Cookies and Calling Gods (38)

Erik was able to contain himself for maybe half a block. “Seth… calls…. gods?”

Mordecai paused and blinked at him. “Um, yes. He used to.” He looked both ways before leading the children across the street at the corner — not only on the lookout for cars and horses, but also dogs and anything else horrible. “I don’t think he does it anymore. He didn’t…”

He stopped talking and frowned, though he continued to walk. There were parts about calling gods that Seth had liked a very great deal, too much, but he hadn’t wanted to like it. Mordecai didn’t think Seth would like Soup and Erik to know about that, or anyone to know about that, really.

It looked like he wasn’t going to be able to eel his way out of this conversation without telling some of it, though. To Erik and Soup, because he’d promised Soup cookies.

“He didn’t like it very much,” Mordecai finished. “I didn’t think he really liked talking about it, either. Did someone mention it?” And maybe we can talk about that, instead?

Erik frowned and turned aside. “Natalie was being mean to me and he told her he used to call gods so she’d say she was sorry.”

Okay, yeah, I guess he would do that, thought Mordecai. And he did not want to pick up the subject of the other kids teasing Erik as an alternative.

“He said he used to smoke and drink,” Soup said. Which had floored him. He didn’t have Seth pegged as that sort of person at all. Not even the sort of person who used to do that. Those people usually had religion and handed out pamphlets.

Mordecai stopped in the middle of the street. “But not…?” He shook his head. No. Obviously not. Of course not. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. Excuse me.”

“It wasn’t… really… him,” Erik said hotly. “I didn’t… teach you to… blow… smoke rings!”

Soup regarded him. “Yeah, I guess not.” He didn’t have any trouble buying that wasn’t Erik who taught him to blow smoke rings. She didn’t sound like Erik, she didn’t move like Erik. She didn’t even look like Erik. The faces were all wrong, and she didn’t wear the eye.

He tried to picture Seth being all weird and different like that. Seth making Auntie Whatever’s faces, and her voice. He didn’t like it a whole lot. It was kinda creepy when Erik did that. It was funny, yeah, but uncomfortable-funny. Like when his mom got really wasted and tried to make pancakes. Erik was a kid, though. Seth was all grown up and responsible and in charge of stuff. To a certain extent, Soup trusted Seth… He trusted Seth more than he trusted his own mom or Erik, at least. The idea that Seth, or someone in Seth, might just stop him in the middle of school and walk him off to a bar was uncomfortable and not funny at all.

“That doesn’t just happen, though, right?” Soup said. “I mean, you hafta open the door. They can’t just break in the window?” Which he occasionally did.

“They broke into me,” Erik said softly. “But I was hurt. I think it’s not supposed to happen.” He looked up at his uncle.

“It’s absolutely not supposed to happen,” Mordecai said, frowning. “I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff, but I’ve never seen that before.” He sighed. “But I never had anyone who got hurt like you.”

“Did you take care of Seth, too?” Erik asked. “It wasn’t just my mom?”

“Did your mom get sick like that when it storms?” Soup asked. He was aware that Seth occasionally needed taking care of — he had to go to Hyacinth’s house because that was the shelter — but he thought Hyacinth did all the care-taking.

“How does Seth get sick?” said Erik.

Oh, gods, there’s the house, thought Mordecai. If Erik kept asking questions like that, someone might answer him. He quickened his pace and managed to make it to the front gate to deal with that as a distraction. It would have been more reasonable to go around the back and head directly into the kitchen, for the making of cookies. There was also no need to pick up the gate and hand it to Soup, but he did that, too. “Here, hold this for a second.”

Soup staggered under the weight of the plywood board. He examined the fragment of poster with the lady holding the champagne glass on it. “You guys ever think about getting a regular gate?”

“No point,” Mordecai said.

Erik nodded.

“Erik came up with the idea to paint the house like that!” Mordecai offered them desperately.

The whole house, from the front porch to the conical cupola roof, was broken into different colored puzzle pieces. Also, the inside of the crumbling wall on the left side of the yard, which used to have a couple of slurs on it. In the center of one white piece there remained a multicolored flower that Maggie had added to censor one of the slurs and had requested that they paint around. The porch railings and the widow’s walk encircling the peaked roof had been painted in stripes.

