The Helpers

The Helpers

Fae Apoc, early on in the apoc. 

If you’d like a good sense of the Fae Apoc, check out faeapoclive.tumblr.com –  a site on which I posted news articles of the beginning of the Faerie Apocalypse. 

To know enough to read this story: there are godlike creatures attacking the cities, and there are fae – including young fae, 20-somethings – who were born on earth and lived like humans until their teens.  

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This was written just because of that idea, that might-or-not-be-a-Mr. Rogers-quote, the one that is the end of the Look for the Helpers quote – if you’re an adult, Be the Helpers. 

I started this June 12 this year.  It’s taken me a while to finish!

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“-and down on Court Street, you can see that the Banner Building has collapsed.  We don’t know how many people are still alive on the other side of the devastation; all communication seems to be down.”

The local reporter looked tired; more than tired, she looked desperate.  The first building going down could’ve been coincidence, but now a four-block area of downtown was completely blocked off, and at least some of it had to have been deliberate. 

“In other news, Mayor Delaney has announced communication from FEMA.  It will be at least a week until they can help Riverside.  The National Guard will not be here until at least the 17th.  It seems that, for the moment, we are on our own.  Evacuations continue, although without the promised FEMA trailers, local shelters – those that remain – are swiftly overflowing.  Mayor Delaney urges you, if you live within the city limits, to evacuate; she also asks that if you have family or friends with whom you can stay outside of the city, that you go there rather than to the formal evacuation sites.”

“Someone should do something.”  Shokoufeh hissed it at the tv, as if the reporter could hear her, could do anything. 

There was silence from her roommates. She looked up to see Lotus and Hazael staring at her. 

She gulped.  “Shit.  Shit, that’s us, isn’t it?”

“We said-” Lotus answered slowly, as if she, too, was a little reluctant, “that when we saw something we could do, something that didn’t involve going into a suicidal battle against the returned gods, that we’d do it.  We sent the kids to my mom’s.  We didn’t go ourselves, because-“

“Because West Small Brook Small Town is not the sort of place that needs three fae worth of defense in addition to your mom.”  Shokoufeh nodded slowly.  “All right.  So.  We need a place, we need  supplies, we need defenses, and we need transportation.”  She grabbed a pad of paper and split the sheet into six sections. “And we need an extraction plan.  How to get into and out of the closed system.  We’ll need doctors, too.”

“Supplies.”  Hazael raised three fingers.  “I got that.  No looting, yeah,” he added with a smirk.  “At least not, no looting places that aren’t already broken up.  And I got transportation.  Busses,” he explained. “Bus station isn’t in the closed zone.”

“That leaves the extraction plan and the defenses for me.” Lotus nodded sharply. “I’ll go talk to some friends.  Shou, that leaves a place and doctors for you, you good with that?”

“I’m gonna double up on some supplies with Haz, too.  Okay, cell coverage is fuzzy, we meet back here at 9 or at the emergency point at 10?”

They shook hands on it; they grabbed the emergency bags they never went anywhere without; they went out into the fray. 

Shokoufeh found leaving the city both harder than it had once been and easier than she imagined it was supposed to be.  There was no National Guard, but there were police and armed people with no uniform, guarding against, she imagined, the interlopers.  She wished she could convince them to stop, to just go away, because the interlopers were – well.

If Shokoufeh and her friends were fae, these people were fae-squared. If they were demons, the invaders were Satan.  They were cut from the same cloth, sure, but they were so far above kids like Shokoufeh and her crew that there was no way to even compare them. 

And if that was the case, then what could people who didn’t even have magic hope to do?

Shokoufeh didn’t even need magic to get past them.  She was a short girl in her early twenties, with an easy smile and a pretty face.  She didn’t even need to lie.  “I didn’t think we were on lockdown or anything? I just want to go see some friends, you know, and go to the park…?”

That was the easy part.  The next part, that was going to need everything

She needed a place outside the city; it needed to have places to sleep, places to wash up, and places to eat.  It needed to be able to hold the surviving population of a city, or at least a portion of it.  It needed to be off the beaten path enough that the monsters holding the city wouldn’t just come after them; it needed to be on the beaten path enough that they could take buses there. 

