the baby a mushroom from his slice of pizza; Warren smooshed it in a tiny fist that he then smeared all over Goshen’s pant leg. Jack snickered like an asshole, watching the boy toddle past Eddie to Noodle, who was sitting on the floor, using his legs as a backrest.

“Here.” She held up a piece of green lettuce drenched in ranch. The baby bounced happily in place while sucking all the dressing from the leaf. When he was finished, he set his sights on Jack’s plate, piled high with a burger and fries.

“That’s yucky, huh.” Jack’s voice dipped into the soft, dewy register that people often used when talking to babies. He offered up a french fry and grinned when the boy’s response was to drop the floppy, saliva-coated lettuce leaf on Noodle’s bare arm. “Yeeeah,” Jack cooed. “You know what’s good.”

Warren took the french fry, but danced on his tiptoes to reach with the other hand toward Jack’s sandwich. When it wasn’t immediately offered to him, he tried to use Noodle as a ladder to climb up onto the couch. The girl wrapped an arm around the baby’s waist, keeping him from achieving his goal. Those nearby snickered at the baby’s antics, and even more so when Jack relented. They were all rewarded with the happy sound of Warren’s satisfied grunts as he devoured the small bite he’d been given.

“Happy now?” Jack asked Noodle a few minutes later, after Warren had gone off to find a new target to pester.

Without looking up, Noodle flung the warm, soggy lettuce leaf over her shoulder at him. It hit him in the face. She smiled, and said, “Yep.”
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Pert
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Re: The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by Pert » Tue Jun 11, 2019 2:54 pm

The afternoon struggle to convince Polly to take a nap had been exhausting. Pert was in desperate need of a giant mug of coffee, which she knew she could only get from the second floor unit downstairs. After a quick wash of her face and hands, she stepped out into the hall, leaving the door to unit three ajar so that anyone could hear the baby when she woke. With a gasp of surprise, Pert jerked to a halt. She had almost tripped over Ginger and Cindy, who were sitting at the top of the stairs.

Cindy turned with her finger to her lips, pantomiming a shushing gesture without making any noise. Wide-eyed, on account of being caught eavesdropping, she then cupped her hand to her ear with one hand and pointed downstairs with the other. Ginger’s eyes were equally enlarged, but Pert sensed a terror in them for other reasons. Creeping to the space the girls made between them by scooting over, Pert settled down and leaned to listen.

She didn’t have to strain to hear. Ratkin had exceptional hearing. From here she could see the door of unit two was wide open. Four voices echoed out into the hallway, arguing: Olive, Auntie Sizzle, Jameson, and Abby.

“Waiting goes against all tradition,” Olive snarled. “I’m telling you! It’s better we do it now while she’s still too young to know what’s going on. Better she not know if it happens.”

“No!” That was Jameson. Pert could nearly hear his hand cutting through the air. “Absolutely not! We lost Linda and Hector! There’s no way I’m letting you risk losing Polly too. She’s all we’ve got left of them.”

“Olive does have a point, though, Jamee,” said Auntie Sizzle. Pert could hear the old wooden rocking chair squeak under her weight. The click of her knitting needles sounded like a metronome, only barely keeping the atmosphere calm. “It’s traditional to infect ‘em early. Best they die too young to know if they’re going to die at all.”

“She’s not going to die,” Jameson countered, “because you’re not going to do it. Are you?”

There was a long silence that had Pert, Cindy, and Ginger all leaning forward, literally on the edge of their seats. They heard a quiet sigh, and then Abby’s voice, soft and tired. “No,” she said.

“Thank fuck!”

“Jameson,” Auntie Sizzle chided. “Language.”

The drifter scoffed at her. “Oh please. I know you’re from the fifties and shit but get with the times.”

Pert imagined Olive scowling. It was pretty much a permanent expression on the woman’s face, after all, but now more than ever she could feel her disapproval seething through the walls. “Why not?”

They heard Abby sigh and her bare feet shuffle. “Ginger just lost her entire family. I’m tired. We’re not going through this again. There’s been too much death this past year.”

A sharp pang jabbed Pert in the heart. Stealing a glance aside, she could see tears beginning to well in poor Ginger’s eyes. She reached over, silently, and gathered the girl’s hand into her own, gripping it tight. Ginger sniffed and trembled. Cindy got up from Pert’s other side and squirmed over to the scrap of space between her friend and the wall so that she could tuck an arm around her.

“The longer you wait the worse it’s going to be,” Olive protested angrily. The woman was bitter to the core and Pert had yet to figure out why.

“You’re already dooming her,” Jameson argued, barely stifling his own outrage. “It’s like you don’t want her to survive.”

“That is not true!”

“Jamee, Jamee,” Auntie Sizzle crooned. “Nobody wants that baby to die. We all want what’s best for her. For us. She’s family, but she’s not perfect. Not yet. No more than Nellie and her brood.”

“I’m not infecting them either,” Abby murmured. She sounded so tired.

“Of course not, dear,” said Auntie Sizzle.

“How can you say that?” Olive continued. “How can you not? Our numbers are so sparse, and there are wolves out there. Unhinged, rabid, self-righteous beasts who -- need I remind you -- attacked one of our own for no good reason. Slaughtered hundreds of innocents who could have been reborn.”

“I’ll work the nests,” Abby said softly, compromising, “but I’m not turning the homids. Not today. Maybe not ever. It’s harder.”

There was a punctuated pause between speakers that felt heated, even from here. Pert imagined Olive standing with her hands on her hips, fuming, steam nearly literally coming out of her ears. “Fine, but I’m taking this up with Frank.”

Pert reflexively squeezed Ginger’s hand tighter. No, she thought. Not Frank. The old man was off his rocker and had styled himself a king since they’d come to this world. He thought of nothing but increasing their numbers, building armies. There had been quite an increase in rodens born since he had moved back into the neighborhood, Jack and Gus among them. He would side with Olive, she knew, and if Abby wouldn’t do it then they would find another with the gift who would.

“Girls,” Pert said aside to Cindy and Ginger, whisper soft. “Let’s take Polly for a walk. What do you say?”

Taking back her hand, Ginger sniffled and rubbed the unshed tears from her eyes. “I’d like that.”

“I’ll get some jackets from downstairs,” Cindy volunteered. “And the stroller.”

“Perfect,” said Pert. “Help me fill the diaper bag, will you please, Ginger?”

As the girl nodded, they rose from the steps, Pert helping guide her to her feet. Olive stomped out of the second floor unit and paused only for a second to glare up at them. Pert winced and then forced a smile. The one thing she knew about Olive was that it was a bad idea to let her see, or smell, your fear. Her smile made the woman scowl which to Pert felt like a small victory. She only hoped the rest of her plan went as well.
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Goshen
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Re: The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by Goshen » Tue Jun 11, 2019 2:58 pm

Goshen sat at one end of the floral patterned couch in the living room of his childhood home, listening to the metronomic tick, tock, tick of the ornate grandfather clock stationed on the far wall. Upstairs his mother, Margot, was singing to a tired, cranky Polly. Downstairs, a different baby cried for lack of attention.

“Shh,” he grunted, annoyed, tapping the toe of his shoe against the laundry basket which contained a motherless goat. The baby goat bleated once more in distress for Margot, the only mother it knew. Apparently being out of her line of sight was the worst thing in the entire world. He ignored it, focusing on the clock while waiting for Ed to show up.

A raucous staccato of knock, knock, knock was rapped against the door. The baby goat bleated a protest and, upstairs, Polly shrieked. Fox snorted in amusement from the armchair beside Goshen and looked up from his paper. Goshen thought it was the most cliche, Farmhouse Father thing the man ever did, reading the paper like that, at night, by the fire.

“Does he not know he can just come inside by now?” Fox’s lazy, drawling question rose over the growing din.

Goshen shrugged, sliding off the couch. He gave the poor goat a rough pat on the head to calm it down, but the tiny kid flailed in protest enough to knock its plastic laundry basket over. She skittered after Goshen, little hooves clipping against the hardwood, and followed him to the door.

