Jackie gently rocked the porch swing back and forth. It was a warm day and she could feel the sun on her legs. The rest of her seemed to be in shadow. Ka Li sat to her left, her imaginary friend Alice to the right. It looked like Ka Li was sewing, but Jackie couldn’t exactly taste it out. She could taste a variety of flowers in the air though.
“What kind of flowers do you have here. I don’t recognize any.”
Ka Li laughed. “You’d have to ask Pierre, I probably couldn’t even tell you with certainty what a rose is.”
“Some taste nice. Like the yellow ones over there. Wait, no, what color are those to you?”
“The red ones you mean?”
“Yeah. They taste yellow to me. They’re… sour. Do you know what sour is? Oh yeah, there’s a word for it, so yeah.”
“I wouldn’t say sour. Or… I don’t know, I’m talking about the smell now.”
“When Calico told me to turn at least 100 people here into Akanames, I wasn’t going to do it, but I’d kinda like to have a community here. Just so we could decide on names for the flavors other beings can’t perceive. The big ones at least. There are like thousands of flavors I can taste.”
“You could name all of them. We also have like ten-thousand different colors. All named this-yellow or that-yellow though. Wait, can you see new colors too? Like, it’s not limited to the color receptors in your eyes right? What colors can your tongue see?”
“I don’t know if I see new colors. But it’s easier to distinguish between red and a slightly darker red.”
“Are the colors of flavors universal or do yours differ from others?”
“It’s all the same.”
Ka Li stopped her maybe-knitting for a moment to ponder.
“Have you turned anyone here yet?”
“No. As far as I know there’s only me, Milly, Oubastet and Mordecai here…” “Those are your friends then? How are they?”
“All very lovely. Milly I met when I still hated myself like this. She had like three pairs of parents, one of them were Akanames too. Until I met them I thought we were all baby-eating freaks. And there probably are some really vile ones among us. When people keep wanting to see you a monster, they only let you live as one.”
“Wow, alright.” Ka Li said faintly.
“When I first encountered others of my kind, I hated them. But I'm glad I got over that. Makes me feel less alone now.”
Ka Li hummed affirmatively.
“Milly is a sweet kid, but of course losing her parents three times was hard on her. She’s a lot like me. Wanted to be independent, attached to nobody because they all die anyway. Made some bad decisions. But she got better on our journey. She’s a real artist. I think she’ll be really good in a few years. She even drew me something, hold on...”
Jackie pulled a folded piece of paper from her pocket.
“Unfortunately I never got to see it.” she gave it to Ka Li, who folded it open and said:
“Oh, it’s you! Didn’t look much different then.”
“Never had time for fashion stores or getting a haircut at the strip mall.” Jackie joked.
“The small one who holds your hand with her tongue, that’s Milly, right?”
“Fancy tights. They look witch-y.”
“She’s likes those. It's hard to get colorful clothes, especially as a kid.”
“Who’s the red outline?”
“There’s the red outline of a person next to you.”
“Oh… that’s probably Alice. Milly didn’t know what she looked like. She’s one of my best friends.”
“Why wasn’t she with you?” Jackie could feel Alice paying close attention.
“She’s… kind of invisible. To anyone but me.”
“Is she like a Banshee or something?”
“A ghost, essentially.”
“Uh, yeah, kinda. She’s been always with me, even when I was all alone.”
“Is she here right now?”
“Yeah… sitting next to me.”
“You know, here on Nalisatna Banshee’s often possess hoodies so people can see them.”
“I don’t think Alice can do that though.”
“Yeah… things probably work a little different in your world. Can you talk with her or can you just see her?
“Well, I still have no eyes, so I can only taste her, but yeah, I can communicate with her.”
“That’s fascinating. How does that work with you two then?”
“I love her and she loves me. We don’t share my body though, we don’t even know how that would work, it’s only ever me in control. Though, I think she’d like just running around, talking to people. And she’s always been a big fan of the tongue. Our friend Chloe actually shares a body with Susi and they can switch control. But it's a different thing entirely for them.”
“I'm not familiar with such cases at all, I wish I could help.”
“I'd like to let Alice explore the world on her terms but i don't know how well I'd handle being in the backseat. It's scary.”
Alice said: “I’d be cool with trying it. You could have your body back whenever you like.”
“I’ll think about it.” Jackie stopped rocking the swing. Ka Li gave her the picture and she put it back in her pocket.
“Okay… how was your childhood? You’ve been an Akaname all your life, right?”
“Oh, no. Not until I was ten. I don’t remember the time before and the time afterwards kind of sucked.”
“How old are you now anyway?”
“I’ve no idea. I was locked into a room when I was ten and I don’t know how long I was in there.”