Once she was far enough away from the police, she took to the air.  Flying had always been her favorite part about being fae anyway, and from here, she could cover more ground, could see more things. (Could swish and dance in the air like a ballet dancer…)

It took her three hours of flying, most of it, despite the urge to dip and swirl, serious looking.  She’d found a good place early on, but it had been far too close to the city.  Her second try had turned out to be not nearly as empty as it had looked from the sky. 

She was tired when she landed – she hadn’t flown like this since school, which had been more than two years ago; she hadn’t really pushed herself, even running, since everything fell apart – but the building in front of her made her want to crow in joy. 

It was beautiful.  It was falling apart in a couple places, sure, but she wasn’t all that bad at Jasfe and she was pretty darn good at making things, or at least turning things into other things.

It had been built with a lot of pride, probably a hundred, two hundred years ago, and it looked like – from the Goodbye And Thank You sign – it hadn’t been abandoned until maybe 20 years ago, give or take.  The main building was four stories tall, had a couple tower-like decorations and two wings, one of which had a wing of its own. Behind that were two towers of 7 stories, clearly more modern, but with a lot of care made to make them look like the old building. 

The Goodbye sign said it had been Roosevelt Hospital.  

Shokoufeh crossed her fingers and hoped that, whenever the place had closed, they’d left some of the furnishings intact.

Found the place, she texted her crew, and then, just in case one of them was moving faster than her, she added the coordinates. 

She had four hours ’till she had to be back, so she let herself in a third-story window and started to explore. 

The further she got from the entrances, the better shape things were in.  Kids had clearly broken in a few times over the years, and a lot of the lower windows were boarded up. 

She made a face at the boards.  She would’ve liked to have gotten things better already, but the Word for glass – Eperu – was not one of her better Words. 

“Better a little magic than none,” she muttered to herself.

The transmutation didn’t come easy to her, since neither plywood nor glass were things she had real experience working with, but after several tries, she had something that was at least somewhat transparent.

“I can do better than that,” she said, muttering forgotten.  It wasn’t like there was anyone else here.  She peered at it.  It was more or less a plied, somewhat-see through – something.  She tried again on a second window, and again, and again, until she ended up with something like a sheet of glass with wood grain embedded into it. 

“Well, it’s kind of pretty… wait.”

Perhaps, as they were more or less running from gods, creatures, and who knew what else, perhaps big fragile glass windows weren’t the best idea.  There was that safety glass she could remember from school doors, the stuff with the wire embedded in it, and however little reason there was in the categorization of the world into Words, metal and glass were both Eperu, so it was a matter of Shaping and some relatively simple transmutation. 

“There.”  She wiped her brow and stepped back.  If you looked too closely, the four windows here looked like a progress picture or some sort of chart of learning, but if you didn’t look all that closely, you have four windows of varying levels of transparency and bubbliness, the fourth the most clear, all of them embedded with a wood-grain-like swirling of fine steel wires and very thin steel beams. 

“If I just nudged this one…” she muttered, just as her phone alarm went off, telling her no, really, she needed to leave now, now

She fixed three more little wires and one bit of glass in the first, worst window before the next alarm went off.  Shit. “Shit!”

She took to the air in a leap, realized how tired she was, and muttered an overarching  feel better working, the one Hazael called Pepper Up, and managed to right herself before she crashed into a tree. 

It probably hadn’t been the best idea to spend an unknown amount of time working tricking Magic when she’d flown here and was planning on flying for more than an hour more.  On the way back, even with teh Working, she could feel her shoulders aching, her back screaming at her, even muscles she had forgotten had anything to do with flying complaining.  She hadn’t done anything like this since school, since she was learning to fly. 

She kept going anyway; she had a rendezvous to make.  She pushed herself, muttering, repeating someone has to do something, and that’s us.  Someone has to do something, right?

She was beyond grateful when her phone buzzed.  It gave her an excuse to perch on a roof peak. 

“You okay?”  Lotus didn’t sound so much worried as she sounded agitated.  “I’ve been trying to call you for the last hour.”

Shokoufeh checked her phone. “I’m not late yet.”

“You know that place you found, you know doctors say it’s haunted? More than haunted!  They say it’s cursed.”

Shokoufeh stared at her phone for a moment, and then for another moment. 

“Sho?  Sho, did you hear me?”

