Demands and Complaints.
The reaping season, as determined by the ancient Omiscan calendar, used to be (inexplicably) during the month of July. That’s over now, because May really is too damn hot to be wearing a robe.
-The Book of the Dead, Revised Edition
“We are not going to the cemetery,” Alice hissed as another bead of sweat dripped into her eye.
She cursed and swiped furiously at her forehead.
Even in springtime at six in the morning, the heat in StrangerVille was oppressive. Of all the amenities the little military outpost lacked (and there were many), a reliable power grid topped the list. That meant almost no place would risk running an air conditioning unit at full power: not the 8 Bells bar that doubled as the local coffee shop, not the StrangerVille Information Center that deigned to call itself a library, and certainly not the bus depot on the edge of town.
For Alice, real air conditioning began and ended in Oasis Springs at the Route 309 Convenience Store where she worked.
“But we must! Nearly 80 souls are active so it’s time to see what the reaper has brought me. It is the day of the culling!” a voice whined.
Alice rounded the corner near her house, patting her pockets to check for her keys. Did she bring them or just leave them under the mat in front of her trailer?
The sooner she got inside, the sooner she could take a cold shower and lay under the fan…
“Are you even listening to me?” the voice snapped. It belonged to Ben, the God of Death and a whole host of other things that hardly seemed related as far as Alice could tell—
“Death, Resurrection, Agriculture, Fertility, and Nectar. Why is that so complicated? Surely, you can see how vital and connected they all are?” Ben continued, answering her unspoken question.
Alice had been sharing her headspace with Ben since the morning of her 13th birthday. She went to sleep dreaming of her first co-ed party and woke up with the voice of an ancient god in her head. It had been downhill since then. She had no private thoughts, Ben could not bear to leave a question unanswered, and he of the “unknowable name” had an opinion on everything.
“Unpronounceable.” Ben corrected.
“What?” Alice asked, distracted as she peered down the block.
“Unpronounceable, not unknowable. My name is unpronounceable in your sim tongue so I went with something simple, and jazzy if I do say so myself…”
Alice ignored him. From this short distance, she could see that there were no cars in front of the house, which meant her parents were already on their way to work. She started walking. This was the best case scenario, Alice hated running into people when Ben was in one of his moods.
“Moods? I don’t have moods! I’m an all-powerful being! The only emotion I could possibly suffer is an untold amount of frustration from missing this very important culling. I mean centuries of tradition at risk because…Alice? Hello? You are not even listening to me!” he huffed, his tone aghast.
“No!” Alice snapped, throwing up her hands, “I am absolutely not listening!”
“And do you want to know why? Because I’ve been restocking shelves of toilet paper and sunscreen since ten o’clock last night and that was just keep myself from dying of boredom! I had to kick out a rando wearing a clown suit and chase off eight—count ‘em—eight stray cats,” she ticked off the number on her fingers before continuing. “I’m tired. I’m hot as fuck. And I don’t care what you want.”
Alice took a few deep breaths to try and calm herself down. It wasn’t worth fighting with Ben. She just needed to climb into her bed and get some rest.
She slipped around the back of the house and let herself into her trailer.
She dropped her keys on her dresser and flicked on the fan. It whirred to life, temporarily circulating hot air while she worked to open the windows. Once she unlatched the last one, she breathed a sigh of relief. At least on the hilltops, where her family lived, there was a bit more of a breeze. She peeled off her work shirt and tossed it into the laundry.
At last, a moment’s peace!
“We still need to go to the cemetery. This culling day was of particular importance to ancient Selvadoradian calendar and—” Ben started.
“For love of llamas Ben, we’re not going to the freaking cemetery!” Alice shouted just as there was a knock at her door.
“Alice, are you okay in there? It’s me, Mayra,” her sister called from outside the door.
Alice groaned and put her face in her hands. She had been working the graveyard shift ever since Ben had taken to listing sims’ misdeeds and commenting on their purchases when they came to the checkout counter. It was easier to deal with at night when almost no one came by. But her body still hadn’t adjusted. Alice was exhausted, overheated, and the last thing she wanted to do was have a conversation with her sister.
Maybe if she didn’t answer, Mayra would just go away and forget she was even at home.
“Not likely,” Ben muttered, and Alice could almost see him rolling his eyes.
The rapping sounded again. “Alice, I just heard you in there so I know you’re home. I need to talk to you,” Mayra continued.
