Julia finished weeding the lilies and turned to her final planter. She wasn’t surprised to see that there weren’t any weeds growing beneath the obscenely healthy plant. There never had been any other plant strong enough to dare grow in the flower’s shadow. Or else, the death flower always choked them out before they grew large enough for Julia to notice.
The flowers were far from the sickly, wilted things she’d struggled to keep alive for the past fifteen years. Ever since she’d added powdered blood to the fertilizer they’d taken off. Sleek black leaves and shiny bone-white centers. They were pretty if you looked at them sideways, but pretty unnerving up close. But they worked. The Grim Reaper had confirmed that.
Use that which stays Death’s hand \ A blossom no longer in this land
The Oracle’s instructions echoed in Julia’s ears. She’d said that getting the flower would be the most difficult step although there were three more steps after that.
To feed the fish that swims in waters past \ with fins and scales of sky blue cast
Julia was familiar enough with the tropes of poetry to know that they were full of metaphor and required the ability to read them sideways. To look beyond the words and know that the solution would make it all look stupidly simple. Like with the death flower.
There were thousands of blue fish, though. From the cichlids with their blue fins and zebra-striped bodies to the all blue bettas and angelfish. And then those like piranhas and perch that were more blue than not. No, the color didn’t hold the clue here. She’d checked online lists of fish, looking for a name that might tip her in the right direction. If there had been a blue Reaperfish, or Grim fish, or Death fish, that would have been a place to start. But the only suitably named fish came from a simbook fishing game.
And from her attempts to find the Oracle of the Falls, she knew it was almost useless to fish randomly around hoping a fish would take her odd bait. Not that she didn’t try from time to time. Life had been so chaotic these past five years, first with Bre and then with little Damian. She’d not had the energy to really look into the next step. But now that life was a little calmer, she found herself drawn back to the flowers and their promise for James.
No, the hint to unravel in this part of the quest was obviously the line about the fish being in “waters past.” Julia suspected like the Death flower in the Oracle’s realm, the fish wasn’t going to be found in just any pond or river. Was there a way, she wondered, to get back into the Oracle’s dream world? There had been a pond there. Could that be considered waters past?
“Ready to go?”
“Ready to go?”
Max jumped as Steve called out to him. His locker shut with a slam and he turned. Steve was grinning as Max picked up his backpack and tried to slow his racing heart. Behind his friend, he could see a semi-familiar blonde. He’d seen her around school, but not with Steve.
“Where’s L-…” Max started to say.
Steve broke in quickly, as Max knew he would. For all the girlfriends he’d gone through, he sure liked to pretend that his current girlfriend was his only. Perhaps that’s was part of his appeal?
“This is Angelica,” Steve said snaking his arm around his girlfriend’s waist. She smiled at Steve and then turned to Max. Max ducked his head quickly.
“We were in Mr. Medina’s class last year, right?” she asked. Max recognized her voice and nodded placing her voice and face together at last.
Steve kept up a familiar chatter as they walked through the halls to the front door, Angelica piping in as they discussed their last class. They both were in agreement that Ms. Knight’s pop quiz had been a disaster. Max made a mental note to avoid Ms. Knight’s English class next semester.
Mason and Lisa were waiting outside when they arrived. Angela was introduced and neither one mentioned Leslie although she had been super excited to visit the new bowling alley. Max hoped she went with her friends or that her new boyfriend, as she surely would have one by the end of the week, would take her now that Steve had moved on. Steve’s girls rarely stayed single longer than Steve did.
As the four chatted, Max watched the sidewalks as pairs and groups of students funneled out of the building. Even though he was sitting with his friends, he felt a bit like the odd one out. Not that he really wanted to date, but it had to be obvious he was a fifth wheel here. Then Billie arrived, out of breath carrying her violin.
“Sorry,” she said, catching her breath. “Practice ran late.”
“Well if none of the lanes are open, you’ll have to buy the pizza,” Mason said with a grin.
“You’re driving, right?” Billie asked. At Mason’s nod, she nodded in satisfaction. “Then I don’t have to worry about this,” she held up her violin case.
“You can’t leave it here?” Max asked as they walked to Mason’s car. He knew she had a second instrument at home that she normally practiced on. She shook her head.
“They’re cleaning out the closets, so everyone, including the cellos, had to clear out. Only basses get to stay.”
Twilight Bowl had opened up last month and everyone was talking about it. Under 21 was half-price until 8pm which made it one of the best places outside the mall to hang with friends. And Max hated the mall. The security guards always watched them like they were going to steal something every moment, and shooed them out after 7 unless they had a parent present.
As they suspected, the lanes were all full when they arrived, but they put their names down and grabbed a table.
“We should dress up as something for Halloween,” Lisa said biting into her slice of pizza.
“All of us? Wouldn’t that look weird?” Steve asked.
“Like we were in a cult or something?” Billie frowned, agreeing with Steve.
“Not if we were something cool like zombies,” Lisa said.
“Everyone is zombies for Halloween.”
“But we could be like zombie characters – like a zombie Romeo and Juliet,” Mason agreed eagerly looking over at Lisa with a huge smile on his face. Max hid back a groan, of course Mason would like to be Romeo to Lisa’s Juliet.
“But what would the rest of us be?” Max asked. “There’s like only those two characters.”
“We could be a Zombie band?”
“I’m not bringing my violin as an accessory,” Billie shook her head. “What about pirates?”
“Oh, I have the perfect boots for pirates!” Angelica said beaming up at Steve. After that they quickly agreed, pirates they would be.
“You’re all coming right, to my party on the 27th?” Steve asked.
“Of course. You only invited us like 17 times.”
Max grabbed the ball trying to hold back a sigh. He wasn’t very good at this. Then again, apart from Billie, none of them were good at bowling and he took a small amount of satisfaction that Angela was doing even worse than he was. Not that she seemed to mind. Her attention was glued to Steve and his descriptions of back when he’d lived in San Myshuno. In San Myshuno there were bowling alleys on every corner. If that was true, Max wondered, why was Billie beating them all?
He threw the ball and watched as it headed straight for the gutter. He sighed and trudged back to where Billie was keeping score while he waited for his ball to return. “Why can’t I hit anything?” Looking down at the score, he could see he wasn’t getting better. In fact, he was getting worse. At least earlier he’d actually hit some of the pins.
“You’re worrying too much,” Billie said. “Next time, listen to the music or something. Feel the beat. Then when it’s right, just throw straight. That’s what I’m doing,” she admitted with a smile.
Max picked up his next ball and held his breath. The music changed. Max smiled, he loved this song. He listened for a moment, until his heartbeat echoed the beat of the music – then threw. It few straight.
“Woah! Way to go, Max!” Mason and Billie cheered from the sidelines and Max watched amazed at the pins fell. He smiled.
- Bowling Alley is from SimDoughnut – Howell Lanes Bowling on the Gallery
- The School is my Sakura High School becuase what else would I use? Also on the gallery.
Author’s Note – Just a quick change, when I went to get the screenshots for this chapter Julia was pregnant. Which is pretty impressive since she and Bre spend most of the time in this save with no autonomy. I retrofitted events so Damian joined our family three years ago. I looked to see if any earlier chapters could be changed to show that Bre and Julia had been planning a child before she got sick, but nothing immediately came to mind. Damian was born three years ago and I think he’ll be a good addition to our story.
Permission – The only text change is that Max is making a bookcase for his little brother Damian rather than his cousin Stacie. The larger change is that the dinner screenshots are changed to include a toddler at the table.