“Yeah, that looks like Erik,” Soup said, grinning. Soup thought Erik was a real nice kid, but goofy as hell. And, paradoxically, too serious sometimes. He wasn’t too different after getting kicked in the head. Well, right after, he was way different, but that wore off. Maybe he was a little more goofy and a little more serious.

And he had a really cool eye now, but he wouldn’t let Soup play with it.

Maggie wouldn’t help him hold Erik down so he could grab it out, either.

Well, maybe she would now. He’d have to ask her. Erik was a lot better. He could hold up to some abuse.

Maybe she could use magic and glue him down. That would be awesome. Maybe they could glue him to a wall…

“Maggie won’t do that,” Erik said, frowning. He put two fingers on his eye and pushed it back slightly, until it clicked. He didn’t need to do that, Milo and Hyacinth fit it really well to him, it just felt safer. “Maggie is nice.”

Milo didn’t like being glued to the wall. The wall with the chalkboard, not when Milo soft-stuck them to the house so they could paint it — that didn’t make him want to die or scream.

Erik shut his eye, the one he could, and shook his head. The metal one drifted off to the side and had a look at the brickwork in the wall.

I’m not supposed to remember that.

He pushed it away.

Soup staggered back a pace and pointed at him. “Did you just read my mind? Can you do that? Can Seth do that?” Oh, gods, he thought about stuff in school all the time! And that one time he stole shoes out of Seth’s trunk and sold them!

“You… stole stuff… from… Seth?” Erik cried. His good eye flew open and the metal one righted itself.

I was hungry and he wasn’t there!” Soup shrieked. “He’s got shoes! He was wearing shoes! I never took anything he only had one of! Stop doing that!” He clasped both hands over his head.

“Whoa. Okay. Hang on.” Mordecai stepped between them and put his hands out. “Nobody’s reading anybody’s mind. Everyone calm down.”

“But he,” Soup said. He pointed again. “He…”

“Uncle!” Erik said. “He took… shoes from… Seth!” He glared at Soup. “He was… saving them… because he… found them and the ones he had had a… hole in the… bottom! He was gonna try to… fix them! He had to… walk in the… rain!”

“What in the hell?” Soup said. He didn’t know that. He wasn’t thinking that. “Whose mind are you reading?”

“I don’t read… minds! Invisible… people tell me… stuff!”

“Oh, yeah, I get that,” Soup said, nodding. “Yeah, that’s normal, that is. Sure.”

“He doesn’t have any control over it and he can’t tell them to quit,” Mordecai said. “He’s not doing it on purpose. He’s not doing it. And I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen to Seth. It doesn’t happen to me, and I’ve never seen it happen to anybody else. It’s because of how he got hurt.”

“What, the gods just follow him around and tell him stuff?” Soup said. “Like a dumb kid you can’t scrape off?” There were some kids in the neighborhood like that. Bethany was like that.

Mordecai glanced at Erik. Erik nodded and shrugged at the same time.

“Could they tell you who’s going to win horse races?” Soup said.

Wait a minute!” said Mordecai.

“I think maybe Cousin Violet could, but I’d have to call her and give her cereal…”

Nobody’s calling any gods for horse races!

Soup considered it. He couldn’t put money on horses. Even if he did that thing like in the movies and sat on another kid’s shoulders with a long coat, his voice wasn’t deep enough. “Mr. Eidel, if we gave you, say, fifteen percent…”

“Cousin Violet will not give you the winners for horse races!” Mordecai cried. “Cousin Violet will give you the winners for some horse race happening somewhere — maybe fifty years from now! It’s too specific! If you go looking for a god to help you bet on horses, I don’t know who you’re going to get because I’ve never done anything like that! You might get someone who wants you to snort amphetamines and eat kittens! Nobody’s calling any gods for horse races!

“Eat kittens?” Erik said. He wrinkled his nose.

“…Like, how many kittens?” Soup said.

I have no idea how many kittens! All the kittens!” He knelt down in the muddy yard without a care for his trousers and tried to speak reasonably with them, or maybe just beg them. “Soup…” Soup had sinq signs in his eyes. “Erik…” Erik looked incredulous and didn’t believe him about the kittens. “If I ever hear of you two calling one god for any reason, there will be no more cookies ever! Erik, I will make you sleep in Room 202 with the General! Soup, I will never let Hyacinth feed you again!”

How many horse races could we bet on with just one god? Soup thought. Enough to get me a house and food forever?

No, probably not. Theoretically, this one god could demand all the kittens for just one race. And if Mr. Eidel wouldn’t help them they’d have to pay some random guy, and the guy could just walk off with all the money.