“No rest for the weary,” Alice sighed and pulled on a tank top before letting her sister in.
“When you’re finished with this…whatever this is…we will be making our way towards the burial ground. Correct?”
“Hush you,” Alice murmured.
Mayra gave her a quizzical look, “I didn’t say anything.”
“No, not you…” Alice paused. This was always the hardest part. As far as she could tell, no one could hear or see Ben but her. While the jury was still out her sanity, she figured it was best to keep this information to herself. Still, it was difficult to have an extra person that no one could see involved in every conversation and Alice couldn’t help but respond to Ben out loud. Talking to him in her head was just too confusing.
“It’s nothing. I’m…tired,” Alice finished lamely. “What do you need?”
Mayra looked suspicious but she didn’t pry. “Well, I’m leaving for Newcrest U on Friday and I was wondering if you’d drive up with mom and dad to help see me off,” she explained. “Maverick has duty on base and if you’re not there to run interference, dad will just get all emotional and mom will start demanding to see my professors’ credentials.”
Alice tried to hold back a laugh. She didn’t want to give her sister false hope. Their father, Cyrus, was very high up in the military…so high up that they had no idea what his job title was and only the vaguest notion of what he actually did. And yet, he loved romance novels and sappy movies and had been known to cry at greeting card commercials. Her little sister leaving home to study engineering 800 miles away? His tear ducts didn’t stand a chance.
Their mother, Valeria, was a well-regarded research scientist. It was her work that initially brought them to StrangerVille. She didn’t enjoy sappy movies but she did love reading fellow researchers the riot act whenever they insisted on clinging to outdated theories or models. Valeria Martin was probably relishing the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Newcrest’s most senior professors. Alice bit the inside of her cheek.
She would not smile. She would not smile…
“I can see your smile! You know how bad it will be. Please, as my older sister, help me avoid this misery. Look. I even brought some flowers to brighten up your place and to…well…bribe you,” Mayra laughed, gesturing to a vase of flowers she set on Alice’s table.
Alice wished, and not for the first time, that their brother Maverick was the eldest. At least if she were the middle child, Alice could shirk responsibility for her siblings with less guilt.
“We don’t have time for this,” Ben cried. “Soon the sun will not be in the optimal position for receiving the reaper’s report!” He was beginning to grow agitated.
Alice could feel power building up inside of her. Small sparks shot from her fingers. She clenched her hands into fists to cover it.
This was why she couldn’t be a good older sister.
It wasn’t just Ben rattling around in her head, it was his powers coming through her body and shooting out in uncontrollable bursts. Her head began to throb and she grasped the counter for support.
She felt it then, a sort of tugging that seemed to split the air around her. Instantly, a gnawing hunger started in the pit of her stomach.
“No,” Alice choked out.
“Whoa, Alice. Are you ok?” Mayra leaned forward with a concerned look on her face.
Alice shook her head, eyes squeezed shut. The air was almost suffocating. She could feel the tugging directed towards the flowers. She tried desperately to redirect it.
“Alice, if you’ll just focus—”
Ben was starting with her now of all times?
“I said no!” Alice shouted.
Mayra reeled back as if Alice had slapped her.
There was a pulling sensation and suddenly, a sweet energy coursed through Alice’s veins. She opened her eyes and looked around. The flowers on the table were fine. Alice still felt jittery but her headache slowly subsiding. After a few seconds, she felt completely back to normal. Mayra stared at her as if she had sprung a second head.
Alice tried to soften her tone. “I can’t take the time off from work.”
And there it was, the lie that would push Mayra away. Taking time off from work was the only thing Alice could do with any ease. The part-time clerk at the Route 309 Convenience Store that hardly anyone visited and no one found convenient couldn’t take time off from work? Her sister knew it was bullshit and responded accordingly.
“Sometimes you are so full of it. You can just say that you don’t want to, Alice. You don’t have to lie,” Mayra replied frostily.
“I…I…” Alice trailed off, unable to put together even a semblance of an apology.
How would she begin it? “Oh sorry, the ancient god who’s taken up residence in my body is needy asshole and he makes it impossible for me to be a good person?” No. There was nothing to say. Better Mayra didn’t get used to Alice being available.
“It’s fine,” Mayra said.
But it wasn’t. Alice turned away and lowered her eyes, the words stuck in her throat.
Mayra sighed and walked out.
