Fanfic Time: Heaven, Earth and Hell, part 8

Continued from yesterday:

  He woke in a nest of cushions with a fan ruffling his fur. The grandmother-esque woman - Mrs Nezmith? - sat calmly nearby reading a book.

  “Feeling better?”

  “I’m sorry,” he blurted.

  “Whatever for?” she reached over to soothe his hair into place, brushing an ear and his cheek by co-incidence. “It’s perfectly natural to be nervous, Kurt. New things can be frightening.”

  He sat up, trying not to cower from the gentle woman with the coffee skin and patient expression. This place was bright with creations from kids of all ages, posters adorned the walls where the bookshelves permitted, and bright, multi-coloured spines rested with no apparent order within. The alphabet marched around the interior, near the ceiling, in both upper and lower case. In three different fonts.

  Neat desks waited for the other children, who peered up at him from books or toys. They were not the wooden ones featured on television, but collapsable ones designed to fold away into a minimum amount of space.

  It was so completely different to what he expected.

  “I’m sorry,” he murmured.

  “There’s nothing to be sorry about, dear.”


  Mrs Nezmith sighed. “We’re ready to begin if you’d like to join us.”

  He chose a desk in a corner, so very little could come at him from behind, and he could see anything or anyone that approached.

  Learning here was another opposite of what he’d seen on the television. Each student bent to their appointed tasks and politely waited their turn for attention. There were no spitballs, flying paper planes, no disruptions. Mrs Nezmith was kind and gentle, coaxing him out of his shell with soft words of encouragement.

  It still didn’t make him talk very much. His near-lifetime of silence under the iron fist of Sir was hard to shake. As was his edginess when certain sudden moves occurred too close to him.

  One by one, the others were allowed to return to their work outside of the school trailer. As the attrition continued, Kurt grew increasingly nervous. Had he done something that warranted detention? Was Mrs Nezmith reserving some form of ‘special treatment’ for him?

  This was, after all, not heaven.

  If Sir could still get to him, then so could others *like* him.

  And he didn’t even know what rules he’d broken, here.

  Mrs Nezmith sat near him. Waited for his breathing to slow down again. Smiled. “You’ve been very quiet.”

  “…sorry…” he said, barely audible.

  “It’s okay,” she said. Mrs Nezmith had surrendered long ago to his endless apologies. “I understand. The last place you were in… before you came to us… bad things happened there, didn’t they?”

  He looked down, focussing on his hands. They gripped the edge of the table so hard that they almost burned. “…ja…”

  “I promise I won’t hurt you,” said Mrs Nezmith. “I just want you to know that you can talk to me if you need to.”

  She hadn’t made any kind of move towards him. Kurt risked lessening his grip on the desk. Not even a twitch.

  “The people you used to live with hurt you, didn’t they?”

  Lying was a sin. Telling people about what Sir did - resulted in pain. Sir had been away for a long time, and that meant that his next visit was going to be soon. He’d bring Karl with him… and all that that implied.

  If Sir was brute force personified, Karl was insinuation. He would slink and sneak his way in. Seep like slow poison inside and then… Kurt winced, and hung his head. Not a nod. Only half a nod.

  Maybe that wasn’t really telling.

  Mrs Nezmith’s hand on his shoulder was warm and comforting. “It wasn't your fault, Kurt. You need to remember that. Everything bad they did to you was all in them. It was never your fault.”

  It was so hard to believe her. Bad things happened because he’d been bad. That’s all there was to it. Sometimes, he could be bad just by breathing, especially when Sir had been into his bottles… and he was never, ever good… because he was a demon.

  “…can I go?” he risked. Mama-Celia had said he could join the acrobats on the trampoline after he was finished with his schooling.

  Mrs Nezmith ruffled his hair and palmed a lolly into his hand as she took it to guide him outside. “Of course. Just try to bring more words with you, tomorrow, hm?”

  “…'nk you…” he managed, and shot away from the trailer like a bullet out of a gun.