“I would’ve guessed you to be about fourteen.”
“Really, fourrteen? Do I look that young? I would’ve thought sixteen or so… But yeah, I guess?”
“What is something you always wanted to do then?”
“Hmm… what do kids usually want to do?”
“Uh, climb a tree, catch a fish… little things like that. Heh, my son really wanted to build a tree house because his friend had one. Had it right up there in the oak. Had to take it down last summer, it was fourteen years old.”
“A tree house…” Jackie repeated.
“You wanna make a new one? It’d be much easier with your tongue. I think we’d even have enough materials in the shed.”
“I’ve only torn a house down before, I’ve no idea how to build one.”
It’s easy, just hammer the planks in where you want ‘em.”
“C’mon, let’s do it!” Ka Li jumped up and hopped towards the shed. Jackie stood up lazily and followed.
“Okay, how much can you carry.”
“I don't think super-strength is one of my powers. But I managed to drag some cars around once.”
“Yeah, using some math shit. Leverage. My tongue isn't very strong but it can withstand a lot of force.”
“For some reason I didn’t think you would have cars in your world.”
“I don’t… it was, uh… part of some surreal hellscape.”
Ka Li chuckled unconvinced. “Wait, what?”
“It’s a really long story and this one I know barely anything about.”
“Well… okay, let's just take a couple trips instead of working your tongue into some contraption.”
Ka Li reached her a handful of planks which Jackie grabbed and carried over to the oak.
“See, way easier.” Ka Li said and gave her more planks.
Once all the material and tools were moved over, Ka Li relocated the garden table herself and got two glasses, as well as three bottles from the kitchen.
“What do you want, water, cola or pixie?”
“I only know what water is.” Jackie admitted.
“Cola is sweet, it’s got caffeine and tastes a little syrup-y. It’s not Allister Zero though,so it’ll get warm. Pixie potions… I don’t know, I didn’t drink that in ages. It’s something they made back on Earth and Felomania found the recipe on the internet and revived it. It’s supposed to be good.”
“I’ll take the Earth drink then.”
Jackie sat down on the grass and Ka Li reached her her glass.
Ka Li leaned against the table. “Pierre doesn’t even let me water his flowers. Feels good to finally do something in the garden again.”
Jackie drank up and licked her lips. “Wow, this is good.”
“They were trying to make it taste like how kids would imagine magic potions would taste like.”
“Do you have magic in this world?” Jackie asked.
“Yeah. Don’t ask me about it, though, I know nothing about that.”
“We do too at home. I don’t think we’ve got magic potions though.”
“We don’t either. At least as far as I know. That drink is all we got.”
Jackie put her glass on the table.
“Are you ready to build a deathtreehouse?” Ka Li challenged her.
“The deathest treehouse there is… the best there is.” Ka Li explained. Sorry, you probably don’t have the same slang in your world.
“Ah, alright. Let’s do the deathest treehouse in the world then.”
“Okay, you climb up there and I’ll reach you things.”
“Where would be a good spot?”
“You see those u-shaped branches there, the thick ones?” Ka Li pointed upwards.
Jackie maneuvered her tongue to where she thought Ka Li meant. “There?”
“Yeah. The branches are almost parallel to each other, it’s perfect.”
Jackie took hold of a branch and pulled herself up, using her tongue as a rope. She had never climbed a tree before though, so it looked rather awkward.
“You need to learn to make that look more elegant. This looked like something out of Goat Simulator.” Ka Li laughed.
“Goats are cute.” Jackie insisted.
“Okay, I’ll give you a plank and we test out if we need to cut it down.”
Jackie let go of the branch and took a plank from Ka Li, her arms still clutching the branch. For some reason she was afraid of falling. She had never been this high up before. That probably wasn't true. Maybe she just didn’t want to fall on Ka Li. She placed the plank on the two branches. It stood out too far over the branches and curved slightly.
“If we’re doing this right, you’d mark where I’d have to cut it.”
“I have a pencil here.” Ka Li held a hand up and Jackie took it. She marked where the plank overshot the branches and lowered it back down to Ka Li to be sawn off.
“Good!” Ka Li said and then cut off the piece on the ground. Next she held up a hammer and a nail, which Jackie carefully took. The board was nailed to the tree and several boards followed until there was a nice platform in the tree. Jackie already felt a sense of accomplishment and wore a big grin.
“Wanna do another break?” Ka Li shoved one of the garden chairs to the table.
Jackie let herself down by the tongue while Ka Li also got her a chair.
“I never thought a tongue could be so versatile.”
Jackie sat down with her tongue still hanging in the tree, deciding to try cola this time.
Ka Li sat down with a content sigh. “Hope it’s not warm yet.”
“It’d be just like home.”