Alice showered quickly and pulled a comb through the knots in her hair before braiding it into two pigtails. She slid on a pair of shorts, grabbed her keys and stuffed them into her pocket. She gave her bed one last longing look before shoving out the door. She wasn’t tired anymore anyways.
Outside, she froze. A huge patch of grass in front of her trailer had been leached of its color.
She looked around, raising and lowering her feet. The grass crunched under her sneakers. It was dead.
Alice had killed it.
“Alice, I don’t think you understand how…”
“Save it Ben,” Alice bit out, “I’m not in the mood. You win. We’ll go to the damn cemetery.”
Desert Hill Cemetery
One Hour Later…
Desert Hill, the Oasis Springs cemetery, had certainly seen better days.
Cemeteries couldn’t keep out the God of Death, and so she simply walked right through the gates, bars and all.
The lock on the gate was a joke, it could be pried open with a pair of pliers or frankly, a determined tug. The wire fence was sagging in some places, making it easy to hop. The neighborhood kids ran in and out of it like they owned the place and at night, the teens in the Renegades club gathered to drink wutaheftabirs that they stole from their parents’ coolers. None of that was a concern for Alice. Cemeteries couldn’t keep out the God of Death, and so she simply walked right through the gates, bars and all.
It was a neat trick, one that would be better if Ben had been the God of Banks. As it stood, Alice gained nothing from her newfound ability.
“God. Of. Banks? Honestly, do you really think there would be a god of something so ridiculous? Money is pretend! Whatever happened to the days of ritual sacrifice? That was the real payment. A God of Ritual Sacrifice would make more sense.”
“Okay Benny. Sure. Whatever you say,” Alice started, and then paused.
“Ritual sacrifice? Are you kidding?”
Then she thought better of the question. Ben would explain the process to her in excruciating detail and she did not need that image in her head right now.
“No. Stop. Don’t explain. I don’t want to know.” Alice shook her head. “What is it that I’m even looking for?”
“Grimm should be in that mausoleum to the left,” Ben instructed as he began to materialize before her eyes. “When you talk with him—”
Alice help up her hands. “No, that guy is an asshole and I’ve had enough today. You wanted to be in the cemetery and now you’re in the cemetery.”
“But, you don’t even want to peek at the list? How will you know how the Harvest works? The selva—“
Alice cut him off again, “Harvest? No thank you. I’m just the transportation. I’m going to go sit on that bench over there and grab a few moments of peace of quiet while you and Grimmy-poo compare notebooks…or whatever it is you do.”
And with that, Alice turned and walked towards the lone tree in the cemetery.
She could hear Ben complaining to himself as he made his way to the mausoleum.
“Compare notebooks? I am a being of terrifying power. Notebooks?!?”
Cemeteries were the only places where she could get a break from him. Something about the energy of the place, coupled with his dominion over it gave him a chance to materialize and walk around. She complained, but the cemetery really was the least annoying of Ben’s requests. Raising the dead actually wasn’t so bad. It was way better than being sent to:
“Cut down a galleon’s worth of wheat for the fall equinox.” (she could never cut down that much wheat, and she was almost always chased off the farm…often with dogs.)
“Bring vitality to the wombs of expectant mothers.” (once, the hospital called the cops on her for hanging around the maternity ward looking creepy. Maverick had to come bail her out and she spent months paying him back.)
“Herald the joy of the season through toasts with every sim near and far.” (okay, the last one wasn’t so bad but it always gave Alice a massive hangover).
No, the problem with Ben was that he stopped Alice from having any life at all. She flopped down on the bench.
She was 29 and working part-time at the same convenience store job she had since high school. She lived in a trailer parked in the back of her parent’s house. Even when she was being generous with herself, she would still call it living at home. She hadn’t had a boyfriend since the twelfth grade, hadn’t been laid in months, and her friends were…well…no one.
At least not anymore.
Alice closed her eyes, trying to block the painful memory. The truth was, she couldn’t keep anyone close, not even her family.
Alice Martin was dangerous.
A straight-up monster.
The word echoed in her head over and over again, but there was no Ben to blame it on. She brushed a hot tear from her eye, but gave up and just let the rest fall.
This was her only opportunity to feel sorry for herself without any running commentary from him. She relished the moment.
“I wish my life were different,” she whispered out loud.
And then, just inside her head:
I wish my life were normal.