The rest of the family, and a special visitor, meet the baby.
The Next Day
‘I guess this isn’t just a fad then,’ Tegs said as she flopped on the couch beside him.
Hummer looked up at Tegs. ‘A puppy is forever,’ he recited, ‘not just for Christmas.’
‘It’s not a puppy, Hum,’ she said slowly. ‘It’s a baby. An alien baby. How do you know it’s not going to end up like…’ she grasped for an analogy. ‘…eating you?’
‘You’re starting to sound like Asryn. And…he’s barely eating now, Tegsy, I don’t think he’s much of a danger.’
‘You are giving him milk, right? Not…pureed pizza or something weird, right?’
He gave her a deadpan look, held up the bottle and shook it a little.
‘You tried different formulas? They’ve gotta have different nutritional requirements. What if-?’ She stopped when she saw the look on his face.
‘Don’t even think that way, dudette. Please. I’m doing my best here.’
‘What bits of mirror the angels didn’t get have already been found, and used or secreted away. Even with my assistant manager money, it’s nowhere near enough. And what would I wish for anyway? He looks human…that was my big worry at the time, I wasn’t thinking, his father had just-’
She ruffled his hair. ‘Hum, I think you’ve got to get used to the idea that you’re his father now.’
‘You want to be his mum?’
‘Ew, no, you’re like two billion years older than me.’ She poked her tongue out. ‘I get to be the cool aunt.’
‘Cool-slash-spooky,’ he said, staring at the slipping shadows near her feet. ‘How do your ghosts feel about him?’
She shrugged. ‘They don’t react unless I do, and I like the little squirt. So long as he doesn’t eat my face,’ she said as she wagged a finger at the baby.
Nathaniel spat up on his arm. He sighed, wiped it off with the damp towel and tried to feed him again. ‘If I can get half a bottle into him, I’ll be happy. He might just need to get used to it. I’m worried though…He wasn’t a normal pregnancy, or a normal birth. He couldn’t have gotten all the…vitamins and stuff he needed. Heck…what if he needs mercury and plutonium. I don’t know where to buy plutonium, Tegsy!’
‘Maybe As can make some?’ she asked as she reached over and poked Nathaniel’s feet.
He shook his head. ‘She’s still trying to convince me to give him to the RSPCA.’
Tegs sighed. ‘You’re not going to work today?’
‘No, I called in sick.’
‘Sick leave doesn’t last forever. What are you going to do?’
‘Hire a nanny? They have strange and magical powers, right?’
‘Not…exactly, Hum. Can you afford a nanny?’
He shook his head. ‘No. But I’m sure there’s someone out there who owes me a favour. A big favour.’
‘I’d do it, but yanno, uni. As is…if she could find a way to blow up a baby, she’d manage it, and I don’t think he’s quite as resourceful as she is when it comes to recovering from getting blown up…And I mean, we can’t- Shit, Hum, does Birdy even know?’
He looked over toward the door to the garage. ‘Man…I thought I had. I really thought I had.’
‘You’re a god, shouldn’t you, like…have perfect memory?’
He handed Nathaniel to her. ‘Keep feeding him. If he spits up, just take off your shirt, it’s laundry day anyway.’ He grinned as he watched Tegs try to hold the baby. ‘Shame you’re the younger sibling, otherwise you’d have some practice.’ He knelt in front of the couch. ‘Just keep the head pointed towards the ceiling and the feet aimed at the floor, and you’re set.’
‘I wasn’t going to-’
He smiled. ‘I know. But still…I can’t replace him like I did the fridge. Babies are so expensive and you have to get finance…’ he mumbled as he walked toward the garage.
‘She hasn’t had breakfast yet!’ Tegs called.
He swung a leg around and pointed himself at the kitchen. ‘What would I do without you, Tegsy?’
‘Still be failing to pay your taxes?’
He pulled open the large fridge, petted the mouse-sized fey that lived in the egg compartment and pulled one of the large steaks from the container labeled “Z-food” – presumably by Asryn, but he had seen writing appear without cause before, so he was giving her the benefit of the doubt.
He held out the steak as a peace offering as he entered the garage and flicked on the light. The lights were low-wattage, as to not hurt Birdy’s eyes. The place stank, as normal, but as soon as he imagined that he was smelling strawberries, that’s all he could smell.
The garage was a mess – the occupant did what she could to keep it clean, but got distracted very, very easily, and as such, there were small piles of dust that were dangerously close to gaining sentience. Over and over, he’d offered to clean it, that all she could have to do was hide in the wardrobe for a few minutes and he could sweep it out into the drive way, but she’d refused.
‘Birdy,’ he called, looking at the makeshift nest/bed. ‘Birrdy…’
‘Birdybirdy’s here,’ came the reply, not from the bed, but from behind the washing line – the washing on which had been hanging there for longer than any of the other residents had been living there.
‘There you are,’ he said with a smile, ‘brought you food.’
‘Already had lunch,’ the zombie mumbled as she shambled toward him, ‘it could be breakfast?’
‘Been busy, Birbir, he said as he pulled open the side door of his dusty van, making a place for him to sit. ‘We’ve got a new person in the house.’ She didn’t respond, instead staring at dust in the air. ‘Birdy?’ He snapped his fingers a couple of times.
‘Dun snap at me!’ she whimpered. ‘I was listening…’
‘We’ve got a new person,’ he said again.
‘Are they a flower?’
‘A potent potable?’