We’re at least gonna hafta wait until my voice cracks, Soup thought. That Erik could call another god to help him with the voice and the height issue did not occur. He did not have Mordecai’s experience and was unaware of the possibilities.

Also the consequences.

“Hokay, fine,” Soup said.

“Didn’t you used to eat kittens?” Erik said.

“Not kittens,” Mordecai said wearily. Although, he couldn’t be sure. Sometimes he didn’t know what the hell they were eating, and it wasn’t as if he wouldn’t have eaten kittens. “What kind of cookies do you two hellions want?”

“Chocolate chip,” Soup said.

“Yeah!” Erik said.

“Well, I don’t know if there’s chocolate, but I’ll do my best,” Mordecai said. He was not going to take these two to the store. He wanted Soup gone now. He wanted Soup gone permanently, but he didn’t think Erik and Maggie would put up with it. There was really no stopping Erik and Maggie when they put their minds to something. They’d just wait and do it when no one was looking. Maggie was like Soup with arcane powers.

Horse races! My gods! Even Maggie never came up with that one!

———

There were not chocolate chips, or a chocolate bar, not even unsweetened. Mordecai sighed. There not being anything you could sub out for chocolate had directly resulted in the kitten-eating… Also Alba had died and he’d lost contact with everyone he’d known during the siege — Seth included. Although that last bit had been more by choice than circumstance.

Aha. There was, however, some of his old friend the unsweetened cocoa powder — with whom he had also made reacquaintance after the siege. He’d been pissed off at the unsweetened cocoa powder longer than Seth, but the unsweetened cocoa powder didn’t make any effort to apologize.

You know, you might’ve saved all of us, he thought, frowning at the can. If the damned supplies had been getting through.

“Chocolate ripple cookies,” he offered the kids. He also could’ve done frosted, but that was more effort and more dishes and more time and more Soup. It was possible he could’ve come up with something chocolate chip shaped with some fat and sugar and cocoa powder, but he didn’t know how it would act in the oven and they might end up with ripples in any case.

“Hell yeah,” Soup said. “Uh. Sorry.”

“Swearing is the least of what you do that bothers me,” Mordecai said. “Erik, find me the mixer.” He hoped Hyacinth hadn’t done anything with it. They were starting to run low on metal again, but Sanaam would be home the day after tomorrow, hopefully with more supplies or at least some rent money. Ann and Milo might’ve been the only ones in the house doing rent on a monthly basis like normal at the moment. Maybe Room 101 did that? Although it was difficult to imagine how.

The mixing bowl was already on the counter. Mordecai had been intending cookies and he left some butter in it to soften up before he went out. He couldn’t put a repel charm on the bowl like they did with the big flowerpot to keep the bugs and lint out, so he just put a towel over it. “Okay, now let’s everyone wash our hands before we start handing things that people are going to eat.” He thought his own hands were reasonably clean, and he kept the nails short (that was just habit, he needed short nails to work the strings) but Erik could use some spot cleaning and Soup was a disaster area. The proper etiquette for washing from the big cement flowerpot was to take water out in a bowl or bucket, wash in there and then dump the dirty water in the alley. This was also approximately how baths were accomplished — for the people in the house who were not completely insane and willing to remove dirt from bare skin with destruction spells. So, Ann and Milo, Erik and Mordecai, Hyacinth, and Barnaby. The gods alone knew what Room 101 did.

Maybe Room 101 doesn’t need baths? thought Mordecai, dumping the gritty water in the dish off the back stairs. Maybe it’s one of those energy beings they’re always running into in that spaceship program Erik used to listen to on the radio?

Hmm, but it eats breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Or maybe it absorbs them…

Erik was looking out the kitchen doorway, across the dining room, towards Room 101, with a distracted expression. “I can’t know stuff about Room 101. Maggie had me try, but it doesn’t work right.”

“You can ask them to tell you stuff?” Soup said, lighting up.

Oh, gods, here comes round two, thought Mordecai.

“Sorta,” Erik said. “Sometimes if I think about something, they’ll tell me stuff about it, but they decide what to say and it doesn’t make sense a lot.”

“So it’s no good for horses,” Soup said.

…And thank gods, thought Mordecai. He refused to entertain the idea that trying to use Erik for horse races would do anything but go horribly wrong. There was another program like that on the radio. Everyone was always getting wishes granted or finding really neat magical things, and it always turned around and bit them in the ass.

