Tuesday D’amato smells it, but thinks it’s a bad dream. Then Trystram and Ysolde’s claws tack-tack-tack up the stairs as they flee the basement, and they mewl so loud they’ll wake Delilah. Cats are so needy. So Tuesday gets up and opens the basement door, and they flee for the safety of the bedroom, while he takes in the musty smell. Like sweat on copper pennies.
There are two water leaks down there. Physical water is at least two inches deep in the gloom, lapping around the base of the stairs and the boxes from two years ago that he still hasn’t unpacked. His fault, he’s resigned, and he doesn’t care about that water. The other water, a ghost leak, shimmers halfway up the stairs, and translucent trout swim in the air.
“Except they’re not trout,” he corrects himself. It’s late and he’s groggy. He pads back into the bedroom, careful not to wake Delilah. Trystram and Ysolde are already in his closet, twining around his iron harpoon. Ninety-nine percent iron, a ghost’s least favorite metal. Delilah had just about killed him when he ordered it, but it kept coming in handy.
Tuesday D’amato hastens back to the stairs and sits at the top. He stirs the second water, the spectral water leak, with the tip of his harpoon, and the things that look like trout spook and swim away, into the recesses of the basement. Of course they look like trout. The ghost pipes are leaking directly above his unpacked boxes, and so they’ve gotten into his mementos, and they know all his childhood memories. About him falling in the water while fishing.
The trout fleeing, he rests the harpoon on the third stair down. The tide is climbing and he’ll need to keep an eye out until the ghost water dissipates back into another plane of existence. Then he’ll need to call a plumber. The super better cover this.
He doesn’t realize he’s grown nervous, that his bare feet are shifting on the top stair as though begging him to run. He doesn’t realize anything until Delilah touches his shoulder, and then he jerks up at her. He’s never been so relieved her head isn’t a trout.
“What is it, Big D’am?” she asks, pushing on his shoulder until he slides over. Then she plops down beside him, her hip rubbing against his. She’s wielding a night gown and that precious tablet of hers.
“Another leak,” he says, gesturing at an errant spectral trout with his iron harpoon. “Got to make sure it doesn’t rise to this floor.”
“Mhm. Mhm,” she says, turning on her tablet. “Anything neat in the water this time?”
Tuesday D’amato so tired that he forgets how to answer, and he rests his head against the harpoon. Sweat on iron does not smell the same as sweat on copper, at least not when you’re afraid for your life. Or when you’re relieved for company.
Delilah takes his head from the harpoon and instead lays it on one half of her broad lap. He can’t argue; it’s more cushioned here. But she doesn’t baby him, rather staring down into the retinal screen, booting up an avatar to slay digital ghouls for better loot drops. As the beeps and squelches and high-def MP3 soundtracks whirr into being, he wonders if there are harpoons in her game. She always plays the same one, never buying different ones, only the sequels to this. He doesn’t understand the game. He doesn’t like the game. So why, he wonders as he hears the attack sound for the two-millionth and thirty-thousandth time while resting his temple against her knee, does he find that sound soothing?
“Got to keep watch,” he says, trying to blink sleep from his eyes, trying to blink sight back into them. The ghost water laps five steps down now; he thinks it’s receding, draining into another dimension. “Got to keep us safe.”
The two million, thirty-thousand and first attack noise is her first response. Then there’s a little victory tune, and she strokes his temple with the back of her hand. “I know, and you always do. Lucky you don’t have to stop the Ghoul Lords from breaking out of the digital dimension.”
“Yeah,” he murmurs into her lap. He’s glad he bought her the silk nightgown for Christmas. “That work seems hard, too. How do you keep it up?”
“Hm?” she asks, eyes already diving back into the game, new attack noises sprouting up as she slays the undead trapped into silicon chips. “It helps having someone who understands.”