The front door creaked loudly as it swung open, his heart swelling at the sight of Ed standing in the doorway, haloed by moonlight. He stood off to one side, beckoning the handsome boy inside with one arm and pushing the screen door open with the other.

“She was almost asleep,” Goshen explained to Ed, as Polly’s freshly renewed wails filtered down the steps from the second storey. Ed winced as he ducked inside, lugging a stuffed full diaper and duffel bag along with him. He dumped them both beside the door and melted against the wall with an exasperated sigh.

The baby goat bleated pitifully at their feet, feeling terribly left out.

“So was that,” Goshen added blithely.

“Sorry, sorry. But look here,” Ed said, scooping something small, brown, and wriggly out of his pocket. “I brought help.” He plopped the rat on the baby goat’s back, and it immediately turned around to start massaging behind the kid’s ears.

“Hello, Ed.” Fox smiled from his seat by the fire.

“Hello, Mr. Greene, Fox, sir.” Ed tilted sideways to smile awkwardly at him and introduced the rat with a flourish of his hand. “This is Wembley.” The rat chittered as if it, too, were saying hello, and, tugging the goat’s ear, seemed to steer the baby animal back over to its basket.

For his part, Fox’s expression never faltered. He was all too used to his wife bringing every manner of critter into the house. Case in point--the diapered pygmy goat prancing around the living room. He just peered at the rat, blinked, and said, “Hello, Wembley.” He was a good sport. He adjusted his paper, lifting it back up so that his face was hidden a moment later. “Just Fox, son.”

“Yessir,” Ed muttered. “I mean Fox.” A little louder before another mumble of “sir.” He couldn’t help himself. He’d been brought up proper. Tilting back into Goshen’s space, he whispered, “Wembley’s Polly’s favorite sleeping buddy.”

He glanced down at the rat, impressed with its ability to convince the goat it should return to the basket, then over at the duffle which accompanied the diaper bag and arched one perfectly manicured eyebrow at Ed in silent question. But instead of waiting for an answer, he swayed in close to kiss the boy’s cheek and then away again to scoop the rat off the goat’s back.

“Be right back,” he promised, leaving Ed with a stupid, happy smile behind at the door.

At the top of the stairs, the landing opened into a wide hall. To the left was the master bedroom, in front of him was the bathroom, and to the right a pair of small rooms that had been furnished to hold the children Margot had always hoped she’d bear. The door to Goshen’s room, farthest from the staircase, was open just a crack. The light from the hallway pierced the darkness within, illuminating a sliver of the room with a yellowed shaft of light.

But it was into the second bedroom that Goshen entered. Margot held Polly against her chest, rocking her in an old wooden rocking chair that had been meticulously kept all these years, despite the lack of children that had ever found their way into Margot’s arms.

She looked up at him in surprise that melted swiftly into affection at the mere sight of him.

“Ed’s here,” he said.

“Did he say what happened?” In Margot’s arms, Polly squirmed, discontent and overtired to the point of distraction. She cried, rubbing her face against his mother’s shoulder, pressing one pinked cheek against the gently sloping curve and then the other, unable to settle. Margot patted her bottom soothingly.

Goshen shook his head. “He brought a bag with him, so I think we’re staying the night.” On cue, he held up the brown rat sitting patiently in the cup of his hands. “He brought reinforcements.”

“She sleeps with a rat?” There was only a hint of wariness to her tone, which was mostly one of curiosity.

He snorted, moving further into the room. “You sleep with a goat.”

Margot opened her mouth, but found herself at a loss for words. He wasn’t wrong, but the circumstances were different. “I suppose it’s no different from a cat or a dog,” she mused, rising from the chair.

“I’ll get her to sleep.” There was reluctance in her gaze, Goshen saw, but Margot didn’t argue with him. Polly had had a rough go with bedtime. She didn’t want to prolong her distress. She tipped the still fussing baby into his arms, and found herself unable to step away without first stroking the handsome rat’s tiny head. She was an animal lover through and through.

Polly spasmed with delight when she realized her rat friend was nearby, little fingers reaching and curling, too young and lacking the motor skills to help the rough greeting. Wembley weathered the clumsy handling with exceptional patience, causing Margot to smile. The woman stroked the baby’s head next, barely containing a squeal of adoration as Polly jammed a tiny thumb into her mouth and laid her head on Goshen’s shoulder, finally sated.

He walked over to stand in the doorway to listen as Margot went downstairs to greet Ed. He could hear the door being closed and locked. The younger boy’s eager voice carried well through the hollow bones of the house, telling Margot what he assumed was a fictitious story about Pert being so worn out that she’d accidentally fallen asleep instead of remembering to come pick up Polly.

With the added power of Wembley’s presence coupled with the baby’s sheer exhaustion and his handy ability to induce a surge in the production of melatonin, Goshen got Polly into her crib, fast asleep, in under ten minutes.

Feeling very pleased with himself, Goshen came back downstairs in time to say goodnight to his mother in passing. She stopped at the foot of the stairs to kiss his cheek and then, adjusting the laundry basket full of goat on her hip, she bade the room a final farewell.

“Thank you, Mrs. Greene!” Ed called to her, en route to the kitchen with a quiet coo of delight. “Goodnight!” No matter how many times they told him, he’d forever remain formal. “Goodnight!”

“You staying up, Fox?” Goshen asked casually as he trailed after his boyfriend who seemed in pursuit of a late night snack. The savory scent of their dinner leftovers filled his nostrils along the way. Margot must have warmed it up just for Ed.

Shaking his head, Fox folded the paper and stood. “That damn goat’s going to be up in a few hours beggin’ to be fed. I’m going to get some sleep now while I can.”

“I’m glad Polly doesn’t do that anymore.” It was no secret the prince enjoyed a good night’s rest. In the kitchen, Goshen ladled some of the soup into a bowl. Ed was already leaning against the counter with a bowl in hand and sopping up soup with bread. He was using that instead of a spoon.

“Don’t let the universe hear you say that. It’s got cruel sense of humor. Go braggin’ about stuff like that and you’ll find yourself wishing you hadn’t.” Fox checked what was left of the fire, making sure it would continue to burn itself out safely, slid the screen into place, and headed for the stairs. “Night boys. Clean up for your mom when you’re done.”

“Good night, Fox,” Goshen called back. He settled against the floating island, facing Ed.

“Good night, Mr. Greene!” Ed called. All his yelling did not disturb the baby, not now that she had her cuddle buddy to help keep her asleep. Ed flashed Goshen a dopey, doting smile in pause, and then resumed scarfing down his late night snack.

The older boy didn’t move from his place against the counter until he heard Fox’s footsteps overhead. When they were good and truly alone, he pushed up from his lean to crowd the space in front of Ed with his own body, leaving room enough only for their bowls wedged between them. Goshen caught the boy just under the chin with the tip of his spoon, using it to tilt his face up the minute fraction necessary to claim a kiss.

“You were gone forever,” he exaggerated when they were finished properly greeting one another.

The kiss left Ed light-headed. No matter how many times they kissed, he was not immune to the delightful tingles that spread through him. Goshen could read every reaction the boy’s body ever had when they were in close proximity like this. Ed’s arm stretched blindly out to fumble the empty bowl in the sink where it cascaded into the basin with a clatter, the sound seemingly magnified in the otherwise quiet kitchen. Goshen felt the boy’s legs tremble. If not for the counter behind him, he would have swooned and slumped to the floor. Ed’s fingers caught in Goshen’s shirt to steady himself, and he sighed.

“Sorry.”

“You should be,” Goshen replied without censure, sounding more like a sulky brat whose demands were always met. The Prince pouted prettily, if only to express the fact that he’d missed Ed during the time they were apart.

That expression made Ed squirm. He gave a little whine and twitched his chin up another notch, just to bring his mouth closer. Their lips barely touched, teasing, or begging for another kiss. “I didn’t mean to be gone so long,” he whispered, and every word made their lips brush together even more. “We had to covert pack the bags I brought, though. After Pert told me what happened today, we thought it best to be sneaky about it.”

