Bedlam House (64)

Tania, Elizabeth and Violette, with fancy dresses and hats. Captioned The Dove Cot Ladies.

In the front room, Cerise and Bethany were playing jump rope with Ann and Milo’s clothesline. Bethany had noted Cerise and exclaimed that since they were both pink, they were going to be friends, and that was enough. Maggie had tied one end of the clothesline to the banister at the bottom of the stairs and she was turning the other. Cerise was better at jump rope than Bethany, despite the boots.

“Little pink dancer, turn around! Little pink dancer, touch the ground! Little pink dancer, get out of town!”

(Hyacinth had always heard that one with ‘Xinese dancers,’ but she guessed the pink might be a concession to vanity.)

Friendships like these came easily during magic storms, and they had been aided this time by all the damn strikes. David called this phase of a party the ‘ship of fools,’ and he displayed a practiced mastery of it. Everyone was friends, everyone was having a good time, everything seemed like a good idea, and a properly-framed suggestion would be divided up and executed with creativity and enthusiasm. “Let’s get high on ether!” “Yes! I know where there’s a drugstore open!” “I’ll get us a taxi!” “Let’s take this tray of hors d’oeuvres!” “And this bottle of champagne!” Now, David’s parties were lubricated by a liberal application of drugs and liquor, but the magic strikes had much the same effect. Not everyone experienced them pleasantly (many got queasy or agitated and Elizabeth sneezed every time), but everyone experienced them jointly, and they added energy. Literal energy. The entire magical population of the house was doing shots of corn syrup and caffeine together.

Ann had managed to get Liam and Cerise to friend each other right from the start. Liam had also struck up a relationship with Tommy over the levitating pie, and they had tackled the problem of dishing out food without dishes together. (There was now flying food all over the room instead of flying books, but it was a great deal more sedate and better behaved. You could just wave it over like some kind of decadent king.) Florian had been enchanted by Maria’s descriptions of Carina Lara, and he felt it politic to abandon the beach scene after the disagreement over the seagulls anyway, so he had refocused his attentions on the dining room. The dining room carpet was now six feet tall, approximating a wheat field and lit up yellow with magic. Maria was investigating it with her bare feet and trying to get Ted to join her.

Ted was not doing so hot, emotionally. The strikes were not helping. He was either laughing or sobbing and these did not always match up with him being happy or sad. There were quite a few people willing to make an attempt at cheering him up (Hyacinth did not think he needed cheering up. Hyacinth thought he needed leaving alone, but that was not an option. Even if the people did, the storm wouldn’t.) but they didn’t always have the best ideas. For example, Elizabeth had produced a cat. It was a very nice cat, somewhat intangible but pettable, but it came out black because of her color and Maria saw it and thought she was making fun of Francisco and the situation had rapidly disintegrated to screaming and taking-of-sides and people flinging raw magic at each other — which required sane, non-magical people to set right. Barnaby and Hyacinth both had experience with the ‘ship of fools’ phenomenon, but Hyacinth was better at piloting it. “No! Let’s not do this thing! Let’s do this other thing over here!” She was also pretty good at deescalating things and prying hysterical people off the ceiling. She had managed to coax Ted off the second floor railing with a cup of tea and a fire blanket. She was trying to keep Ted under a fire blanket, but sometimes he forgot about it.

Responsibility for Pablo had been ceded, by necessity, to the General. She was experienced with infant care and Pablo did not mind that she was about as cuddly as a sack of bricks. Pablo did not mind much of anything at the moment. She was attempting to negotiate a bottle into him, but he was having none of it. He kept turning his head aside and batting at her with a hand and he wouldn’t quit smiling. Lady, I don’t need that! I feel great! The trouble was, he did need that, and if he went the whole storm without eating or sleeping, he was going to be hungry, dehydrated and exhausted when it was over. Hyacinth had never been able to get baby Erik to sleep during storms, but she could get a bottle into him if she put sugar in it. She’d had Mordecai sweeten this one, but that didn’t seem to be getting any traction. She was going to have to go back and ask him to flavor it some other way when she had a minute. Maybe chocolate. Did babies like chocolate?