Life was sort of like that, too.

“I guess,” Erik said with a shrug.

“Here, Soup, measure the sugar. I need one cup brown and one cup white.” The measuring cups, fortunately, were tin. There was no point in attempting to keep a scale, like a real baker might have. Too much metal, and too expensive to replace. “You have to press down the brown sugar. Erik, find me the vanilla…”

“I wonder how come Seth doesn’t bet on horse races,” Soup said.

Mordecai groaned and put a hand over his eyes. You know, if I could merge your mouth shut, I would.

He wondered if Hyacinth might, but she was down in the basement doing more glass. Someone had hucked a brick through one of the windows in Room 103 last night. No note about ‘magicians’ or ‘get out’ or anything. A friendly brick.

He was glad they didn’t get his window. That still scared the hell out of him when it happened.

“…I mean, he’d have a lot more money for paper and pencils, even if he only did it a little,” Soup went on.

“Seth doesn’t call gods for horse races or for anything because it’s hard and it hurts,” Mordecai said. He was going to have to loosen up his tongue on this matter or he was going to open the front door one night and find a police officer who had collared Soup and Erik at the track. “He used to do it a lot, so he knows that. He was very accurate, so we pushed him and we used him more than we should. Not like your mother,” he added, to Erik. Alba was the standard by which all others were judged. “I never knew your mother to come back with anyone other than who she meant to call. One-hundred percent. I would say Seth was maybe ninety percent, and that was phenomenal compared to everyone else.” He might’ve even been better than that. Sometimes Seth came back with Taggart when they didn’t want him and Mordecai was not entirely certain that wasn’t on purpose. Even if it wasn’t, Taggart probably had an easier time convincing Seth to go with him than anyone else. Especially sometimes. “When you go to the place where the gods are — I’ve never been — but everyone says they all try to get you to choose them. And your brain doesn’t work the same there. It’s easier to talk you around. For some it’s a lot easier than others. Erik, help me mix these in.” He cracked the eggs, Erik worked the mixer. This was standard operating procedure. Mordecai preferred his baked goods without shells.

“It was weird there,” Erik agreed. “It was like I was dizzy, but I kinda liked it. There were lots of people and talking, and they all wanted to do stuff for me. They said a lot of stuff that I’d like, but I could remember I wanted to help you more.”

Mordecai nodded. He was impressed, but he wasn’t going to let on. Other descriptions he’d heard had been a lot more… enthused.

It’s like it’s the most amazing party in the world and you’ve already been doing shots all night and it’s that point in the evening where everything seems like it’s a good idea. Even doing some taxes!

It seemed like Erik had kept a pretty level head. Erik might be pretty accurate, too. The gods knew (Oh, they really, literally did!) he was strong.

“I have no idea how accurate you’d be,” Mordecai said, which was not quite a lie. “You’ve only done it the once. It’s possible you could go there wanting someone to help with horse races and come back with someone else entirely. Some of them like to do things that hurt you, hurt you a lot worse than coffee and cigarettes, and you might not remember about that when you’re there.”

Three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food, Erik thought with a wince. He didn’t think he’d forget that. “Auntie Enora told Ann there was a doctor who likes to drink strychnine and a lady who likes to cut herself,” he said.

Mordecai cringed and leaned both hands on the counter. “Oh, gods, Doctor Beetle.” He didn’t know about the other one, but he’d had too much experience with Beetle. He could put anything back where it was supposed to go, even if you couldn’t find the pieces. But he demanded his price. “Erik, do you know what strychnine is? You know it’s poison, right?”

Erik nodded. “But Auntie Enora said you could live through it.”

“It is possible to take strychnine and not die,” Mordecai said. “If you don’t take too much and you have someone there who knows how to help and who has the time to take care of you.” He supposed Auntie Enora knew he did know how to do that, damn her. “It is incredibly painful. The whole body spasms. People who have strychnine poisoning grin, and they can’t stop. They arch backwards like a bow, and they can’t stop that, either. Any noise or movement makes it worse, so you have to keep them in a dim room… If you can. And you give them chloroform, if you can. And sometimes they die anyway, in pain, and you never know if that’s going to happen until it stops.”

Mordecai regarded the cookie dough. He found a baking sheet and put it on the table, so Soup and Erik could reach. Soup and Erik were quiet.