“We are literally in the middle of an apocalypse.  There is a guy calling himself Ra stomping around downtown, and I’m pretty sure there’s a mothra perched on what was left of the Liberty Tower. If there’s ghosts there, they can shove over and make room.  This place is pretty spacious, and it has beds.  Come get me?” she added ruefully.  “My wings are gonna fall off.”

“Of course there are,” Lotus huffed.  “I swear, Shou, if we end up getting eaten by ghosts…”

An hour later, they were back at their apartment. Hazael met them as Lotus was pulling in; his borrowed – she was going to go with borrowed – van with loaded so full of stuff you could see it through the back windows – until he muttered a couple quick Workings over it, and then the whole thing looks like somebody that already looted it twice. He looked inordinately pleased with himself. 

Lotus didn’t look all that displeased herself, other than repeating, as she had been the whole ride, that the place was haunted.  And cursed. 

“Also, condemned,” she added (again), as they got out of the car.  

“But pretty,” Shokoufeh countered.  “You have to admit it’s really pretty.”

“It is pretty.”

They spent another hour going over their missions, their acquisitions, and the potential ghosts of the hospital. The van turned out to be Hazael’s third trip; he shrugged when they asked where he’d gotten everything and muttered something about most of it wasn’t being used and some of it I paid for.

They didn’t push.  Hazael got things the way Hazael got them. 

“Tomorrow.” Shokoufeh stifled a yawn.  “Tomorrow.  We can get the place ready.  Maybe another day and we can get everyone there.”

“It’s haunted,” Lotus repeated. Again. 

“At least give it a try.  Okay?” She didn’t even make it to the bed.  The couch was comfortable, after all, soft and cozy, and someone tossed a blanket over her. 

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“Shou, Shou, you gotta wake up.  We have to – we have to go now.”  Hazael dropped a bag at her feet.  “I got everything I could get in two bags for you.  Here, here’s  a bacon and egg sandwich.  You slept through- well, come on.”

Bleary, Shokoufeh took the things Hazael handed her.  Sweatshirt with hood.  Check.  Sandwich. Check. Bags.  Check.  Lotus had two boxes full of their kitchen stuff stacked in front of her.  She carried them outside while Shokoufeh did her best to wake up.

“Coffee.  Here.  How’s your shoulders?”

“Better then they ought to be – Hazael, why’d you let me sleep? What’s going on?”

“Neither of us did our work on the wing yesterday.  You were out like a light.  Take five minutes, grab anything I missed.  We’re going as fast as we can.”

“Doctors…” She was supposed to get doctors. 

“I think they’ll follow if we lead.  Shou, sorry, you gotta move.”

She moved.  She took the box he handed her and scoped out her bedroom.  She grabbed a few things that the kids would miss if they didn’t have, a couple things she would miss if she didn’t have, and then she took the rest of the five minutes to put as much as she could in the box.  Clothes, blankets, books, a framed photo of her and the kids and her mom, her favorite towels. She threw her pillows on top of the box and was out of the room in four minutes, the coffee finished and the mug, rinsed, tossed in the box, too.

Hazael had already put her bags in the car; he took the box and pillow from her as soon as he saw her.  “Downtown is on fire and it’s coming this way.  It’s bad – two of the god-things are fighting with what looks like some of our people and they’re flinging around some really bad stuff.  It looks like napalm.”  He made a face.  “I called everyone I could think of, and they’re calling everyone they can think of, and we’re meeting at the Pole in -” he glanced at his watch.  “-five minutes. Good.”  He took her arm as if he thought she was still asleep – a fair assessment.  “Anything in the living room you can’t stand to lose?” he asked, almost as an afterthought.

She glanced at the living room.  That box of DVDs, the blanket they always cuddled under, the painting on the wall she’d bought at a craft fair. 

She looked down at her box of things. 

“No,” she admitted.  The city was on fire. “Let’s get going.  We got a lot of people to save.”

“Atta girl.”  He grabbed the blanket and the painting, restored his hold on her arm, and pulled her out of the apartment, down the stairs, and into the van.  “Lotus went ahead in a different car.  I hope you’re right about this place and it’s not too haunted.”

“Even ghosts need to hide out from returned gods,” she muttered.