  Celia found him in his element - showing off in midair. This Kurt was a complete transformation from the timid creature who had - according to all reports - fainted in front of the school trailer. *This* Kurt was a joy to behold. A wonder and a marvel infused with pure grace and possessed by the very spirit of style.

  He was so *happy* up there.

  So what if he didn’t talk a lot? As long as he was happy, that was all that mattered… wasn’t it?

  Still… Mrs Nezmith *had* rather implied that Child Protection Services would much prefer it if he were happy *and* rehabilitated. It would, she’d said, go better for them in the long run.

  Just the mental image of what the foster home system would do to him was enough to give her nightmares. The state would definitely not rehabilitate Kurt… but it would pretend it had until something exploded or someone died. *Then*, they’d act surprised.

  If she had his best interests in heart, she’d do her damndest to make sure he was as well-rounded as she could get him. And that included encouraging him to talk.

  “Kurt? Can you come down for a second?”

  Bounce, flip, twist, somersault… he landed, light as a cat, in front of her. All unadulterated exuberance.

  It fell away from him the instant he saw her expression. “I’m in trouble,” he said.

  No more than three words. The exact same problem Lynn had had with him in class. He’d only read aloud when he was alone with her, and then, in quiet, hushed tones that could barely be heard. Any other time, his answers and responses were carefully calculated to not break the three-word rule, and he seemed to labor under the weight of it.

  “We’re just worried, honey,” she soothed, placing a restraining, though gentle hand on his shoulder. “Most kids your age - you can’t shut them up, you know? You’re too quiet… and you should know by now that you’re safe with us.”

  “I know.”

  “So why are you still afraid?”

  He scratched his arm, rubbing the memory of his freshest scar. An injury that was a week old when she met him in the trailer of that pickup truck. Kurt cringed as if anticipating punishment. “Feels like…” a panicky glance around the area. “Sir is coming.”

   With that pseudo-infraction of his 'rule’, the transformation was complete. Once again, he was the timid and broken creature he’d been when she first realised he was more than what he seemed.

  Celia let him hide in her arms, looking about as if daring the Shitheads to turn up on her watch. “He’s not coming, hon. He’s not coming ever again, if I can help it. He’d have to get through the whole circus to get to you. Elephants and all.”

  Kurt trembled against her, his tail wound tight around her leg. “Still scared,” he whispered. “Sorry.”

  “It’s going to be okay,” she vowed. “It’s going to get better.”

  Those words were the ironic beginning to what she would forever think of as the Week From Hell.


  A Circus has two mortal enemies. One is fire, that eats its very bones away quicker than one would believe possible. The other is rain, that banishes customers and devours profit margins.

  This rain had reached almost biblical proportions in the space of forty *hours*, rather than forty days and nights. The field they'd camped in became an instant quagmire. Children raced plastic toys in the faster-flowing streamlets of water. The few brave enough to spend their money on the circus ventured out with umbrellas and plastic macks, dashing between the big top and whatever patch of high land held their cars.

  None lingered to spend money on the sideshows, where they made most of their money.

  It made Kurt’s creature act an exercise in misery, since most of his tent was at least ankle-deep in water, and no-one came to watch, *anyway*.

  When the water rose to mid-calf level, they scrapped the act and retreated inside the big top to do trampoline practice. It was still as wet, in there, but at least he had the audience he craved.

  “Ve must to put ze horses somevere.”

  “Huh?” Celia turned.

  It was Hans. “Ve must to put ze horses somevere,” he said. “Ze mud is being no gut in their foots.”

  And the old stopgap of strewing straw on the ground to make the mud less like quicksand was not an option anymore. Entire bales would be wasted in the effort if they tried.

  Besides, it’d float away.

  “We’ll have to kludge something up inside the big top,” Celia decided.

  “Was diese 'kludge’ ist?”

  “Das ist ein 'Flickschusterei’,” said Kurt.

  Celia was temporarily croggled. _He speaks German? Wait. *Duh*. Of course he speaks German…_ All research indicated that Kurt originally hailed from the country, where his Mama had lived with that ass, Lamprey. Where she’d died, too.