Where Ed was concerned, it did not take much to entice him. Goshen let the spoon fall away from beneath Ed’s chin as he whispered. It clinked softly against the metal circlet around his neck, which made the younger boy shiver with anticipation, another frisson of excitement shooting down his spine. Ed’s breath was warm against his lips, scented lightly with the soup he’d just eaten. Goshen could still taste the traces it left on his tongue. But before he could get too caught up in letting his mind run away with the fantasy of lifting Ed onto the counter, the rest of the boy’s words registered.

Patiently, Goshen forced his body into submission, willing the sudden throb between his legs to diminish. “And what happened today?” Cool, calm, and infuriatingly collected as always. He disengaged, resuming his lean against the island and attempting to find interest in his soup.

Ed deflated like a balloon as soon as there was some distance between them again. He sank against the counter behind him, then hopped up onto it as if he’d somehow been able to read Goshen’s mind. Goshen’s grip on his spoon spasmed, but he stared more purposefully into the bowl without further reaction. Ed rubbed his hands over his face, presumably to help clear his head, and shook all over. With a deep breath, he dropped his hands, slapping them against his thighs, and leaned forward.

“Okay. So. Pert and Ginger and Cindy all heard Sizzle and Olive and Jameson and Abby talking. About Polly. About…” Ed chewed on his lower lip and then wrinkled his nose. “About turning her.”

“Turning her?” A wrinkle of confusion marred otherwise beautiful features.

“Mmnghnnn you know. Um. Waking her up.” Ed lifted his hands to make a wildly flourishing gesture at the air. Goshen just stared at him. “Activating the genes or whatever that are inside her so she’s one of us. For real. So she can shift and stuff.”

The creases vanished. “Oh.” Goshen merely looked puzzled after that. “I thought she was already--I see.”

Ed shook his head vigorously in the ‘no’ fashion and tucked his hands under his thighs. “There’s a ritual thing. We’re not all born this way. We have to be reborn. Remember I told you when I was thirteen I got really sick?”

“Right. But I thought you’d just been, you know. Polly was born--” Goshen waved a hand, cutting himself off. “Whatever. So she has to be reborn.” He paused again, mind struggling to connect the pieces so he could keep up.

“That’s right.” Ed nodded encouragingly. “It’s like an infection. You get really, really sick, and if you live through it, you’re, well, what I am.”

Goshen went very still, his haughty profile one of cool restraint.

Ed had been with him long enough now to have learned how to read some of his body language. The boy’s own dark eyes went wide and he nodded some more.

“Me and Abby and Jameson…” He had gone through the list before. “Not Nellie and her kids, but her husband Jerry was. So like… they all carry the gene or whatever so they could be, except Nellie, we don’t think, but they’d have to risk going through the sickness first. That’s what Ginger’s family did, and she’s the only one who made it.”

Goshen spun around fluidly to face the island, presenting his back to Ed. But there was an edge to his grace, something sharp lined the arrangement of his limbs. He set the bowl aside with deliberate care. Behind him, Ed’s nervous reaction to his obvious anger made him continue to ramble.

“Polly’s rare and special. Hector and Linda were both like me, and they had a baby, which makes her super rare. Most of the time it’s one of us and a rat or a normal human, and then it’s like a fifty-fifty gamble. But see, there’s no guarantee even with her.”

Ed paused to heave in a deep breath and exhale. “But okay. So they argued because traditionally they do it early so they don’t suffer if the what if turns into a nope and, you know. But Jameson said no way because of Hector and Linda. And Abby said forget it after what happened with Ginger’s family. And Olive’s threatening to go talk to Frank, who you haven’t met, but he’s kind of like the eldest elder in charge, and Pert ran off with Polly and brought her here to hide her because she’s on Jameson and Abby’s side too and here we are.” Such a run on. He gasped for air again.

“You can’t let them.” Goshen’s tone was cold with barely contained fury. He was having a difficult time keeping himself under control, experiencing a level of anger in this situation he had yet to encounter, and therefore kept his back to Ed. “Who cares if she can’t shift, she doesn’t have to. She’s fine the way she is.”

Pressing his knees together, ankles crossed and biting his lower lip, Ed didn’t say anything for a long minute. Then, after a time: “That’s why Pert brought her here,” he said softly. “And trust me. I think Jameson’ll blow up half the city before letting them get to her.”

“So, what? We hide her forever?” Goshen turned back around to face Ed, who shrugged helplessly and continued looking at the floor. He’d made a tight ball of himself sitting on the kitchen counter, shoulders hunched and chin tucked nearly to his chest. He stared at the shadow of his shoes on the timeworn floor.

Goshen stepped forward, pressing himself against the younger boy’s legs. Ankles unhooked and his knees pushed apart without a struggle. Ed thumped his forehead against Goshen’s chest and kept his hands tucked tight under his thighs.

“What aren’t you telling me?” A low, commanding tone. Goshen’s fingers locked around either of Ed’s wrists.

“It’s just that…” A slight tremble ran through his arms as he shrugged again. He spoke to Goshen’s shoes. “It’s not up to me. I can’t… There’s not much I can do. If Olive takes it all the way to Frank… I’m not, like, high status enough.”

“And I’m nothing enough,” Goshen added bitterly, understanding all too well that he held no sway over Ratkin matters. But that didn’t stop the pang of pain from growing in his chest at the thought of Polly being subjected to a sickness that could take her life.

“Yeah,” Ed sighed sadly. “And I’m next to nothing.”

Goshen had to think about that for moment, feeling the weight of their combined helplessness settling around him. While it was true that Abby was super protective of Ed, and even Jameson treated the boy well, most of the others regarded him as the super freak anomaly that he was in Ratkin society. Gay rats didn’t breed, after all, and Goshen understood that to be the most important task which lead to the most prestige.

He tugged Ed’s hands free and draped the boy’s arms around his shoulders, then put his own hands on his hips and tugged him nice and close. Ed wriggled his posture just a little straighter and turned his head so that his ear was over the older boy’s heart. The next sigh was one more of contentment.

“Why does this Frank person care so much?” The imagine he conjured of the unknown threat was hideous and distasteful. “Couldn’t they just… give her to us and not worry about it? She’s just a baby.”

“I’m not sure Frank does care, but he’s the oldest of us and there’s traditions and…”

“Fuck traditions,” Goshen sneered. “What would Hector and Linda want?”

“Linda would just want her baby.” Ed closed his eyes and allowed the image of her in his head to let him smile. “And to paint all her nails the prettiest colors. To teach her to walk and talk. Watch her grow up. Put her in frilly dresses and teach her to twirl.” Goshen could tell this was something he and Linda had talked about a lot, like girlfriends, when she had been alive. “Hector just wanted Linda. A baby was a surprise bonus, he said.” Until the stress of becoming a sudden single father had lead him to his doom.

A quiet sigh leaked out of Goshen’s lungs. His chin dipped, lips brushing across a lank, dark curl atop Ed’s head. “She’s safe tonight. We’ll figure out the next step in the morning. It’s late.” He thought about the duffle packed with too many clothes sitting at the bottom of the stairs. “How long are we planning on staying here?”

Ed shrugged and his arms slid further back along Goshen’s shoulders, tightening a grip that was more of a hug. “Maybe just tonight. I didn’t think that far ahead. You have to work, don’t you? I can drive you. I can take Polly, I don’t know, to the Howard’s maybe, or to hang out with Mist or… something.” He wasn’t sure about taking her to the garage, because he had no idea whose side Noodle was on.

Ed’s body spoke to him through the light touch of his fingertips. It spoke of rising fear, of tension, and the flicker of his pulse warned him of the urge to flee. It wouldn’t do to get worked up about this right now. Their approach to the situation would require level-headed discussion, which could wait until later. Tonight, they were safe.