Even Mr. Olivier had made friends. He had bonded with Violette (of all people!) over the lack of toilets and the two of them were sitting next to each other on a cot and working their way through a loaf of banana bread. There were no bananas, the gods alone knew what Mordecai had subbed for them, but there were still a few eggs left and some cheese and Hyacinth had endeavored to remove everything non-food (like the dish soap) from the kitchen and stow it in the downstairs bathroom. She didn’t think he’d start cooking with the towels or the furniture — at least not right away.

Only the woman with the potato in the birdcage had kept quietly to herself. She was sitting on her cot drinking tea and eating a muffin. She offered an occasional crumb to the potato.

Magic struck the house again. The mage lights flickered and Ted shrieked. A dripping wet Ann froze at the top of the stairs and winced in the direction of Room 204. A second strike did not follow.

There was the sound of crazed laughter from the kitchen.

Elizabeth sneezed.

Tommy looked up from the game of gin he was engaged in with Tania and Elizabeth. He checked the floating food and the lights. Sometimes the food fell down or zoomed upwards and hit the ceiling, which he thought was a shame, even though there was plenty of it. One of the mage lights had faded to a dull brown and it was not recovering. “Huh, guess that one needs help.” He grinned. “Hey, Tania. Think fast.” They both shot the glass ball with magic, and they both hit it, which left it alight with churning green and red fires and then glowing bright white like a tiny sun.

“Please don’t do that, you guys,” Hyacinth said in passing. They had already broken one that way, which had resulted in raining glass — which, okay, Liam had caught and reassembled, but he might not if it happened again. “If you have to have competitions, throw poker chips in the air or something.”

“Oo,” said Tania. “What a good idea!”

By the dining room, Liam, Florian and Barnaby had managed, between them, to pin Ted back into his seat and get some fire blankets on him. “I can’t!” he cried, laughing. “I can’t! I can’t!”

Te-adoro,” Maria called out from the glowing carpet. “You really must try this with me! I think you’ll like it better in here!”

Pablo was giggling madly and doing his level best to get the General to drop him on his head.

“A, my name is Annie,” Cerise chanted breathlessly, by the stairs. She grinned over at Ann. “My husband’s name is Al. We live in Ansalem, and we sell apples!”

Bethany picked up the chant with a laugh, “B, my name is Bethany! My husband’s name is Ben!”

Hyacinth detoured around them.

“Oh, gods, Cin,” said Ann. “I thought it was going to break the rod again! Why is this happening? We’ve only got two left!”

Hyacinth met her at the bottom of the stairs and took her by both hands. “Erik thinks it’s something to do with him. Like, he’s different now. Maybe he’s attracting them. He thinks it’s going to keep happening. I don’t know if he’s right, but we’re going to have to do something, no matter what it is.”

“Do you think I can go out and get more?” said Ann. “They might have some at the municipal building…”

Hyacinth shook her head. “I sure as hell don’t want you to run off downtown, you’re the only one who can get up on the roof and change the damn things. I guess I could send the General, but I don’t even know if they’d have some or if they’re open right now or if she’d get back in time. Ann, I want Milo,” she said gravely. “We need a kludge.” She overrode Ann when Ann opened her mouth, “And I want him to work with the General on this. They know magic upside-down and inside-out between them. If we need to do spells or something, we’ve got lots of people here who can do that, but we’ve got to have something designed. Please, can you get him to help me that way?”

“You want Milo to be out during the storm and work with the General?” Ann said.

“Yeah,” said Hyacinth. “He doesn’t have to be up here with people. He can take her into the basement and work there, but I really, really need him to do this. Please, Ann.”

“In the basement,” Ann said with a wince. “Just a minute, please.” She closed her eyes briefly. She sighed, and then smiled. “All right, Cin.”

Milo was more scared about Hyacinth being mad at him and maybe the whole house being fried than bothered by the General and Seth. In this case, that would pass for bravery.

“I’ll get changed right away, dear,” Ann said. She squeezed Hyacinth’s hands briefly, then turned and went back upstairs.

“C, my name is Cerise! My husband’s name is Charlie! We live in Cyre, and we sell cherries!”

Hyacinth approached the General and collected the wriggling infant and the bottle. “You’re relieved of duty, sir. I’ve got something else for you to do…”

“Then I am not relieved of duty, am I, Hyacinth?”

“Guess not,” said Hyacinth. She explained the situation.