  By the time she was done feeling sorry for the late Mrs Wagner, Kurt and Hans were deep into a spirited conversation about their home country. Or at least, that’s what she guessed from the few words she could pick out. Conversations with Hans before this had always been a halting effort to pick up meaning in context - by both parties.

  Seeing the old man in a lively conversation was a shock and a delight.

  Loath to interrupt him and drag him back into foundering awkwardness, Celia went searching for the riggers. If anyone could kludge up something for the horses, it was them.

  Maybe something involving the flatbeds that usually hauled the poles and canvas. And she’d have to talk to Seth about moving to dry land.

  She stepped in the wrong place and winced as her galoshes filled with water.

  Freezing cold water.

  Maybe she should just talk to Seth. Now.


  The final straw had come when Gilda’s trailer slowly drifted through the campsite after an argument about how deep the water was getting. Even then, it took some creative towing to get them out of the floodwaters and on the road again.

  Roads that were washed out, half the time.

  It was a long, miserable trip to the next town - during which most of the crew became completely stir-crazy - only to find that their usual arena of display had turned into a small lake due to the unseasonable rain.

  In order to cross the swollen river to their next stop, they had to take a miles-long detour around to the next-most-stable bridge. Their usual one had been last seen heading out to sea.

  Then the heater blew out in Wendel’s caravan, and he caught a cold from the resultant chill.

  At least the third town was mostly dry, and hailed the circus for breaking a drought, but that only encouraged *half* of their usual audience to ford the small streams flowing through the campgrounds to watch the show. None dallied at the sideshows.

  The only bright spot in the entire waterlogged week was Kurt's inclusion in a tumbling clown act. With mittens, a wig that covered his ears, some ingenious costume work and a bit of powder, no-one watching could have thought him anything but human.

  The rain cleared to spotty showers by the end of the week, but that didn’t stop their next camp from being a squishy quagmire of mud and anaemic grass, over which planks were spread to stop the thoroughfares from becoming mud soup.

  It also served to explain how Jesse and the other elephants pulled out their chain’s pin and took it upon themselves to investigate the local Baptist Church’s fundraiser fete… where she and five other elephants consumed most of the merchandise - including two hundred trays of Mrs Kerghoffer’s prize-winning brandy and prune danish. They finished off a produce stall for dessert before drunkenly exploring the nutritional values of the fete tents before the assembled troop could herd them back to their squishy, muddy home.

  Then the prunes kicked in.

  The troupe had had to negotiate with the Baptist Ladies’ Auxiliary in order to pay for the damages. They settled for a free performance and as much organic fertiliser as they could cart away.

  And now… there was *this*.

  On top of being behind schedule and hovering on the brink of debt with several trailer loads of hung-over elephants, some bunch of lunatics was holding up the road to inspect every large enough vehicle.


  Celia fumed at the line of traffic in front of her. It hadn't perceptibly moved in two hours. Two hours in the baking, humid heat. Behind an elephant trailer. Staring at an elephant’s ass for ages on end hadn’t improved her mood.

  Neither had the shower that did nothing to alleviate the heat.

  “Isn’t a week of rain *enough*?” she demanded. Sickly patches of sunshine blasted steam off puddles in the distance. For all their timid pale hue, they were fierce. “One frikkin’ week of solid downpour aught to be *plenty*… but *no*… *We* had to deal with a washed out bridge that made us late for everywhere else we have to be. Our fire-eater's still down with the damn 'flu. Our stupid frikkin’ elephants had to get loose, get toasted, and get diarrhea in the same day… I can’t find a station that’s worth *shit*–”


  Celia wiped the heavy drop of water off her brow. “–and to top it all off, there’s a *LEAK* in my freakin’ *ROOF*!”

  Kurt cringed in the shotgun seat.

  _Fuck._ “Aw geez, I’m sorry.” She took a deep breath and calmed down before reaching over to soothe his arm back down. “I’m not mad at you, okay? I’m never mad at *you*… no matter what happens in the world outside.”