“Here, this needs rolling into balls. About this big, and drop them about two inches apart. These things spread a lot.”

Soup and Erik cautiously approached the dough, as if there might be strychnine in it.

Erik got the size about right, Soup was making too big a cookie that would absorb its neighbor in an amorphous blob.

“Did Seth ever do that?” Soup asked.

“No. We didn’t let Seth call Beetle — or your mother, Erik — because we didn’t want them to die. Because they were accurate.” He shook his head. “I didn’t want anyone to die, but I could say they were accurate as an excuse. I am very glad you came back with Auntie Enora and not Doctor Beetle, Erik.”

“But you wouldn’t have let Erik take poison,” Soup said. Mr. Eidel barely let Erik cross the street!

“I wouldn’t have had any choice,” Mordecai said. “The gods hurt people when they don’t get what they want. Sometimes they kill people. Sometimes the person they’re in, sometimes people around them. Erik would’ve had to watch that happen, and then come back to it, if he came back at all. So, I would’ve given him poison, because at least I can do something about that. Do you see why I don’t want you to call gods for horse races? You two are too smart to believe me when I threaten you, so I’m just telling you the truth. It’s awful. It’s dangerous. It hurts people, and not just the people who are doing the calling.”

“Could I call… someone on… accident who… hurts you or… Maggie?” Erik said painfully.

“Yes,” said Mordecai. “I don’t know how likely it is, but it’s possible. Every time.”

Erik shuddered. He took Maggie into the basement with him to help call a god, and he didn’t know who he wanted or what he was doing or what they were going to ask for. I was lucky. I was really, really lucky.

“You and Seth called gods for the whole siege and you didn’t die,” Soup said.

Mordecai threw some more wood in the oven. There were a few glowing coals at the bottom. He wanted a moderate oven. “No. Some people died, a lot of people died, but we didn’t. We both got hurt. Seth spent most of the siege being hurt, one way or another. He could’ve died, I could’ve died, one way or another.”

On multiple occasions, Seth had threatened to kill him, or to call someone who could. He meant it, but it was only because of the pain. Mordecai and Nicole, Seth’s handler, had conspired to convince him he couldn’t call anyone when he was suffering that way, and it seemed to have held up. Either that or Seth retained some base form of reasoning, even at the worst of times, that remembered he was a kind man and he hated to hurt people.

“I tried to be careful, and I could come up with just about anything a god might want — even if it was poison. I guess I was smart. There were a lot of us handlers working together and being careful and smart about things. It was like having a net when you fell. Maybe that helped keep us alive. Some of us, anyway.”

He had not gone back to the wall, and he had not sought out any of his old friends from the siege, and it had taken him a long time to warm up to Seth again, because that net had failed him. He and Alba fell through, and nobody came running to pick them up.

Erik put a hand on his arm. “Uncle, I promise I won’t call any more gods.”

Mordecai smiled at him and covered that hand with his own. “Thank you, dear one. That’s kind of you to say, and I guess you mean it right now, but I don’t think it’s going to shake out that way. You wanted to help me badly enough that you did it without even knowing anything about it. You’ll want something that badly again, or not even that badly, or you’ll just get curious. Please just let me help you with it and teach you about it when that happens. I know stuff. And don’t go out tomorrow and do it to put money on horses.”

Erik shook his head. “I won’t.”

Soup said, “Yeah, I think that’s a real bad idea.” That lady who taught him to blow smoke rings was pretty nice, but she was getting all the coffee and cigarettes she wanted. Soup was not willing to accept responsibility for delivery of maybe all the kittens on pain of death.

They made subdued cookies. Barnaby didn’t even come down. (It was possible he knew what subject matter was under discussion, or that Soup was going to run off with all the cookies, or that the cookies had bad eggs or something in them, or there was going to be an inauspicious number of them. The gods alone knew why Barnaby did anything.) Milo wandered in at four and ran out again when he saw a stranger. He crept back in and stole two cooling cookies later, before checking into the basement to see if Hyacinth wanted anything from him. (Apparently, she did, because Ann didn’t come in and avail herself of more cookies.) Erik ceded his first pick of bowl vs. mixer to Soup and cleaned off the mixer distractedly with a fingertip — he just didn’t feel right trying to wedge the whole thing in his mouth, not after that thing about the strychnine and the grinning.