Milo came downstairs with his hands clasped and his head bowed and his wet braid hanging down the back of his shirt. He was wearing black rain-boots, because he might have to go up and change the rod again. He made an abrupt turn at the bottom of the stairs and went directly into the basement without drawing any attention to himself. Someone might talk to him. The house-of-cards man might notice him and be angry. Anything could happen. But he made it into the basement and then all he had to deal with was glowing Erik and Seth.

The General followed soon after.

Hyacinth took the baby and the bottle into the kitchen to see what Mordecai could do to make the already-improvised formula more appealing. “Hey, Mordecai, do you think…”

“Hyacinth! Taste this!” he cried. He poked a fork in her open mouth with a careful hand cupped beneath it, as if he were feeding a child. He grinned at her. He looked happier than Pablo, but then, he had teeth to employ. “Well?”

It was a forkful of turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce and stuffing, and Hyacinth knew that they did not have any of these things. She did not want to swallow it. “Wha’ ih ih, pease?” she asked around it.

“Guess!” he said.

“No,” she replied. She spat it politely into her hand — with difficulty, as it was moist and delicious and also she was juggling a baby. Pablo giggled and squirmed.

Mordecai was unable to contain himself. “It’s sand!” he cried.

Sand?” said Hyacinth.

Mordecai presented her with a plate of turkey dinner. There were slices of white meat, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, that green bean casserole with the fried onion strings in it and a buttered croissant. “Look, look, look at it! Doesn’t it look just perfect? And all of it tastes exactly like it should! Guess what I made the green beans out of!”

“Sand?” Hyacinth offered him.

“Sand! Now guess what I made the potatoes out of!”

“Sand?”

“They’re from a box!” He threw back his head and laughed. “Now guess what I did with the box!”

“Mordecai, where in the hell did you get sand?”

“There was a bag in the front yard with the cement for the bricks!”

“You went in the yard?” cried Hyacinth.

Mordecai shook his head, laughing. “No, no. I sent Barnaby. He brought it in for me!”

Barnaby?” said Hyacinth. She sighed and touched a hand to her head. Goddammit, Barnaby. After all these years, he was still willing to go along, no matter how crazy it got. He just didn’t have David directing him anymore, that was the only thing that kept him under relative control. Well, that and all the damn signs and hating to leave his room, usually.

He was curious, that was his problem. He wanted to see what would happen next. A bag of sand! Well, I wonder what he’ll do with it?

She guessed that Barnaby had ended up in one of those ironic hells, like the people in that one radio program. What’s this? A pool shark? I sentence you to a hell where you play nothing but pool, forever and ever! What about you? You want to know what’s going to happen next? Oh, I’ll make sure you find out what’s going to happen next! Ahahaha!

She was uncertain as to whether he deserved it.

But, Barnaby aside (she would scream at him later if she had a minute) there was now a plate of sand masquerading as delicious food in the kitchen and Mordecai was trying to feed it to people.

“Mordecai, this is still sand, isn’t it? I mean, you haven’t worked out how to do transmutations all of a sudden or anything?”

“No! No! It’s still sand! Isn’t it wonderful? Taste the green beans!” He offered another fork.

She put up her hand and refused it. “Mordecai, you cannot feed people sand. Have you run out of food? Is that what this is?”

“Well, there’s still some canned pasta in the pantry, but I didn’t want to cook with that.”

“So you went for the sand,” she said acidly.

“Yes! It’s delicious! Just try a little of the…”

Mordecai!” The fact of it being sand was not clearing the circuits. He wasn’t parsing sand as an inedible object, merely as an obstacle he had surmounted. He was just too damn pleased with himself. Look! I climbed the mountain! She had to nail him back down to the ground. “Would you let Erik eat sand?”

“Let Erik eat sand?” said Mordecai. He put the fork back on the plate. He frowned. “Of course I wouldn’t let Erik eat sand! We always used to have to watch him in the yard so he wouldn’t do that. There were all those bags of crap in the yard, and the mud…”

“Okay. If you make a plate of delicious sand, Erik — or someone else — might eat it. Do you get that?” Come on, Mordecai. Put it together. I know you’re blitzed out of your damn mind right now, but you are a real smart person. You can do this.

“I was sort of hoping…” he said weakly. He looked at the plate. “This is sand.”

Yes,” said Hyacinth, relieved.

“It’s really good, though. The texture…”

“I know. It’s too bad. I’m sorry.”