“We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

He cheated, then, sliding his hands up the length of the boy’s back to stir the embers and rekindle the tiny flame they’d snuffed out earlier. His fingers hooked in a reverse grip over the delicate curve of Ed’s shoulders and he drew him so close their mouths brushed together with each and every slow, shallow breath they took.

“Now,” he began, his low, hypnotic voice thick with desire. “Where were we?”
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King Frank
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Re: The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by King Frank » Wed Jun 12, 2019 1:06 pm

Way, way down under the city there were rats. Tons of them. They were heaped in piles of undulating, orgiastic abandon. Thousands upon thousands of scurrying, sniffing, scrabbling creatures clustered away in a sewer pocket surrounded by tunnels. The refuse of the city had been dragged here, collected and repurposed as platforms and ramps, nests and shelters, and even a high raised dais made of glued together barrels. Atop that dais sat a throne.

Somehow they had managed to get a wrecked old rotten recliner down there, the stuffing spilling out of so many holes and barely any upholstery to speak of. Springs poked out and jabbed now and then at the body that lounged in the chair. That body happened to be one monstrously sized old rat with bald spots peppered throughout its graying coat that was sprawled in an impossibly human fashion with one elbow on the armrest, its fat sable-furred belly exposed. On its head was a moth-eaten costume crown, red velvet missing in patches and a few fake jewels gone from their settings.

Discarded wrappers from candies and fast food and packaging from other sources carpeted the floor. The rustle of papers and plastics as so many thousand slinking bodies moved was a constant backdrop in the cavern. So too was the gnashing and nibbling of teeth, the squeak and hiss of only vaguely controlled anarchy. The rat king was the only one who could have put a stop to the chaos, if he wanted.

There had been no special heroic way in which Frank had ascended to the position of Rat King in Rhydin. When they had arrived there had not been any other Ratkin in the city. While the rest of the pack had made themselves comfy and cozy pretending to live like the people do, Frank had retreated into the bowels of the undercity and made himself right at home. Being more sentient and intelligent than the rest of the animal population in which he had immersed himself made it easy to overpower the males and, more importantly, attract the females. In no time at all he had fathered millions.

Only a small handful of those millions had become full shifters like himself. So many thousands of others had not survived the Birthing Plague, but their numbers were so small as to be insignificant. They could always make more, millions more.

An older female rat, well beyond her breeding prime, bounded through the throng and scuttled up a ramp to make her way to the throne. She was not nearly as gray and grizzled as Frank, but her fur was thin and pale enough to mark her age. Nose and whiskers twitching, she stretched herself flat and low before him in an act of supplication. He sniffed, recognizing her scent immediately.

“Olive,” he said disdainfully, in the language of rats. In this way he acknowledged her, too lazy to attack at the audacity of her approach. Rolling to his right, he plucked an unshelled walnut from a cracked porcelain bowl and worked on prying it open with his claws.

“Your Majesty,” Olive the rat replied respectfully. She waited, hungrily watching him pry open the walnut.

Frank made her wait, not at all offering to share his bounty. He took his time eating the nut, nibbling on it bit by bit. Only after he had licked the shell clean and chucked its halves over the side of his chair did he bother giving her his full attention.

“Well? What is it?”

Olive immediately plunged into telling him about the argument she and the others had had regarding baby Polly’s welfare and future as a Ratkin. She embellished on points to make it seem like they, of course, were in the wrong. She pointed out how important it was to expand their numbers, the need to grow and protect themselves. By the end of it all, Frank yawned expansively and scratched his bulging belly with his claws.

“Is that all?” he asked, bored.

Olive blinked. “All? I thought you’d maybe be more concerned about this.”

‘Look around you,” said the King. He lifted a paw, unfurled his claws, and indicated the teeming masses of rodents surrounding them. “We aren’t exactly hurting for numbers.”

“No,” Olive argued lightly, “but how many of them have awakened? How many of them are actually us? That little baby is a great blessing upon us. We can’t let her slip away into human obscurity. That freak and his boyfriend are already trying to steal her away.”

“Not from what I hear,” Frank interrupted. “Wembley tells me differently.”

“Wembley,” Olive repeated snidely, stunned.

“Yes. Wembley. He’s looking after her rather well if you ask me.”

“That’s not…” Olive stared.

“What?” said Frank. “Did you think I wasn’t going to have somebody looking after her? Did you think it was those boys?” The King laughed and laughed. For a moment, the throng stopped and joined him in an echoing chorus of high-pitched, chittering, squealing laughter.

Olive’s ears and whiskers drooped. Her tail twittered with shame and rage. Abruptly, all the laughing stopped. Frank scratched his nose and went on.

“It’s okay. They don’t know either. Let them think they’re in charge. What harm can it do? They keep her fed and growing, right?”

“Yes, but…”

“Listen, Ol. One little girl isn’t going to make a bit of difference. Let her stay a girl. There’s more where she came from. Better, even.” He made a gesture that was one part dismissive and one part an indication.

Olive turned to look out over the crowd, focusing down on a nest not far below the throne. Leaning over the springs in the armrest she could just barely make out the squirming pink bump of a single hairless newborn squished up against its mother. There was only one, and there was something off about it.

“Another metis?” she asked, awed. She looked back in time to see Frank nodding, his whiskers fanned out proudly. A rodens born no less! “One of yours?”

Frank shrugged in a human way and rolled over to sprawl out on his fat belly. “Who knows?” he said. Did it matter?

“This is fantastic news, Your Majesty!”

“I know,” said Frank. “Now get. I’ve got a nap to take.”

Olive scuttled backwards and retreated down the ramp slowly. He watched her shove her way through to the mother rodens with her single baby, probably to congratulate her and offer meaningless blessings. The noise and bustle eventually lulled his eyes to shut and put the king to sleep.
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Jameson
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Re: The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by Jameson » Wed Jun 12, 2019 2:00 pm

That August, the orphan Ginger Maxwell turned ten years old. Both she and Goshen were legally adopted by Fox and Margot Greene as part of an overwhelming handful of birthday presents. She now had a family again, and allowed herself to be happy, most of the time.

September rolled around again without incident and little Polly Helin Smith turned one year old. The celebration had been huge and spanned an entire day. If there was any single amount of evidence of just how spoiled she was, it was this. Everyone attended: Ed, Goshen, Fox, Margot, the entire population of Old Temple West, a small selection of honorary rats, and even newly made non-kin friends from the city. She was not left wanting for presents nor attention.

The idea of infecting her with the Birthing Plague had never been brought up again since that time months ago. Ed and Goshen had settled comfortably into their roles as unexpected, but more than willing primary caregivers. The little diva hardly tolerated anyone else meeting her needs. Wembley the rat had even become a part of their growing family, mostly because Polly refused to part with him.

She spent her time equally between Goshen’s apartment and the expanding complex of the apartment building the rest of the Ratkin called home. On occasion she frollicked through the fields of Fox and Margot’s farm with her new aunt Ginger, or made colorful spiderwebs of yarn through Lee and Lola Howard’s living room. She had parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins aplenty.

A little more than one month later, she was present for the birth of yet another cousin that she would later come to enjoy tormenting.

Nellie went into labor early Thursday morning, on the 18th of October, waking the entire building. It wasn’t any sort of outcry or screaming that alerted the residents of Old Temple West of what was going on. Her water broke in bed, waking her from a few snatched seconds of sleep. She swore, threw a pillow at Cindy to wake her from the adjacent bunk, and told her to fetch Auntie Sizzle. Within a few short minutes, the building was overrun with bustling activity.

It just so happened that Ed and Goshen were spending the night, having passed out on the mound of cushions and throw pillows that passed for a sofa in the basement unit. They experienced a rude awakening when Olive stomped in on them demanding they surrender everything soft. Jameson uncurled from a corner, grumbling about the noise, and started to light a cigarette, which was quickly bludgeoned out of his hand by a rogue pizza box.

“Don’t you dare light that thing in here, Jameson Mayer! There’s a birth going on upstairs! Out! All of you! Out!”