“Did you have no refrigerators?”
“Didn’t have electricity, except in the fancy places like Paradise or Angelblood.”
“What kind of name is Angelblood?”
“Uh, meteors. Lots of them crashed into the place and people said it was the crystallized blood of angels.”
“At least sounds more interesting than ‘Red City’ or ‘Greenville’.”
“What’s this place here called anyway?”
“It's Red City. I'm not sure why it's called that. I know Greenville was named that because someone decided we needed to continue the color theme.”
“That’s not bad. At home, most places are named after geographical or historical stuff. Blackwater because of the lake full of black snakes. Fogline because the river running through it emits a thick fog at night. Ambestrix’ Gash because the giant space dragon Ambestrix clawed it into the earth in her death throes.”
“That sounds better actually… Can you drink with your tongue out?”
“Yeah, then I can easily get back up. Also, it’s more comfortable to have it out rather than tightly stuffed inside me.”
“I’d imagine it feels really weird to have part of you be all the way up there. Like sometimes I already freak out about how far away my feet are.”
“Of course it’s weird. Especially since I can individually control every inch of it.”
“That sounds really complicated to manage.”
“It’s strangely intuitive.” she put her tongue in her hand, “Like if I wanted to move this specific part, it’s very easy to find where that is.” she demonstrated by curling the part she held. Then she grinned embarrassed and put her face in her hands.
“Sorry, I feel like I’m just gushing about this all day. But I finally understand Alice’ enthusiasm. It’s just really cool.”
“Well, I keep asking you. Once we had a Asterian kid here and we had weeks long conversations about Asterians. I’m just a really curious woman.”
“What are Asterians?”
“They’re… animal humans. She was a squid, so she had tentacle arms and could spit ink.”
“You should tell me about this place, I’m gonna live here for at least five years.”
“Heh, I don’t know much, last year us humans still thought we were alone on this planet. You’ll have to explore the world yourself.”
“That could be fun. I don’t wanna stay all five years here, not that I don’t like it with you. Maybe I’ll come visit every once in a while.”
“You’re always welcome. I can tell you a bit about Asterians though. Dayesha moved in with us shortly after Xenobeings revealed themselves. She had always been curious about humans.”
“Why did they hide in the first place?”
“Well, most species here are magic-based and the few that use technology aren’t really advanced with it. Then a giant spaceship lands and people with cars and flashy billboards came out and of course that freaked everyone out. So they hid to see what these people were up to and over time humans spread over most of the planet. Then after over 300 years, a bunch of events happen and humans became aware of all the other beings living here. Some humans are cool with it, some are kinda prejudiced and the really bad ones now live down in Last Hope behind a big wall.”
“Well… at least you didn’t take over the land by killing everyone in it. That’s what my humans did.”
“Sorry to hear that. But yeah, not as much damage on our side. Anyway Dayesha was a real sweetheart. Asterians lived all over the place but mostly in West Kekrem and Maddrak. They live in simple villages, not these pompous skyscrapers like the inner city. They had electricity from windmills but only used it for reasonable things.”
“Are they all different animals?”
“Yeah, well, there are duplicates of course, but even two of the same animal can look different. Some birds have wings additionally to arms and some have them replacing them. Some have squid legs, some arms.”
“Do you have mermaids?”
“We do. You just don’t see them often because most can’t live outside the ocean.”
“Do they hang out at the beach sometimes?”
“Some do, but only those that can breathe air of course.”
“I wanna meet a mermaid.”
“Don’t we all?”
Jackie remembered her cola. It was warm but still good. Syrupy and sweet.
“Alright, let’s finish this” Jackie announced, got up and got her foot caught in her tongue, falling in the grass.
“You really need to get more elegant.” Ka Li giggled.
“Could happen to anyone.” Jackie said, lifted herself off the ground and climbed up the tree.
Next, four poles were put on the platform to support the following walls. Ka Lie reminded Jackie to not forget the windows or door. Jackie left a small balcony at the tree house front. The actual house could probably cram four people and a small table inside.
“Will we do a pointy roof?” Jackie asked.
“Is that just how houses are built here or is there a reason?”
“So rain doesn’t get stuck on top.”
“Does it rain that often here?”
“More than in your desert home I presume.”
“I’ve never seen rain before.”
“Do you think you would enjoy it?”
“Does rain taste good?”
“Yeah. It’s pretty clean, we don’t get any acid rain over here.”
“What? it rains acid on this planet?”
“It’s just sour and polluted, it won’t melt your skin off.”
“...was about to say.”
“You wanna do the last break before doing the roof?”
“Sure.” Jackie let herself down once more.
“Guess I’ll take the water this time.”
“It’s warm too, but it’s Kizzlejack, so it doesn’t really matter.”