  Mrs Nezmith, along with being an excellent teacher, was a child psychologist of more than decent merit. In her own words, Kurt had "been screwed around with by professionals", and the lingering mental scars weren’t going to go away overnight.

  He was showing improvement on the zigzag path to a better life, but at any given time, he could jump backwards due to any random trigger.

  All they could do was catalogue the triggers and do their best to keep them away from him, and vice versa.

  Kurt relaxed. “It’s hard to remember,” he said.

  “I know, I know. Old habits.” Celia found some gum in the glove compartment and worked up a wad. Just enough to plug the tiny leak above her forehead. It’d hold until she could make it to a garage. Preferably one that didn’t have bumper to bumper traffic seething on the only road that went past it.

  The sign she was just now inching towards declared this pissant little truck-stop town to be Blind River, somewhere outside New Orleans. The array of badges declaring the societies embedded therein told Celia more than she ever wanted to know about the lack of social life in this dirtwater town.

  Five minute’s motion for two hours’ worth of ass-numbing boredom. Once again, Celia considered schlepping over to the still-distant diner for something homemade and possibly fried in lard. Or mostly chocolate. Or mostly chocolate *and* fried in lard. Whatever.

  And, just like the last time she’d stared wistfully at the diner, the line of traffic in front of her moved a fraction of an inch. Just enough to prompt her to take her foot off the brake and glide closer to the trailer in front of her - but not *too* close, owing to the fact that the elephants were still in possession of “touchy” stomachs.

  Bored once more, she flipped through the availlable radio stations.

  “…Ah just might drive to blazes and not caarre…” fzzzzt…

  “…mountain town, so far away. Yo-del-ay-hee del-ay-hee del-ay-hee… woo-woo… hoo…” fzzt…

  “…will you answer true-oo-ooo-oo-oo-ooo-ooo-ooooo…” fzztt…

  “…achey breaky heart…” ffwwwzzzzzt…

  “…an’ Ah thanked ol’ Desert Pete…”

  Celia sighed and turned the radio off. _Another hour of this and I might suspect I’ve gone to Hell…_

  An umbrella appeared by her window. Celia rolled it down to find Betty underneath the portable shelter.

  “I come bearing chocolate in the form of muffins.”

  “You read my mind,” said Celia. She took the bag and inhaled the aroma. “Oh *GOD*, did you read my mind.” One muffin, she instantly handed to Kurt.

  “Bad day at the office, huh?”

  “Merely contemplating why my life so suddenly contains such vast quantities of suck. I mean, after all *this* - what could make it worse?”

  “And on that note, I have good news and bad news…”

  “Don’t tell me, let me guess. The good news is that you know the answer. The bad news is, you’re going to tell me.”

  “Bingo, bango, bongo; the lady just won a kewpie doll,” Betty deadpanned. “Turns out that the lunatic fringe on the road block are on a mutie hunt.”

  As one, they both stared at Kurt.

  He froze in the act of chewing half a muffin. “Was?”


  “Diahhretic drunken elephants, 'flu-ridden fire-eaters, floods to rival Noah’s…” Celia scrambled out of the car. “Mutant-hunting God-damned *loonies*!”

  “They call themselves the 'Friends of Humanity’,” Betty informed.

  “They can call themselves the fucknuckles from Hell for all I care," once outside, she was wet and steamed inside a handful of seconds. The umbrella was all but useless for her, so she used it to shelter Kurt. "C'mon, sweetie. If they find their mutant, fine - but we can’t let 'em find *you*.”

  Kurt swallowed the last of his muffin, tucked his tail inside his coat, and picked his way back to the trailer they shared. Mud and fur never got on and, amongst other things, Kurt abhorred being cold and wet.

  Jaime was holding the door open for them. He, too, had telepathically divined Celia’s need for chocolate and held a couple of bags of oven-fresh cookies in his sheltering hand.

  “Bless you,” Celia sighed. One packet on the table for immediate consumption, and the other went straight into tupperware for later rationing.

  There was too much to do until she could share them, though.

  One - while Kurt was doing his finicky thing with cleaning himself - carefully remove all traces that he was actually human and sharing living space with her.

