4 min read

Rats + Ghosts

This seems like a pretty implausibly eventful day, you ask me.

Previously: The sisters return to HQ after a long day of episodic adventures. They learn a little bit about the big job coming up, but mostly learn about the long and lurid history of the cursed ship where this big job will take place.

— 35 —

Batya takes what she calls a half-hour power shower in Mina’s bathroom. Which is now her bathroom, she reminds herself. This shower, this spotless shimmering cylinder with its aerodynamic soap and endless flow of very hot water, this is her shower. And it is now her favorite place on the planet. It washes away the last 24 hours, the cannonball to the chest, the pen to the eye, the knife to the elbow, the jabs to the nose and ears and guts. Down the drain goes a day’s worth of stench, the salt of the sea, the breath of the deer demon, the incense of the radio station, the whiskey’d chlorine of the surgery fight, the poppy smoke of Cha-Cha’s, the birth-smell of the baroness’ hotel room, the death-smell of Gentle Pines.

She is gonna sleep serious tonight.

She’s seated by her sister’s little bureau, the Catch Some Rays in Fort Hook! towel pinned around her neck. Mina, scissors in hand, studies her hair with a thoughtful frown. “Just a trim,” she says. “Just three little snips.”

“I was growing it out,” Bat says.

“That means doing nothing. That’s what it looks like, like a vacant lot someone forgot about. A condemned insane asylum, full of rats and ghosts.”

Full of rats and ghosts.” A dead-on impression of Mina’s haughty baloney voice if Bat does say so herself.

“Isn’t this sweet?” Mina says, ignoring the impression. “The two of us? You, me. Me making you look presentable?”


“Batya. I want you to tell me something. And don’t think about it.”


“Tell me how you feel about sleeping here tonight. About us sharing a room again.”

Bat thinks about it.

“I said don’t think about it.”

“I don’t want to say it because it’s a nice thing to say.”

“I knew it!”

“And you don’t deserve to hear it. You don’t deserve my nice thing to say. Instead, I’m gonna say what I want from you.”

Mina stops cutting, lets the scissors dangle idly in her hand. “What.”

“Two things.”

“Get on with it.”

“I want you to know I’m still mad at you, and I want you to be scared. Scared you’ll wake up and I’ll be gone. Again. For good.”

“All right, I’m scared. Are those the two things?”

“Those are one thing. The other thing is I want to lie down forever in that bed while you sleep next to me on the floor.”

“I’m sure we can both—”

“Like I said you’ll be on the floor but you’ll hold my hand while I sleep because being underwater like this makes me want to tear my skin off.”


A couple minutes go by. All is quiet except the snip snip and the hum of the air purifiers. Then Bat says, “You know who I’m thinking about?”

“Mac n’ Cheese?”

“How’d you know!”

“You said tear my skin off which is what Mac n’ Cheese did when he got the mange. Your thought process is not particularly difficult to follow.”

“I see that as a plus.”

“You were so destroyed when he got run over.”

“He was a good pup. He was my best friend. He was my only friend.”

“Stupid as hell.”

So stupid,” Bat says. “Speaking of, you almost done?”

“You’re so much cuter with it short,” Mina says, appraising her work. “Really, really short.”

“What did you do!”

“I made some bold decisions,” Mina says, whisking the towel off Bat’s shoulders. “Just don’t look at it for the next few days, or weeks. Let it recover. It’s been through a traumatic experience.”

“Your mom’s a traumatic experience.”

(Insulting the mother they share is a cherished tradition.)

They don the absurdly soft robes from the Khamsin Hotel. Mina picks up Chiseled Torso and carefully files it with the other dirty magazines on her bookshelf, then smooths out the sheets, karates the pillow to fluff it up, and turns down the quilt made of signal flags.

Bat slides under the quilt and rests her traumatized hair on the fluffed pillow. Mina sits on the floor and holds her hand and they don’t say anything for a while.

Then Mina says, “Please tell me the nice thing. I really really need to hear it.”

Bat pretends to be asleep. Mina shakes her. Bat opens her eyes and says, “I’m so happy to be sleeping in a room with you again it makes me sick and embarrassed.”

Mina lights up. “That’s what I thought.”

“But I still don’t forgive you.”

“Oh come on, Batya. We have to bury yesterday and deal with tomorrow. You understand? Yesterday can’t hurt us, it’s gone, it’s over. Tomorrow’s the thing that can kill us. So that’s the priority.”

Bat sits up. “Maybe I’m just too stupid to understand.”

“Stop it.”

“I’m just an animal that’s good at hurting people, right? Something like that?”

Mina sighs the longest sigh that’s even been sighed. “You want to get into it?”

Bat pulls the quilt up around her chin. The quilt her dad made for her, not her sister. She desperately wants to not get into it. She wants to bury yesterday and sleep for a week.

She says, “Yeah. We’re gonna get into it.”


This has been Chapter 35 of Chokeville, a novel by Josh Fireland.

Next up: A Noisome Tornado