“I guess so, but come on, we’re going to have some rules of behaviour, aren’t we? I mean, like, no stealing, no murder, no haunting?”

“Well, not no haunting, because then they’d not be able to exist but maybe no, um.  Poltergeist-ing?”

“Polgergeisting.  No attacking other guests.  That makes sense.”  He paused, looked over at her, hrrmed.  “Did you see any ghosts?”

“Me? No.  I saw a nice place that needed some work.  I sent you the pictures.  I mean, it’s really pretty, but I guess -”  Shou pulled up her memories of the hallways, not looking at it as a place to stay but more as a place that had been abandoned.  “If I was going in there as a teenager – shut up, I’m not a teenager anymore,” she added, before Hazael could throw in something helpful, like pointing out that she was barely past her teens.  Like he was so much older.  “If I was a kid, if I went in there just looking around, I might think it was scary,” she admitted.  “I think we can fix a lot of that with some lighting and cleaning and, well, um, Workings.  More Workings,” she muttered, because she was still feeling the ache from the Workings as well as the ache from the flying.

“Well, we can do that once we get the people there.”  Hazael sounded so sensible.  It made Shou feel a little off-kilter. He wasn’t supposed to be the reasonable one. 

Except when she or Lotus were having a really bad day. 

Was she having that bad a day?  She shook her head, both at him and at herself.  “I know, I know,” she sighed.  “I know we’ve got to get people there first, of course.  It’s just, with everything falling apart, I want to give people someplace nice to look at.  I want to give people something – I don’t know, I want it to be a refuge?”  She shook her head.  “Sorry, I’m not really – not really awake yet.”  It wasn’t a great excuse, but she felt like she was drawing in the air with smoke.  There was a feeling and she couldn’t quite get it across. 

Hazael patted her leg.  “No, I get it.  It’s okay, Shou.” He looked in the rear-view grimly, but his tone was far more upbeat than his expression.  Shou let herself not look back, at least for a moment.  “I think we’re doing something good, and I think it’s working, yeah?  We’re going to help.  We’re going to get as many people out of the city as we can, and we’re going to give them a really nice place to live.  Even if we’re also protecting the ghosts,” he added.  “Maybe we can get them to, I don’t know, help with the hospitality.  Act as a greeting service?  That’s it!”  He turned to wink at her.  “That’s it, we’re going to have a haunted greeting service.  I love it.  Imagine it – the receptionist that nobody ever messes with.”

Now she glanced behind them, in the rear-view on her side.  There were huge flames licking to the sky in at least two places. There were holes in the skyline – there had been more and more holes growing in the skyline lately, but she could pick out two places where there had been buildings the last time she’d looked.   The city was falling down. 

That was why they were doing what they were, she reminded herself.  She clung to her bag and tried not to look nearly as lost as she felt.  They were doing this whole thing because other fae were ruining the city – even if they did call themselves gods.  They were doing this because they had the skills. 

Feeling the ache all the way to her bones, staring at the fire, she hoped it would be enough.

III 

The place looked darker, bleaker, and bigger in the morning that Shou remembered it being yesterday.  She looked it over, looked to the horizon, where she could still see the  flickering of the fire, and looked back at the building.  It looked….

 “It looks… looks… it looks…”  she shook her head.  She didn’t expect the tears, but there they were, pushing at her, flooding at her, and she was looking at this ancient hulk of a building, sobbing, thinking, of all stupid things and we left the comfy couch and that good tv behind.  We got such a good deal on that TV and now we’re never going to see it again.  “It’s all up in flames,” she sobbed.  “All of it, it’s all gone, it’s all flames  and I- and I- and I hate it.  I hate it all, I hate the fucking returned gods, I hate addergoole, I hate this place, and its stupid windows, I tried so hard on that window and they still look stupid, everything looks stupid and it’s all – it’s all just ashes.  Ashes,” she repeated softly.  “Ashes.”

 Hazael pulled her in close to him and kissed her head. “Easy, easy,” he murmured.  “Come on, I know it’s hard, I know you want to break down, need to – I do, too.  But right now, we have a whole bunch of cars, vans, and busses pulling in, and we need to get these people into the building and then start thinking about defenses.  I almost hope the place is haunted,” he added in a mutter.  “That might show the old bastard gods.”