‘No. Wait, what is that anyway?’
The zombie looked at her fingers and counted them for a moment. ‘Are-?’
‘It’s a baby, dudette. We’ve got a baby.’
Birdy smiled, her somewhat vacant eyes lighting up. ‘Oooooohhh baaaaaaabbbbbbyyy….’ she stared at her fingers for another moment. ‘Did it, umma, come from a orphan farm?’
He stared at her. ‘They have orphan farms?’
‘A-yup,’ she replied, shaking her head, then grabbing it to make sure it didn’t come lose. ‘That’s where…ummmm…come from.’
‘Orphan farms…’ he mumbled. ‘Well, not this one.’
‘Did it come when you gotted a high chair?’
‘No, you could say I wished upon a star. You could, but it’d be wrong, dudette, but it sounds good, so we’ll run with that. I wished upon a star, and now we have a baby.’
Birdy chewed on her fingers for a moment, then began to chew on the steak. ‘Does Birdy have to give it some of her steak?’
‘Him,’ he corrected on autopilot, wondering if he was going to have to dress the child in bright blue and decorate its corner of the room with trucks till idea that it was “male” set in. ‘And no, Birdy, it eats milk, not steak. Or-’
‘HUM!’ Tegs shouted. ‘HUM! Get out here now!’
A shadow crossed his soul and the house grew dark and began to creak. ‘Oh, poop,’ he muttered, leaped up from the van and ran back into the house, leaving Birdy to munch confusedly on the steak.
‘So help me gods, get out of this house!’ Tegs shouted at the intruder, shadows of her ghosts slipping and sliding over the walls and manifesting as dark wavering patches of air in front of her. ‘You can’t have him! He was drinking from the damn bottle! You CAN’T have him!’
He saw the intruder – Death – bounced over the couch and clamped a hand over Teg’s mouth. ‘Tegsy, dudette, call them off.’
She screamed under his hand and the manifested ghosts grew more solid, as their brethren on the walls raced around.
He unclasped his hand and spun her to look at him, the fear was more than apparent on her face. ‘She’s not here to collect, she doesn’t do that. And even if she was, you couldn’t stop her. And neither could the shadows of the ones who rejected her.’
Warm tears slipped down her cheeks and landed on his hand. ‘She took my parents, she’s gonna-’
He shook his head. ‘No, she’s not.’
A few of the ghosts slipped away. ‘Then why is she here?’
‘I don’t know. Did you ask her?’
‘She’s…she’s…she’s Death!’ Tegs shrieked hysterically. ‘She only does one thing.’
‘You are confusing a person with a function,’ he said. He gently took Nathaniel from her arms. ‘Now go make yourself some warm milk.’
He tapped her nose. ‘Would you trust me already? You’ll still be a cool aunt at the end of this.’
She balled her fists and ran from him, she tripped, then ran up the stairs – a second later, he heard her bedroom door slam.
‘I’m sorry for that,’ he said as he bowed low. ‘She’s-’
Death waved a hand. ‘It’s all right. She’s blaming the wrong person though. Her parents didn’t come to me, she needs to talk to my sister.’
‘The big one or the little one?’
‘You know which, Humming Bird.’
He sat on the couch and bit his tongue before he offered her a seat – she knew the offer was open, she’d sit if she wanted, though he couldn’t recall her ever doing so on the mortal plane. ‘What…what can I do for you, my Lady?’
She stared at the bottle Tegs had dropped, it fizzled out of existence, then appeared in her hand. ‘I have a message for him, actually,’ she said as she handed the bottle to him. ‘I really thought I would have to deliver it to the starbright. You did well,’ she said, her human face smiling.
‘Who’s it from?’ he asked as he pressed the bottle to Nathaniel’s lips again.
‘I wondered- Did she stay behind?’
‘No,’ Death said as she shook her head. ‘She made the jump, just like his father, but she came to me.’
‘My Lady, what were their names? Just so I can tell him when he’s older, so he knows where he comes from.’
‘Hers was Mela, his was Astrin. The planet was Dajulveed, but that you knew already.’
‘And the message?’
‘May I hold him?’
He put the on the table, stood, and passed the baby to her. ‘She asked me to tell him that she loved him.’ She pulled back her hood and held the baby to her shoulder, rocking gently.
‘You’d make a good mum,’ he said. A skull turned to face him and he realised what had said. He fell to his knees and pressed his head to the sticky carpet. ‘I didn’t- I’m sorry- Please forgive me.’
‘Here,’ she said, ‘take your son. I’ve said my piece.’
He quickly rose and took the baby. The second Nathaniel was in his arms, Death disappeared.
‘Can Birdybirdy come out now?’ He turned and looked toward the garage door, Birdy was looming in the doorway with all of her hunched five and a half feet. ‘Everybody’s gone? An’ has Tugs stopped bein’ scary?’
‘Tegs isn’t scary, Birdy,’ he said. ‘Just the ghosts that follow her around.’
The girl chewed on the steak for a moment, then shambled into the room. ‘Proud orphan farm product?’ she asked, pointing a gray finger at Nathaniel.
‘Yeah Birdy, something like that.’
‘Ca’I hold him?’
‘It’s a him!’ he responded. ‘Oh, wait you said- Yeah, sure. I gotta check on Tegsy.’ He turned to hand her the baby. ‘What’s the rule?’
‘If it’s moving, dun eat it. Even iffin it smells like tomatoes.’