It was three a.m. All the menfolk were ushered outside and forced to cluster around the open back of Jameson’s van. There were complaints about the cold, quickly squelched by Auntie Sizzle lighting a trash can fire and dumping a few spare blankets at their feet. Noodle tried to blend in, not wanting anything to do with any birthing business, but found herself hauled in by the arm before she could even squeak in protest.

“But why can’t we--?” Ed began.

“Don’t,” Jameson warned, lighting a fresh cigarette. His face was briefly illuminated by the flare of a match. He was shaking his head. “Just don’t.”

"It could be hours before she has the baby," Goshen pointed out in Ed's defense.

“I’ll turn on the heat.” Jameson pushed out of his lean against the door of the van and circled round to the driver’s side door. The engine revved a minute later. Exhaust fumes pooled about their ankles. Wade stole the thickest blankets for himself and quickly made a nest tucked up against the air blast shooting from the vents between the two front seats.

Goshen pursed his lips and climbed into the back of the van with Polly. "Share," he told Wade, nudging the lumpy blanket wrapped boy with his toe. He helped him rearrange the blankets into a bigger nest, one that would accommodate all four of the youngest children. Once he got Polly settled in, he climbed back out to join the adults.

Ed was leaning against the open door, looking in, with an enormously doting smile plastered on his face. “You’re so good with them,” he remarked happily. Goshen responded by removing his jacket and putting it around his shoulders like a gentleman, which made Ed’s smile get even bigger. He murmured a thank you.

Jack scoffed. "Fuck. Anyone can dump a few kids in the back of a van, Eddie Baby."

“He didn’t just dump them in the back of a van,” Ed replied snottily, nose wrinkled and frowning as he turned to regard Jack. “He tucked them in.” Which Ed thought was the sweetest thing ever, but Gus giggled in a condescending sort of way, which immediately shut him up. His face was hot with fury and embarrassment.

“Hooboy you better take notes, Jack,” Gus teased, punching him lightly on the arm. “You’re gonna be a daddy soon yourself.”

“Shit,” said Jameson, seemingly out of the blue. He leaned across the front seats and thumped open the glove compartment to take out a cigar box. “I was saving these for then, but we ought to have ‘em for Jerry’s sake, don’t you think?” He spilled out of the driver’s side of the van and ambled around to jostle the half full box of cigars at the lot of them.

“Dearly departed Jerry.” Gus leaned over to swipe one of the cigars from the box. “Don’t mind if I do.”

Goshen eyed the box in mild distaste, but reached for a cigar out of respect for Jerry. He'd never met the man, but he'd come to think of his children as family. "To Jerry," he murmured. "And Nellie. And baby, whatever its name shall be."

Jameson snipped ends off the cigars and Ed passed around his lighter after he gently closed the rear doors of the van. They unearthed ancient folding lawn chairs and milk crates, forming a circle of seats around the burning trash bin. Gus hauled a portable stereo out of a gutter and plugged it into an exterior outlet so that they could drown out the upstairs noise. A jug of moonshine appeared out of nowhere and got passed around as well.

This was not the first time a baby had been born at Old Temple West. They expected hours, but it only ended up being a little more than one. Around half past four a second floor window was flung open and Cindy Dean stuck out her head.

“It’s a boy!” she called down excitedly to the assembled men. They all craned their heads back and looked up through the clouds of smoke they had created themselves. It seemed they all blinked in unison, and in that split second Cindy was gone, having ducked back inside and slammed the window shut.

"Pay up," Jack said, holding a grubby hand out to Gus.

Grumbling, Gus leaned sideways and rummaged through his pockets until he produced a filthy wad of crumpled up bills. He slapped them into Jack’s hand in exchange for the bottle of moonshine, which he snatched out of the other hand. Jack cackled. After taking a gulp, he passed the bottle along to Jameson, who drank and passed it along to Ed, who hiccuped, drank, and passed it along to Goshen. The prince held the bottle politely without imbibing, waiting patiently to pass it along to anyone else who cared to have it.

The front door flung open at just that opportune moment and Noodle marched out to join their little powwow. “Fuck me,” she exclaimed, and punched Jack in the arm, whose mouth had already opened to retort, before he could comment. She took his cigar and then the bottle of moonshine from Goshen when he held it out in silent offering. She at least said thank you to him. After a healthy guzzle, she exhaled heavily. “I’m going to sleep at the workshop for the next couple of months before I wind up getting shanghaied for another delivery. That was brutal.”

“It was only--” Jameson checked his wrist, realized he didn’t have a watch, and then leaned toward the glow of Gus’s phone, which was conveniently angled his way. “--an hour,” the drifter finished.

"And twelve minutes," Goshen added helpfully.

“And twelve minutes,” Jack repeated in a nasal, mocking tone. Noodle kicked him. He hissed at her. "You're so violent." Ed ducked his head to try to hide his smile, but she saw it and tipped him a wink.

Goshen reached aside to collect one of Ed's hands, threading their fingers together. "Everything went well?" he asked Noodle. "No complications?"

“Nah.” Noodle flopped down to sit cross-legged on the ground between him and Jack. “Nellie’s a pro at this. She conked out right after even.” She chuckled, took a swig of moonshine, started to pass it to Jack, yanked it just out of his grasp, took another gulp, and then for real handed it over.

Unsatisfied with mere hand holding, Ed slid sideways out of his seat and oozed onto his knees at Goshen’s side. Sitting on his folded legs, he leaned in against him and set his head on his lap. “And the baby?” he asked dreamily.

“Oh, you heard Cindy. I mean. Who didn’t? I’m sure the whole neighborhood heard her. She’s got another baby brother.” She puffed on the cigar, made a face, and handed it back to Jack. “Why do guys smoke these things? Blech.”

"Why do we smoke these things?" Goshen asked, peering quizzically at his cigar. "I've seen it in movies. But why's it a thing?" He hadn't taken more than two puffs from his, and not caring for the taste, let it continue to burn away unused.

"Figured a richy rich like you would know all about fancy cigars and the like." Jack cracked a smile while leaning over to snatch Goshen's cigar from out of his hand.

“It’s an Earth thing,” Jameson remarked. “Some kind of pre-industrial tradition.” He was busily making smoke rings on the other side of the fire, tilted back on two legs of his creaky lawn chair.

“Before babies were born in hospitals,” Ed added on.

Auntie Sizzle materialized over Jack’s shoulder with a harrumph, grumbling, “Hospitals,” like it was a dirty word. Goshen made a face like he agreed. She was wiping her hands on a clean towel, and when they were dry she snatched one of the two cigars away from Jack. Instead of giving it back to Goshen, she took a hefty puff off the end for herself.

"Oy!" cried Jack.

Though Goshen hadn't minded it being taken from him to begin with, it was rather satisfying to see the turnabout happen so quickly. He flashed a smug smile at Jack and slipped his fingers into Eddie's hair, gently combing through the loose, dark waves.

"You know, Polly's the only new baby I've ever met. When will we get to meet--does he have a name yet?"

“Not yet. Nellie passed out before she could tell us. Girl’s been tired all week and once that boy was out she was ready for a nap. Give her a couple hours.” Auntie Sizzle next swiped the bottle of moonshine, just as Gus had it to his mouth. He made a vaguely croaking sort of noise in surprise and stared at her wide-eyed as she took a hefty swallow. “Used to be,” the older woman went on, “babies didn’t get named for days after. Now you’ve got people naming ‘em months before they’re even born.” She clucked her tongue. “Bad luck, that.”

Goshen frowned minutely, golden gaze wandering toward the doors to the van where Polly slumbered peacefully within.

Seeing where he was looking and realizing her mistake, Sizzle said, “Oh now. Silly old superstition is what it is. Ain’t nothing wrong with having names picked out early nowadays. Nellie’s had this one picked out since the beginning but she wouldn’t tell none of us, not even her other kids.”