He sighed and he scraped the plate into the kitchen trash.

“I’m proud of you, Mordecai,” said Hyacinth. She guessed that probably something was going to eat that. A rat or a cat or a seagull or something, but she couldn’t be responsible for the entire food chain, she had her hands full with the house.

“Mm,” he said.

“Look, why don’t you break into that canned pasta? I think if you can do that with sand, you can do something really great with canned pasta!”

“I guess.” He kicked the floor like a disappointed kid.

“I’ll see what else I can get you for ingredients. You don’t have to cook with sand. Maybe you’d like to play some violin for us? There’s a kid out there with a guitar…”

“No…” he muttered.

“Okay. Well, do the canned pasta. That’ll be neat!” She exited with the baby. She was going to give the baby to Barnaby, make a U-turn and remove the bag of sand. She did not want Mordecai to do anything with the baby formula until he’d got some distance from the sand, both physically and emotionally.

Thunder rumbled and magic struck the house again.

My gods, we’re not getting any strikes nearby this time. Everything hits us!

Mordecai shrieked “Ow!” behind her in the kitchen, but happily. She heard him start opening drawers and looking for the can opener.

———

In the basement, Milo was attempting to convey the concept of, If we gather the stones out of the yard and merge them back together, do you think we could put magic on them and make rods again fast enough to keep up with the strikes? with drawings and magical notation. He had done a watch and a rod and scattered stones and magic hitting a rod, and a lot of math, but the General wasn’t following him.

Look, lady. The scattered stones in the yard equals a rod. Look, I’ll put a pile of bricks in the yard. It’s the yard! You are aware that when the rods break, the stones fall on the roof and the yard? (He added arrows, indicating this.) Will you at least say something so I know you’re trying?

“I don’t know why you are continuing this pointless charade, Mr. Rose. We both know you are capable of speech, and this is an emergency situation.”

Milo sighed and grit his teeth. No, I am not! He started to draw a mouth, so he could cross it out. That is not an option, lady!

That is not an option, lady! the radio said.

Milo gasped. His eyes and mouth widened. He punched the radio.

This hurt his hand.

“Milo, it’s been doing that,” Erik spoke up. “It used to just be when it hits the house, now it’s whenever.” It had said a couple of things about orange juice and comic books after Hyacinth left and before Milo came down. “I’m not sure if it’s my fault. I’m sorry.”

Milo shook his head, horrified. But Ann took out the diode! It shouldn’t get any reception!

Then again, it’s not like my head is a radio station, the radio said.

Ahh! Milo’s mouth gaped like he was screaming and he closed it with a hand.

I’ll kill it with my shoe, said the radio.

Milo was attempting to get his shoe off to do this, but it was a lot harder to slide out of rain-boots than his usual footwear, even with silk stockings.

“Mr. Rose,” said the General, and Milo froze. “I believe if you might see your way clear to letting the radio live, it may prove an assistance with your stubborn uncommunicativeness. I might add that we should not be wasting our time murdering inanimate objects when the fate of the household is in our hands.”

Milo picked up the pad of paper from the worktable and aggressively showed the drawings. I have been trying to talk to you, but you won’t…

The General took the pad of paper from him and directed the drawing towards the radio’s glass front, “Radio, I wonder if you might enlighten me as to what Mr. Rose is trying to express,” she said.

Radio, don’t you dare say anything, thought Milo, staring at it. I made you. You have to listen to me.

“Mr. Rose, I think you’re not even trying,” the General said sternly.

I have been trying! the radio squawked. I am trying to get your opinion on whether you think we can merge the rods back together, but you won’t even look at what I’m saying! You are so damn stubborn! Do you honestly think I’m being stubborn? This is how I talk to people! Everyone else gets it! Are you dumb? Oh, my gods, why won’t that damn thing shut up?

Milo looked pale and miserable. Radio, I thought you were my friend.

The General regarded the drawings. “Ah, yes, I see. I doubt we have any skilled stoneworkers in the house, but brute force may have an effect. We would also have to redo all of the enchantments.”

Milo nodded weakly, looking away.

“I see you have attempted to extrapolate some of them. The time constraint would be something of an issue, and I doubt we will be able to find and reassemble one-hundred-percent of the stones, so there would also be a loss of material. Do you think it is possible to automate a system to reassemble the rods when they shatter? Sort of an implosion spell? We would still have to redo the enchantments every time, but it would cut down on the time and the material loss. Mr. Rose…?”