Shou was startled into a giggle. “What, being haunted? Okay, I can see that being – well, surprising, but you don’t think it would stop one of the really old ones, do you?”

“Might slow them down for a minute.”  Hazael snorted. “Still, I hope we don’t get to find out.  All right, ready to put your smile on and greet people?”

“Yeah – Yeah, I can do that.”  Lotus was walking up to them with a little group of eight people, all of whom had come with her in an SUV which had been filled to the top with luggage.  Behind them came all these other people they’d been able to pull together, including seven ambulances full of medical staff and the wounded and ill evacuated from a burning hospital.  More, they’d been told, were coming. 

Shou and Hazael met Lotus.  Shou muttered a Working which she still thought of as Sonorous, magnifying her voice so everyone could hear her.  At least, everyone with her. 

“All right people, this is our new home.  Or it will be, once we all put in some elbow grease, a little TLC, and some good old-fashioned Fairy Godparenting.”  She eyed the people in the front of the crowd, who were easily old enough to be her parents.  “Okay, we’re going to do the Fairy God-childing instead.  It’s much the same, except that we won’t tell you when to come back from the ball and we might be a little short on glass slippers.”

She was pleased she got a laugh from that.  

“I know it’s not – it’s not what any of us are used to,” she continued, “but believe me, it’s a beautiful building, and it can shine for us again.”

“Kid,” someone called, “I was living under the Court Street Bridge.  Trust me, this is better than what I’m used to.”

 Shou swallowed a couple times.  “I -”  She huffed. “I’m sorry.”

“What’re you sorry for? You got us out of there.  You – that’s you three, right? Put this together, made it all happen? I hear there’s food, right? And this is open for all of us?”

She picked out the speaker, a tall woman wearing several layers of clothing despite the heat. She had a bit of a dirtiness to her – homeless was believable, or if not, she was doing a good job of faking it. 

Shou looked at Hazael.  She looked at Lotus.  All three of them nodded. 

It had to be her; she’d started the work of claiming the place the night before. 

Shou walked to the front doorway of the place and opened the doors with a couple Workings under her breath and, once that was done, a nice big flourish to swing them wide. 

“This is our place,” she called to the whole crowd.  They’d gotten more people than she’d thought they would.  It had been a busy — how long? – a busy not even a whole two days yet.  “It is ours, and we welcome you into it.  If you mean no harm to the three of us nor to any others who live here, welcome.  Come in and make this place your home.”

The formal words over, she walked down the three steps to look at the people.  “Rules.  First come first serve on the bedrooms and right now they’re a bit of a mess.  It’s going to take us a few days, maybe a few weeks, to get everything up to snuff – so if you’re able to help, please do stop in at the front office and we’ll point you in a direction. The one exception to first come first serve – if you have a special need, let us know right away.  If you need a first-floor room or if you’ve got kids, or if you’re really bad with someone living next to you, we’ll try to accommodate every need that we can.”

She was thinking this up as she went.  

“So the general rules: someone’s room is their own, someone’s stuff is their own.  Don’t go into someone’s room without their invitation.  Don’t take someone’s stuff.  On the flip side, though.”  She took a breath.  “We all get that we’re refugees from a burning city, right?  There are people destroying our cities.  So if you have an extra coat and someone is cold… It behooves everyone to remember our kindergarten lessons, right?”

She’d just said behooves

She was laying down rules for complete strangers. 

For adults.  Lots and lots of professional adults. 

Her wings were twitching.  It was a good thing that she was Masked.

“The third rule, which really ought to be the first – don’t attack other people.  Keep everyone else’s personal space in mind, and if someone doesn’t want to be touched, don’t touch them.”

They hadn’t had a chance to talk much about this, so she was going mostly off of fae laws.  Well some fae laws. 

“Like I said, this is going to take a lot of elbow grease and heavy work.  I’m looking forward to it.”

She sounded a lot more impressive to herself than she thought she ought to. 

She looked like she was getting through to them. 

“And also like I said.  If you don’t mean any harm to anyone else entering this building, enter, and make this place your home.”

She watched the ragged train of refugees walk past her, trying not to hold her breath the whole time. 

It really was just the first step, and she knew that.  But they’d done it.  They’d decided to be the helpers, and they’d done it. 

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