“Wade didn’t care, but he thought it was hilarious how frustrated it made Cindy,” Noodle remarked.

“Mable and Warren are too young yet to be bothered none, but that little girl sure had loads of suggestions for her mama, that’s for sure.” Sizzle pointed at the closed doors of the van, knowing the children were asleep in there, possibly by instinct.

“These jokers started a betting pool down in the farms,” Jameson added, thumbing toward Gus and Jack.

“Of course they did,” said Noodle, eyeing them both shrewdly.

"Don't look at me. It was his idea." Gus willfully threw his partner in crime under the bus.

“Of course it was,” Noodle rephrased, narrowing her gaze down on Jack.

"You're just mad you don't have my entrepreneurial expertise. I saw an opportunity and capitalized on it. Tomorrow, when I get everyone to pay up, I'll be rich."

Gus snorted. “There’s no way she’s naming that baby Herbert.”

Jameson choked and tipped his chair back onto all four legs. “Really, Jack? Herbert?”

“It’s better than Jerry Jr.”

“Odds are way better she’ll name it Jerry Jr. than Herbert.”

“I’m terrified of what you’re going to suggest Beth name her baby,” Ed chimed in.

"We'll name it Eddie, after you. But raise it so it's not a freak."

Noodle slugged him extra hard, on the side of the knee.

"Fuck, woman!"

"We can all rest assured Beth will never take Jack's advice about anything," said Goshen haughtily.

"Ehh, fuck you too." Jack flipped Goshen the bird before jamming his cigar into his mouth.

“Children,” Auntie Sizzle sighed. “Well. Provided you lot can keep quiet and not disturb the new momma, it’s safe to come back in.” She waved aside a small cloud of smoke on her way back to the door. “At least bring the littles back in, Jameson. It’s no good letting them sleep in that beast with the engine running all night.”

“Yes’m,” Jameson replied with a salute. The old woman flipped him the bird just as she disappeared inside, and that made him grin.
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Jack Jack
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Re: The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by Jack Jack » Tue Jul 16, 2019 11:01 pm

Tuesday. July 16, 2019
Old Temple West


The midday sun was most unwelcome this time of year, an oppressively bright star that put a sheen of sweat on any who had the misfortune to step outside for more than a few minutes. By the time Jack made it to the street of Old Temple West from the entrance of the tunnels where he and his brother, Gus, maintained an underground mushroom farm, his grime covered skin was nearly as slick as if he’d taken a dip in the river.

He cursed the heat with a few choice words and smeared the dirt around on his forehead with the hem of his shirt. “We should have the girls start bringing us lunch in the tunnels,” he said, squinting up at the sky. “This is bullshit.”

Loping along beside him, Gus started giggling and that laughter bled into his speech. He had his hands on his belly, he was so hysterically amused. “I’d love to see you suggest that to them! Beth’s likely to push you out a window, and we both know Noodle’d sooner shank you before the resounding ‘hell no.’”

“Fuck Noodle,” he argued. “At least she has an excuse not to. Most ‘a the rest of them spend all day doing what? Changing diapers? Doing dishes? They can make me a goddamn sandwich and bring it to me.”

“Maaaan, you best go in there wearing a suit of armor.” Gus laughed and shoved a stick of chewing gum into his mouth. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Jack barked a laugh, but he cupped his groin on reflex. Those girls fought dirty; it wouldn’t be the first time a low blow had been aimed his way.

A battered old RC Monster truck ripped across the street in front of them, its suped up motor whining as it climbed into high gear and tore through a pile of trash on the sidewalk on its way toward a wooden plank ramp on the other side of the road.

Backtracking its path to where it had come from, Jack found eight year old Wade Dean standing in the mouth of an alley holding a radio controller the size of his head.

“You little shit!”

Wade grinned, never taking his eyes off the truck. It roared up the ramp and went airborne for several glorious seconds before crashing magnanimously to thunderous applause by watchers-on. “Did you see that?” he bellowed.

“Yeah, I saw it. That was pretty awesome.” The little boy wore an expression of pure pride for the compliment. Jack held his hand out for the controller. “Lemme see that thing.”

“No way!” Wade went so far as to twist away, hiding the controller from Jack’s line of sight.

“Come on,” Jack prodded.

“Nuh uh! You’ll break it,” the boy accused. Gus was chuckling because he knew it was true.

“It’s a stupid remote control car, how hard can it be? Push the joystick left, it goes left.” Jack started toward the boy, who was smart enough to start moving and stay out of reach. “Push it right, it goes right.”

“It’s more complicated than that, dummy!” Darting around Gus, Wade skittered to the other side of the street. “You wouldn’t know how to handle a FLUX 2200Kv motor.”

It was too hot to be chasing after nasty little kids, so Jack swiped an empty can off the street and threw it at him instead. “Oh yeah? Any worse than you’d handle my foot up your ass?”

The little boy crowed with delight, easily dodging the can and skipping away. “I’m not the one who’s gonna get their ass kicked.” Clutching the servo to his chest, he stared Jack down with a defiant twinkle in his eye.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Sucka!” Wade yelled laughingly, taking off toward the apartment.

Confused, but unconcerned, Jack looked from Wade’s retreating figure to his brother beside him with a grin. “That kid’ll make a good rat.”

“Yeah he will.”

“Twitcher, if I have anything to say about it.” He punched Gus in the arm. “We should give him a tour of the tunnels.”

“Not if he keeps hanging out with Noodle and Ed.”

“Which is why we have’ta get to him now,” Jack explained. “Noodle’s cool, but we don’t need him turning into a freak like Eddie Baby.”

Gus nodded agreeably as they stepped into the building. Both the barred metal security door and interior storm door were wide open, as were all the windows. Old Temple West lacked air conditioning but made up for it by having strategically placed fans in all manner of sizes and varieties to help the air circulate and keep things cool.

“Is that him?”

A woman’s voice trickled down the stairwell from overhead. Muted conversation preceded a slamming door and a flurry of footsteps. Jack looked up to find the furious visage that was his girlfriend come to a stop on the first floor landing, with young Wade crouching behind her wearing unmistakable glee.

“Hey, baby,” Jack greeted coolly.

Elizabeth’s eyes flashed crimson. She seemed to swell before his very eyes, taking up the entire stairwell with her frightening silhouette. Her very gaze had made Gus disintegrate, or the coward had just abandoned him at a speed that bordered on teleportation abilities, as usual. One second his brother was there beside him and then instantly not.

“Who the fuck is Tara?” Beth began her carefully calculated descent, one step for every accusatory word hurled in Jack’s face.

To his credit, Jack had enough of a sense of self preservation to take a hasty step back and lift his hands protectively. “Who?”

It was the wrong thing to say. He knew it immediately by the way she leaned down to slip off her wedge sandal and lobbed it at his head. Jack rather liked her violent enthusiasm, except when it was directed at him. In this case, he’d been too blind-sided to successfully dodge the shoe, which clipped his shoulder and tumbled to the floor with a dull clatter.

Half a floor above, Wade could barely contain a squeal of amusement. A small chorus of accompanying girlish giggles told him the audience had grown.

“Hey! What the fuck? Who are you talking about?”

“Tara!” Beth yelled. Her voice echoed thunderously through the building’s halls, making him flinch. “About yea high, a wannabe flower child with an appalling blonde dye job. Ring any bells?”

“Oh, shit.”

That was also the wrong thing to say. Beth’s anger transformed into incandescent fury. He could have sworn he saw a corona of fire wreathe itself about her head like a white-hot crown. It was beautiful and terrifying and might’ve been a huge turn-on if she weren’t trying to kill him. With a seething snarl, she took off her other shoe and, brandishing it like a sword, chased Jack out the front door into the street. Someone was cackling loudly and it sounded a lot like Jameson.

“Hooboy! Some-body’s in trouble,” he heard the grifter sing tauntingly nearby. He could barely see him, being too busy ducking and dodging and running for his life. “Get ‘im, Beth!”

“She’s nothing! I swear! I was drunk--it was one time!”