I want to be in the closet and I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to do this and I want it to stop, thought Milo.

Milo, please try very hard to be brave, the radio said softly. It was Ann’s voice.

“Milo it’s okay,” said Erik. He was looking over. He had one hand on Seth’s forehead and he was glowing softly. “You’re really smart and I know you can figure this out. Please stay and try.”

I’ll be scared if you leave and it’s just her, the radio added in Erik’s voice.

Erik gave a little gasp, but then he nodded at Milo. “That, too.”

I don’t want Erik to be down here alone with Seth, Milo thought, frowning. I didn’t like that before. I don’t want him down here with Seth and her. She won’t help if something happens.

She’s really mean, the radio said. Milo cringed.

“She is aware of it,” the General replied dryly. “Mr. Rose, if you would focus your dizzying intellect on these calculations, I will write them down so you can follow.”

Milo nodded. He approached the worktable and the pad with a hesitant step. The radio didn’t say anything.

For the moment.

———

Hyacinth had dispatched Magnificent on an emergency mission to find food. Well, she had expanded that to ‘organic, nonpoisonous matter,’ because a lot of stores closed early or closed altogether during magic storms. “Like, if you can only find a flower store… or a pet store…”

“A pet store?” said Maggie.

“A bunch of mice or a rabbit or something!” Hyacinth hissed. “I’m not saying bring home a puppy!” She lowered her voice even further and leaned in, “For gods’ sakes, do not bring home a puppy. It will go mental.” She didn’t think even Barnaby would be able to handle murdering a frothing terrified puppy.

“I know where there’s a dead cat…” Maggie said, and Hyacinth clapped a hand over her mouth.

No. No dead cat,” she snarled, directly into Maggie’s ear. If she could’ve imparted the information psychically, she would have. “Absolutely no dead cat…” Magic struck the house and there was cackling in the kitchen. “Possibly dead cat, but only if there is nothing else you can get to and bring it in through the back door so nobody sees it!”

It had only been about an hour and Maggie had been traveling on foot in the rain, but Hyacinth was very anxious about the possibility of ending up with Dead Cat Surprise, even if it would taste amazing.

About half an hour ago, Ted had finally consented to joining Maria in the dining room carpet. They had gone running in with no shoes and failed to exit the other side. After a few minutes, Hyacinth reached in between the wheat-stalks with a handful of contraceptive charms. These were accepted. (Hyacinth thought probably Maria wouldn’t catch pregnant again so soon after Pablo, but it was her opinion that she definitely shouldn’t.)

Hyacinth had also requested, for the sake of decency, that Florian keep the wheat field going until Ted and Maria voluntarily exited, hopefully with clothes on. Snickering, Florian had been willing to do this. Maybe ten minutes ago, Florian had also made a tentative investigation of the wheat field and failed to exit. Hyacinth was pretty sure the wheat field hadn’t gained malevolence and started eating people, because when she offered more charms a human hand took them, but she was going to give it maybe another half hour before she went in there with some kind of weapon and made certain.

How do you kill raw magic? Iron? Or is that just fairies?

Bethany was, thankfully, being kept busy with the project that Milo and the General had given the house — because her parents were busy and Maggie was gone and Barnaby was out in the yard further damaging his spine by collecting more raw materials for the project. Cerise was still willing to play with her and keep an eye on her, and she was also enjoying the project, but Hyacinth wasn’t sure how long that would last. It was getting on towards that point in the evening where the adults started to pair up with each other and vanish into rooms. Hyacinth wasn’t sure if there was anyone in the house who would like to amuse themselves with a boy in a dress, either, and whether Cerise preferred boys or girls or what, so she was hoping Cerise and Bethany would remain amused with the quartz crystals for a time.

She was also hoping that Cerise and Bethany and Liam and Elizabeth would, between them, manage to do something with the quartz crystals. Something rod-shaped. At the moment, they had progressed to sticking them together in clusters. Bethany had requested a castle. Hyacinth had requested that they at least try putting a spire on the castle.