There were no paper bags and Mordecai knew if he sent Soup off with a plate he’d never see it again, so he filed through the drawer with the towels and picked a fairly ragged one that they could afford to lose. He bundled up half the cookies for Erik’s perpetually-starving friend, who also had a rolled sandwich peeking out of his shirt pocket.

“Thanks, Mr. Eidel,” Soup said. “I promise no horse races.”

Mordecai nodded, thinking, And I fully expect you to adhere to the letter of that statement and not the spirit.

“Soup, come upstairs with me a sec, okay?” Erik said.

“Yeah. Okay.” Soup took two more cookies on his way out of the kitchen and stuffed them directly into his mouth.

Are we the only people who feed that kid? thought Mordecai. We can’t be…

———

Erik knocked on Ann and Milo’s door, though he didn’t expect an answer. Milo was in the basement doing the radio on the worktable next to Hyacinth. Milo liked company — he just didn’t like it to talk to him or pressure him or acknowledge him in any way, and Hyacinth knew that. He also liked the radio. He didn’t necessarily care if he ever got it working again.

Erik went into Ann and Milo’s room and removed a nearly-full box of pencils from the top drawer of the dresser, where the silk stockings were. “Here, Soup. I’m stealing these, but I’m going to tell Milo it was me, like when Maggie took the General’s medal. I don’t think he’ll be mad.”

“Okay,” Soup said. He worked the pencils into the bundle with the cookies. He couldn’t eat pencils, but he could sell them or trade them. He did not question Erik’s gift of pencils because that might make Erik take them back.

“They’re not for you, they’re for Seth,” Erik told him.

“Right.” Nope, they’re for me.

“I mean it, Soup. Someone walked off with all Seth’s pencils and he’s really sad right now. Go back to school and give him these right now, you can go wherever you like. I gotta stay here and have dinner, but I’m gonna go back to school tomorrow and if I don’t see these pencils I’m gonna be really mad and I’ll tell Seth you took his shoes.”

“Aw, come on!” Soup said. “You’ll just make him sad! It was a long time ago and I can’t give them back! Why would you tell him something like that?”

“I won’t, ‘cos you’re gonna give him the pencils. Come on, Soup. You’ve got cookies for days. If you come back tomorrow, I’ll give you another sandwich. Give Seth the pencils this one time and I won’t ever tell him about the shoes.”

Soup sighed. “Hokay, fine.”

Erik paused on the stairs and frowned. “All the… pencils… Soup!”

“He doesn’t need all the pencils!”

“I think… Maggie might… glue you to the… wall if I… told her about the… shoes!”

Soup straightened and staggered a pace backwards. He almost fell down the stairs. “Erik, do not tell Maggie about that. Seriously. Come on.” Maggie liked Seth and she could be really, really mean. You just had to give her an excuse.

Erik smiled sweetly at him. “Give Seth all the pencils and I won’t ever tell Maggie about the shoes.”

“Swear to the gods. Swear on your mother.”

“I swear.”

“It’s not like you even know how many there are,” Soup muttered.

Erik snatched his arm and stopped him. He shut his good eye and the metal one had a brief look at the porch railings. “Twenty… one… out of a… box of… twenty-four! Auntie… Hyacinth had one in her… purse and… Milo has two in the… basement! And I’m gonna… count them!”

“Who’s gonna win the trifecta in the first race at Hileigh Park tomorrow?”

“They feed drugs to the horses they don’t want to win so they’re slower,” Erik said. He blinked. “Oh, that’s… awful.”

“Goddammit,” Soup said. “Why couldn’t you be useful-weird? Everyone knows that about the horses.”

I didn’t used to,” Erik said sadly.

“I thought you’d be happy about people being mean to some horses.” Soup took the cigarette from behind his ear and lit up. They were on the porch, no one had ever said anything about no smoking on the porch.

“I still like them a little bit,” Erik said. He had some toy ones, they were okay, and some with the soldiers. “They didn’t hurt me on purpose.”

“You really are weird,” Soup said. He blew a smoke ring. “Thanks for the food.”

“Give… Seth the… pencils,” Erik said.

“Yeah, okay. I’m coming by tomorrow for those sandwiches you said I could have.”

“Yeah.”

Soup vaulted over a low place in the wall and left the plywood gate alone.

Erik considered the sign on the side of the house. ‘No dogs…’ Maybe we should say something about the horses. But I want my toy ones to still come in…

He was two steps into the front room and closing the door behind him before he realized and exclaimed in shock, “I… said… one… sandwich!”

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