“Liar,” Beth hissed. She’d long lost the shoe and was going after him with her bare fists now. Her fingernails caught him across the throat with a show of three angry red lines. He yelped and finally caught her hands, pinning her wrists together. So then she tried to kick him. “Is that what you’re into now? Knocking up skanky bitches who can’t keep their legs closed around another girl’s man?”

“Who said anything about that?” Bewildered, Jack struggled to hold Beth still while looking around for help from the crowd they’d drawn.

“I did.”

Jack’s gaze landed on the smiling source of the voice, a woman who appeared to be deeply enjoying the scandal unfolding in the street. Tara put one hand over her flat abdomen and lifted the other to wriggle her fingers in greeting. Jack felt his world implode as the realization of that motion set in. Beth stilled momentarily as her point of focus shifted from him to her. Suddenly, instead of trying to keep Beth from hitting him, he was having to hold her back from going after Tara.

“Let go of me, you sonofabitch!”

“Twenty bucks says Beth kicks her ass.”

“You’re not helping!” Jack snapped at Starbuck, who snickered against Pert’s shoulder.

“Boys and girls,” a matronly voice interrupted sternly, each word a snap of noise that caught everyone’s attention. Auntie Sizzle had toddled down off her second floor rocking chair throne and now drifted into the middle of the chaos. She set a hand on Beth’s which immediately cooled her temper, like magic. Jack didn’t have to struggle to keep hold of her anymore.

Like a shadow drifting in on a breeze, there too stood Abby, at Tara’s side. Was she even wearing pants? Her oversized t-shirt hung long enough to be a dress, the wide collar drooping to expose one shoulder, her usual style, and her feet were bare. She was smoking a joint like she hadn’t a care in the world, but her dark eyes were scrutinizing them all.

“What’s this all about then?” Sizzle asked.

Beth turned her head to glare at Jack, daring him to explain. When he didn’t, she gave him a hard shove, that, infuriatingly, didn’t make a dent. “This idiot knocked up that stupid--” Sizzle squeezed her arm, cutting her off.

“Now, now.” In so few words she kindly demanded Beth exercise restraint and use more polite words. The muscles in Beth’s jaw jumped with the effort to respect the Matriarch’s implied request.

“That… girl,” she began delicately, though it was obvious she had many other choice words she’d rather employ, “showed up claiming to be pregnant with Jack’s baby.”

“This girl here?” asked Abby, tipping her head to indicate the one she was standing beside.

“I claimed it because I am,” Tara piped up. She flashed a toothy smile at Jack. “We enjoyed that whole week of Beltane, didn’t we?”

“No need to be a catty bitch about it,” Abby muttered beside her. Sizzle cleared her throat disapprovingly. Jameson snickered through his cigarette.

Elizabeth remained silent, but now she was hurt in addition to angry. She twisted free of Jack’s loose grip and folded her arms across her chest, silently fuming. All eyes turned on Jack, waiting for an explanation.

Jack balked uneasily under the weight of their scrutiny. “Listen. This is ridiculous. She doesn’t mean anything to me, okay? It was just sex. Beth wasn’t putting out and I had needs. It’s not a big deal.”

Someone behind him buzzed out a funeral dirge on his hands. Looking over his shoulder, Jack saw that it was Gus, and he scowled at his brother who only snickered like an asshole in response. “You can fuck right off.”

“Nah, bro. Obviously that kind of stuff gets a man in trouble.”

“Sick burn,” said Jameson.

Beth burst into tears then and stalked away from the group to disappear inside the apartment building. Pert turned to trail after her with concern.

“Idiot,” said someone who immediately kicked him in the shin. He knew it was Noodle even before he turned to yell at her that that had hurt. She gave him a hard shove, making him stumble, harrumphed, and then turned to stomp in the wake of the other girls.

“Bye, sweetie,” the bottle blonde crooned.

“You’re kind of a bitch,” Abby remarked aside to Tara. “You’re not staying,” she added, and then drifted away to pad into the building as well.

“Hey,” Tara snapped. “I didn’t know he had a girlfriend. We weren’t exactly having lengthy conversations, okay? It was Beltane.”

“Jesus Christ, could you just stop talking?” Jack pushed a hand through his hair, trying to act cool despite the odd pang of guilt that struck him hard upside the head in Beth’s furious wake.

“Don’t get mad at me because you lacked the foresight to use a condom.” The blonde flipped her hair over one shoulder and cocked a hip, leveling Jack with a serious stare. “We have to figure out where to go from here, because I am pregnant, it is yours, and I’m not getting rid of it.”

“You got somewhere you’re staying, girl?” interrupted Sizzle, one of the few remaining of the dwindling crowd.

Tara’s eyes flicked toward the older woman, softening after several seconds when she admitted, “No. I’ve been drifting. A friend’s couch here, a hotel room there.”

Only the keen ears of the ratkin heard the old woman mutter, “We’ll see about that.” Jameson grinned fiercely where he stood leaning against his van. Jack knew that meant a thorough investigation into this woman’s background was about to be underway, but until then, Sizzle told Tara, “You’ll find a bed somewhere in the other building. Starbuck’ll show you.” She pointed out what appeared to be part of the same building, to the right.

“Maybe Jack should show me. We have some things to talk about, don’t you think?”

“No I don’t think,” Sizzle replied somewhat snappishly, the older woman’s patience was finally starting to wear thin.

Starbuck stepped forward, linking her arm through Tara’s while sending a pointed glare Jack’s way. “Jack’s gonna go check on his girlfriend and pray to City Momma that she forgives his punk ass for being a moron. Come along, sweetie.”

“Say, Starbuck, didn’t you get knocked up during some drunken Beltane fling, too?”

She paused just long enough to flash a saccharine smile at him over a brown, sun-kissed shoulder. “I didn’t cheat on anybody in the process.”

Jack grit his teeth, shoving his hands into his pockets and turning to address Sizzle once the girls were gone. “We fuck. It’s what we do. ‘Survive so that you may breed’,” he quoted.

“I ain’t arguing that, boy,” Sizzle replied, shaking her head. “But maybe use more of this.” She poked his forehead with a hard, bony fingertip, causing him to frown. “At least with the human folk. As you can see, this sort of thing puts ‘em in a tizzy.”

“Being a rat’s much less complicated. Feed, fuck, and fight. That’s it. What d’ya want me to do?” Honestly, he was at a loss and hoping Sizzle might provide him with a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

“Make peace with your girlfriend first. That baby boy you put on her’s our future, and so’s whatever you put in that other girl too, assuming it’s yours. The only way we’re going to know that for sure is wait it out, so you better make nice and get them to stop spitting at each other like alley cats. We’re all family here, don’t you forget.”

Jack snorted, leaning down to collect Beth’s sandal before following Sizzle back inside. “Don’t worry. I’m sure Beth’ll be more than happy to remind me -- frequently.”
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Ed
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Re: The Rise of Old Temple West

Post by Ed » Wed Aug 07, 2019 1:19 pm

Wednesday. July 17, 2019.
Old Market Firehouse


Of course, by the very next day, Ed had heard all about the altercation that had occurred at Old Temple West. His expansive family was incapable of withholding gossip for very long. While helping him erect shelving units in his new garage, Noodle had told him the entire story in sordid, and perhaps even embellished, detail.

The story was so bizarrely elaborate that it took him several minutes to absorb it all. He drilled anchors into the wall to hold up a tool rack and she held the unit steady for him while he screwed it into place. Under the noise of machinery at work, he could hear Polly squealing playfully through the open door leading into the back of the house, the room designated a future family room.

They didn’t have much furniture yet. His old army cot doubled as a couch, pushed against the wall, and he knew Goshen was lounging in there, quietly conversing with Pert, while their baby girl chased after her favorite rat Wembley. He could smell Jameson’s signature blend of cigarette smoke wafting in through the open back door. They had opened all the doors and windows to let the air circulate through and cool things down.