The General had emerged from the basement demanding to know if anyone in the house knew how to work stone. When they did not, she explained why it would be in everyone’s best interest that they figure it out and told Hyacinth to assign someone to gather the rocks from the broken rods out of the yard and off the roof. She had also informed them that they were working on a secondary solution in the basement and returned there.

Now Milo and the General were up on the roof in the rain, waiting for a double strike to hit the penultimate rod, which they had altered with a ‘rapid reconstruction spell.’ “I have been informed that ‘implosion’ is a specific scientific phenomenon, and that this spell does not do that,” the General said dryly, regarding Milo, and Milo had looked like he was about ready to die. (The radio had called the General an idiot. Several times.)

The potato lady was quiet, the wheat field was quiet (save occasional giggling, not unlike the kitchen) and the people attempting to learn stonework from scratch were conversing amicably. The loud chaos, at the moment, was being supplied by Tommy and Tania, who had taken to the ‘throw poker chips up in the air’ idea but quickly rejected poker chips and playing cards as too easy. They were now doing multiple buttons from the smashed button jar at once, in various sizes, flung upwards from a cup. There was about a fifty-percent accuracy rate going on and Hyacinth was beginning to suspect it was on purpose. The misaimed magic ricocheted off the walls and various objects it hit, setting them spinning or flying or on fire — and Hyacinth was positive that was on purpose.

“Okay, Tania,” Tommy said. “Three… two…” And half a beat after two, he threw the buttons into the air.

“Cheating bastard!” Tania cried joyfully, and they both commenced trying to catch as many buttons as possible. Since Tommy was green and Tania was red, the score could easily be toted by separating the colors. It was a little harder to tell who was hitting each non-button object, since the green and red fires moved rapidly and often tangled in each other, so Hyacinth just considered them both jointly to blame for any breakage.

“You guys!” They were still hitting the mage lights! The room was so bright she was staring to consider pulling down her goggles for her own safety.

A scattering of three shirt buttons, the smallest size, came within an inch of hitting the floor but were halted with bright green fire.

“Oh, Tommy, good catch!” said Tania, cocking back her flowered hat.

“I didn’t…” Tommy said.

Mr. Olivier stood up from his cot. “You children,” he said with a grin. “All flash and zero finesse!”

Tommy was properly abashed, but Tania looked indignant, “I am forty-seven, sir!”

“So is my daughter!” said Mr. Olivier. He laughed!

Hm, thought Hyacinth. Mr. Olivier is tolerable when he’s high. Let’s hear it for magic strikes.

The thunder rumbled its own cheer.

The lights flickered, Elizabeth sneezed, and there was laughter in the kitchen — and in the dining room carpet.

Hyacinth glanced expectantly at the ceiling, but no second strike followed. Milo and the General’s exile on the roof would continue. But it also meant they still had one extra rod left.

“Mr. Olivier, do you think you could apply some of that finesse to these rocks over here? If we keep taking strikes like this, you’re gonna end up with no toilets and no roof…”

“There is no spirit of competition in gluing rocks together on the floor with a five-year-old,” said Mr. Olivier. He was picking through the remains of the button jar, looking for shirt buttons. “That is a craft project!”

“First person who figures out how to rebuild a grounding rod wins a tiara!” said Hyacinth, and she clapped a hand over her mouth. Oh, crap. I’m sorry, Ann.

Well, it wasn’t like she could offer those canary slippers. They didn’t have heads.

“A tiara!” cried Bethany. “Can I see it?”

“You can see it if you win it,” said Hyacinth.

“Aw,” said Bethany. She halfheartedly threw a rock.

“I’ll see if I can get it for ya, squirt,” Tommy said. He sat cross-legged on the floor and availed himself of a few rocks. He couldn’t challenge Tania at buttons if Mr. Olivier was going to do it, anyway. They were both green.

“Yay!” said Bethany. “I’ll help!”

“I have no desire for a tiara,” Mr. Olivier disdained. “Winning a tiara is quite enough,” he added, smiling. He abandoned the buttons. “I also intend to cede it to you, tiny annoying child.”

“You’re kinda mean,” Bethany said. She smiled, too. “But I’ll be friends with you if you give me a tiara. Or some candy.”

“Bethany, there are eighteen different types of dessert out here!” said Hyacinth. The pink girl was currently being followed by a half-eaten piece of white-frosted cake. Hyacinth had no time to monitor people’s diets. Bethany was eating, responsibility absolved.