  While she was rounding up clues to his human existance, Kurt battled with the porta-cage, a constructible enclosure suitable for watching over sick or wounded animals. Although the long-absent packaging declared it to be easily assembled, Celia had never got the hang of it. Now Kurt was evidently not getting the hang of it either. Soft teutonic curses punctuated the air, accompanied by the gentle clang and crash as bits and pieces of the hated cage either collapsed against each other or defiantly flew out of their appointed place.

  “There’s a bunch of 'em coming up the road,” said Betty through a window. “We’re gonna stall 'em for as long as we can, but get a rattle on, hon.”

  Laundry mixed thoroughly shouldn’t warrant *too* many questions. The pants were easily explained by Kurt’s presence. The DVD’s were cool. They didn’t know her or her preferences. Dish-washing, alas, was going to take up most of her time.

  Beds made, small scatterings tidied away, Kurt… almost done wrestling with that *fucking* cage… dishes in the sink.

  Kurt clambered inside the cage, taking up an animal posture.

  “Shirt! Kurt, your shirt!”

  Kurt looked down in confusion, and took a subjective age to realise that animals didn’t wear shirts. He skinned out of it and handed it through the door. Celia practically flew with it to the laundry basket, and decided to cover up the moisture in the bathroom by having her own shower.

  Thus, when the FOH came, she was wearing little else but a bathrobe.

  “Do you people *mind*?” she hollered. “There’s such a thing as *privacy*, you know.”

  “Feminazi,” muttered one of them.

  “Bull-dyke,” murmured another.

  “…morons…” Celia sub-vocalized.

  They peeked into the more obvious storage spaces, riffled through her underwear, and then uncovered Kurt.

  “Jesus H. Christ on a fucking bicycle… what in hell *is* that?”

  Celia reached for her flashlight. It was one of those old-style metal ones that could, in a pinch, double as a club. “He’s our star, and you're leaving him alone.”

  Kurt, pretending to be asleep, opened one eye and glared at the man. He started a low growl, almost subliminal.

  Not inclined to take a subtle hint, the guy stuck his finger through the metal grid. “So what exactly *is* it?”

  “On the top five: worth more than you’d make in a lifetime, not available for sale, not available for rental, easily aggravated *and* dangerous when provoked.”

  Kurt’s growl went up a notch or three.

  “I’d move if I were you. Especially if you like that finger.”


  “Let’s go, Duke. That Mutie ain’t here.”

  “But what 'bout–”

  “Forget it. It’s already in a cage.”

  Neither of them had noticed that the cage didn’t have a lock on it.

  Celia locked her trailer door and let out the breath she’d been holding since Duke had become overly curious. “Anti-mutant, god-damned *idiots*…” she sighed. She’d only feel true relief when the traffic started moving again, but having them out of the way was a definite plus.

  Kurt, out of the cage and struggling into a clean shirt, gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze.

  “Yeah. They’re gone. Time for the ritual mixing of chocolate and bad cinema.” She reached for the bag of cookies on the table…

  …that were no longer there.

  “–The hell?”

  They’d been on the table a minute ago. She could have *sworn* that those FOH bastards hadn’t gone near it. There was no bag under the table. Nor anywhere in the kitchen. Nor in the temporary storage areas where she might have absently placed them.


  Kurt sniffed. He could still smell them. They’d been on the table, yes… and then they moved… *that* way. He followed the trail, tail twitching, to one of the less-obvious storage spaces.

  {…crnch, crnch, crnch, crnch…}

  Something was *in* there.

  Kurt’s hand paused at the latch, and he sent a brief prayer heavenwards that whatever it was would *not* leap out and scare several years out of both him and Mama-Celia. Preferably something harmless and cute, like a raccoon. They *had* raccoons, here, didn’t they?

  He opened the door.

  And found himself staring into demonic eyes.

  Black sclera. Red iris.

  But still human. Still frightened.

  And he was eating *their* cookies…

  “Dieu…” the stranger breathed.

  Kurt had frozen. He didn’t know what to *do*. “Mama…?”

  “Il parle!”