“There,” Ed said as he finished securing the rack in place. Tucking the screwdriver into his tool belt, he stepped back to get a better look at the job. Satisfied that it was even, he nodded. Noodle let go and he graced her with a smile of thanks.

Unbuckling the tool belt, he left it on a rolling cart in the middle of the garage and together they headed into the back room. Goshen looked up from his regal sprawl to appraise him. His fiance’s attention always had a way of making him feel warm and tingly all over. His cheeks filled with heat that morphed into a smile.

Ed crossed the room. Pert politely scooted to the end of the cot, making plenty of room for him between her and Goshen. He gladly inserted himself into the opening with a pleasant smile for the woman and tucked himself in extra close to Goshen’s side. A slender yet muscular arm curved itself around his waist and held him even closer. His smile magnified to reflect the good feelings that flooded his nervous system.

"Do you think it's true?" he asked, once he was settled.

"Do I think what's true?" Given that he hadn’t specified who he was asking it was no surprise that Goshen was the one to answer hm.

"You know,” he said, snuggling the man’s side. “That Tara's carrying Jack's baby?"

Noodle scoffed. "Probably. Jack's a skeeve." Without any other chairs she opted to settle down sitting cross-legged on the floor by the back door. Jameson pivoted against the open frame to bring himself mostly inside, after flicking his cigarette butt into the yard.

“I would appreciate it if you didn’t litter my yard with discarded filters,” Goshen said with a distasteful curl of his lip.

“Oh! You know what? I’ll get one of those standing ashtray things with the long necks I see all over the place.” The idea suddenly struck Ed. He set a hand on Goshen’s chest and smiled softly in an effort to soothe him. His fiance settled one of his own hands on Ed’s and nodded his approval.

“I don’t want Polly to find them,” Goshen elaborated, his golden gaze returning to Jameson.

Jameson had the decency to at least look somewhat abashed. “Sorry, man. I’ll remember to pocket them until then.” He scratched his neck as his thoughts switched gears and turned back to the topic of Jack. “Noodle’s right, but I’m going to sniff around to make sure her story holds up anyway.”

“I might be able to help,” Goshen offered silkily.

All eyes turned on him. The cot creaked at the other end as Pert leaned forward to peer around Ed, whose dark eyes were fixed curiously and lovingly on Goshen’s face. Suddenly aware that all of the adults had gone silent, Polly ceased chasing the bounding rat in circles. With their game of round and round coming to an end, Wembley sought something else to distract the toddler with. The animal rolled a generic red play ball at her feet. Gurgling happily, she picked it up and threw it down, chasing after it when it bounced away. This was likely to go on for at least the next ten minutes. Plenty of time for uninterrupted adult conversation to continue.

Goshen swallowed, his golden gaze tracking Polly’s movements through the room. “When Linda was pregnant, I was able to tell her the sex of the baby. She really wanted to know and that’s something relatively easy for me to do. Reading deeper than that might prove more difficult, but if Tara consents, I could potentially provide a definitive answer. Though,” he hesitated, glancing around at each of the faces watching him. “Someone will need to convince Jack to let me read him first so I can compare.”

“Yeeeeah that’ll never happen,” grumbled Noodle. “Couldn’t you just ‘accidentally’ bump into him or something?”

“No,” he answered curtly.

“I don’t know, Noods,” said Jameson. He had a contemplative look in his eye that was usually reserved for when he was plotting arson. He was rubbing his jaw. “He might just jump at the chance to prove he’s not the father to get Beth off his back.”

Noodle raised a brow but nodded slowly in agreement. “That’s a good point.”

“But what if it turns out he is?” Ed asked.

“Will he even accept my assessment?” Goshen asked. “Will your pack trust the word of an outsider?”

“Sizzle will,” Jameson said with certainty. He straightened up, ceasing his lean against the doorframe.

“So will Abby,” Ed put in. Pert and Noodle were nodding agreeably to both those statements. They all looked over at Polly when she shrieked at the rat, who now was dangling off the back of one of the spiral staircase steps, just out of her reach. She was a constant reminder of how valuable Goshen was to them, despite not being strictly one of them.

Goshen nodded. “All right. I’ll do it, if it’ll help.” Ed smiled delightedly and rewarded him with a kiss on the cheek. After a beat, he added, “Beth seems pretty distraught.” It was as though he wanted it known this was for her benefit, not Jack’s.

“She has good reason to be,” Pert said quietly. She was rubbing a hand over her belly, thoughtfully admiring her own slight baby bump. “Beth’s human, and it’s normal for her to be upset about this. Were she not--” She exercised caution and avoided outright saying what else she might be regardless of the fact that Goshen already knew. “Well, if she were like Jack I don’t think she’d be as upset.”

“I tried to warn her what she was getting into,” Noodle grumped. Crossing her arms tightly over her chest, she huffed and added, “Didn’t want to listen.”

“I don’t think people can help who they fall in love with.” Goshen’s murmur was slow and thick, the honeyed tone sending a delicious ripple of warmth across Ed’s skin, and he squeezed the man tighter. A happy but not too loud squeal escaped him too.

Noodle made a gagging noise and unfolded herself from the floor to stand. “All the cute in here’s making me sick,” she announced, yanking down on her shirt. “I’ll go find Jack.” Nobody objected. If anyone could convince him to take part in this conspiracy, it was her. Jameson stepped aside to let her through the back door without a fight, which made her the first to leave.

“I better skip out too,” Jameson said. He set a cigarette to his lips but did not light it. “You kids behave yourselves.” After a wink, he turned to step out the door as well.

Pert scooted to the end of the cot and stood. “I’ll take Polly back to the house,” she offered, already crossing the room to scoop her up. Wembley climbed up the staircase handrail and leaped onto her shoulder as soon as she had the toddler in her arms, which helped instantly pacify any protests.

Ed lunged up off the cot himself and hurried over to nuzzle the baby girl’s cheeks and smother her in Eskimo kisses. Hugging her without also hugging Pert wasn’t very easy, so he didn’t even try to avoid gathering her up in a squeeze as well. The woman laughed and patted him on the back with one hand. She did everything softly, speech and displays of affection included.

“Bye-bye, baby,” Ed cooed to Polly. He dropped one more kiss on her cheek and she made zerbert noises back at him.

By then, Goshen had crept up behind him. He reached around Ed to sweep some of Polly’s growing curls off her forehead. It was hard for him to let her go. Ed reached behind himself for his fiance’s other hand and pulled it around his waist, encouraging him to hold onto him instead.

“Bye!” This was one of Polly’s newer words, and along with it she had learned how to blow a sloppy kiss. Pressing her hand to her mouth she made a popping mah sound and then extended that little hand toward them. Pert giggled because she constantly found it endearing. Ed’s cheeks hurt from how enormously he was smiling, but he wasn’t complaining.

As Pert left with Polly, Goshen wound his other arm around Ed and hugged him tight. Chin to shoulder and cheek to cheek, they watched the woman leave with their toddler. Once they were out of sight, Ed lifted a hand to touch it to Goshen’s opposite cheek.

“You’re the best,” he told him softly. “You know that?” Closing his eyes, he turned his head to nuzzle Goshen’s closer cheek with his nose. He was still smiling, but in a decidedly more doting sort of way, which involved less teeth.

Goshen turned his head to press a kiss on Ed’s mouth. His smile was as rich and enchanting as ever, but there was something troubling lurking behind his eyes. “I’m happy to help. I only hope that it does, you know, help.” As opposed to making things worse.

“Of course it’ll help.” Ed had the utmost confidence! But he was generally an optimistic person. He turned around in Goshen’s arms so that they were facing each other, his fiance’s arms still wound securely about his person. Sliding his arms up over his shoulders, Ed kissed him.

They were alone now, in their house. No reason to hold back anymore. Ed might still have dirt smudges and be in need of a shower after spending a good portion of the day hanging fixtures and shelves, but he wanted nothing more in this moment than to kiss the man he loved with all of his heart. Goshen was of course more than happy to oblige him.
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