“But not any candy!” said Bethany. “I like candy! Can’t you get him to make me some candy, Miss Hyacinth?”

“Maybe in a minute, Bethany,” Hyacinth said. He was still playing around with the canned pasta when she looked in on him last. She wasn’t sure it would be ethical to feed Bethany candy-flavored dead cat, if that was what they ended up with. Even if no one ever found out.

“What do you think, Vi?” Tania said. She offered the cup with the buttons in it. “Buttons or rocks?”

“What sort of tiara is it?” Violette asked.

“Cut glass and tin,” Hyacinth offered with a shrug.

“What color?”

“Clear, but it’s sparkly.”

“Hm.” The pale lavender woman smiled. “Let’s do the rocks, Tania!”

Ah, ship of fools, thought Hyacinth, relieved. Before she could leverage her moment of peace into a moment of sitting down, Maggie came in with Ann’s shopping basket following her. (Liam made it fly like the buckets and the desserts. He had also done a scattering of broken plate shards, as decoys. One of these had gotten nailed with a magic strike, scaring the hell out of Maggie and somewhat delaying her return.)

“Maggie!” Hyacinth scrambled forward to snatch the basket and hide it, uncertain if Maggie had forgotten about bringing the cat in through the back door.

“It’s flour and sugar, Cin,” Maggie said with a snicker. “It was cheapest, and I guess he doesn’t need baking powder.”

Hyacinth peered over the lip of the basket. There was a ten pound bag of flour, a five pound sack of sugar, and a can of shortening, all of it somewhat rain-spattered, though Maggie had been toting an umbrella. It was windy. “Oh, Maggie, you’re really clever. I hope it lasts him.”

Maggie shrugged. “It was all that fit in the basket. I can go out again if you need.” She grinned. “How’s Bethany been treating you?”

“She’s busy at the moment, but I’m afraid I’ve sacrificed Ann’s tiara to the cause of grounding the house.”

“Aw,” said Maggie. “She really loves that thing…”

“I know, but they wanted to make it a contest and it was the first thing I could think of for a prize. We can get her another one, they can’t be expen…” Magic struck the house again. There was a shriek and then hysterical laughter from the kitchen. “Oh, gods, Maggie, get him those ingredients, quick. I’m scared he’s going to start cooking with the cans…”

Maggie came out of the kitchen a few minutes later with a large, glass pot. The halo of broken plate was still following her.

“What is it?” said Hyacinth.

“Not sure…”

“Did you see cans?” she asked urgently. “Empty cans on the counter, or in the trash?”

“I wasn’t looking for them…”

Hyacinth rushed past her and into the kitchen. There were empty cans on the kitchen table and she counted them. Spaghetti, spaghetti, ravioli, ravioli, macaroni… Oh, gods, were there two macaroni? No. No. I think Milo ate one when he came home from work yesterday. Okay. I think we’re safe…

Mordecai was hunched over the counter and stirring a large bowl that was flickering with red fire. The flour and sugar had both been opened and the sugar was spilling in a pile on the countertop.

Relatively safe.

“Hey, Mordecai, what are you making over there?”

Anything I want to!” he cried.

“Okay. Right. Great.” She signed him two thumbs up which he did not turn around to see and she backed out of the room.

I hope that doesn’t mean explosives, she thought belatedly. Or some kind of baked homunculus.

She’d have to go back and check on him later.

“Maggie, whatever it is, I think it’s okay to eat.”

Maggie looked up from the pot, which Liam was helpfully securing in mid-air for her, after having removed the plate shards. She seemed puzzled. “Miss Hyacinth, I think it’s Nadine’s Boxed Noodles. The broccoli cheese kind.”

“Broccoli cheese…?” Hyacinth had a look in the pot and poked it with an impolite finger.

“Did he just make a regular box without doing anything to it?” Maggie said. That seemed suspicious to her.

“I was in the pantry, we don’t have any Nadine’s left. All we had was…” She snickered suddenly. “Mordecai made Nadine’s Boxed Noodles out of Milo’s canned pasta.”

“So this is a joke,” said Maggie.

“Yeah.”

Maggie grinned. “That’s pretty…”

Magic struck the house, and then again. Hyacinth glanced up at the ceiling and said, “Okay…” and that was all she had time to say because magic immediately struck again.

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