“Is it that good?”
“See for yourself.” Ka Li filled her glass. “Oh, do you have Shandari in your world?”
“Oh, you don't? I’d assumed they’re everywhere, but yeah, they weren’t on Earth either.”
“No… granted I’ve only been really living at home for like, a month tops. The rest I spent in some underground hideout or something.”
“That’s terrible. Shandari, some call them Demons, they’re like humans except they have a tail and wings sometimes. Sometimes they’re naturally ripped too.”
“That sounds awesome.”
“I have yet to meet one. Dayesha is the only Xenobeing I've met so far. And you of course.”
“You’ve also mentioned Fleshless at some point? Sounds spooky.”
“Dayesha mentioned them but didn’t know much either. Just that they’re ghosts but unlike Banshees can’t manipulate their surroundings with magic. Because they have no magic. Instead they have to possess people. And they’re born like that, without bodies.”
“How does that work?”
“Well, actually, they aren’t born anymore. They can’t reproduce. But they can’t be killed either.”
“Are they cool though?”
“From what I heard, yes. But you don’t hear much because they’re often either completely imperceptible or don’t really tell you about it, if they have a body.”
“Weird. What else is there?”
“Ummm… the light fairies. I don’t remember how they call themselves. Weird beings. Even when full grown, they still look like little kids. And they have no eyes, just these alien antennas and bug wings.”
“Even if they’re super old, they still look like kids? Or more like small people?”
“I guess they're just small but they look like kids to most people. They’re literally made of light, so they don’t age and decay like us.”
“How can you be made of light?”
“We’ve also got beings made of shadow.”
“But shadow is… nothing. It’s the absence of light, how can something be made of the lack of something?”
“At least my home’s species made sense… except for the Tumor God abominations.”
“Wow, that sounds awful. Tell me about the normal ones first.”
“There’s Ambriz. They’re… they tasted just like humans… the shape of them I mean. Maybe skinnier than the average human. They’re part plant, so they don’t need to eat, just drink and sun themselves, maybe that’s why.”
“That’s boring, if they’re all skinny.”
“They still got muscles, weird vine ones probably, but they could get buff, at least? But yeah, everyone in my world is skinny. Since Paradise and Angelblood hoard all the food, letting us kill each other over scraps. Nobody can really get a Jackalope farm going because people will just eat them right out of the pen. Needlebeasts are easy to hunt but actually aren’t nutritious at all. It’s dangerous to hunt anything else because of the Horse Wolves that roam further in.”
“You could probably deal with some wolves, can’t you?”
“Not Horse Wolves, fuck no! They’re taller than me and can split their snouts normally and vertically, just because that makes it easier to bite your fucking head off. Besides, I love wolves, I couldn’t hurt them. Especially after meeting Gawn.”
“A friendly Horse Wolf, who for some reason made it his mission to protect this girl, Penny. They’re actually very smart and nice, but also very protective of their territory. Luckily, this one didn’t attack if Penny didn’t seem threatened. But still, the only thing scarier than these beasts is probably the Tidewalker. Or whatever else lives deep inside the Dreadlands.”
“You’ve got lots of fucked up ominous shit over there.” Ka Li said frankly.
“I wanna try that water now though.”
“Oh, right, here.”
Ka Li poured her a glass full. “I wanna ask about so many things you mentioned. But we’d sit here forever then.”
“Yeah.” Jackie liked the water. It was like drinking liquid thunder. Not electric, but rather like how the weather feels like on the ground. If the rain was as wild and sharp as the lightning. Like water from a fast river waterfall, if the situation of the water was part of the taste. Strange to say, but it was probably her favourite of the three drinks.
Jackie lifted herself up the tree again. She tried to make it look cool but gave up halfway through.
“Hey, not to be an old woman but can you help me get up?” Ka Li shouted up.
Jackie fashioned her tongue into a safety cord as Ka Li climbed up the ladder they nailed to the tree.
Ka Li took two boards and held them vertically in a triangle shape. “Rather than explaining the framework I could just hold it in place and you hammer it in, right?”
Not long after, the roof was finished. The treehouse still lacked furniture but both of them were content just sitting on the floorboards.
“Now you can invite your friends over!” Ka Li cheered.
“Feels really weird to be in a house up in a tree.” Jackie couldn’t stop the proud smile.
Ka Li leaned back against the wall. From outside they could hear a “...What?” and then Pierre shouting up: “Ka Li?”
Ka Li crawled onto the balcony and sat on it’s edge. “Hello!”
“Why is there a treehouse?”
“Jackie and I built one. We got a kid living with us again, so we gotta have a treehouse.”
“Did you climb up that?” Pierre gestured at the crude ladder.
“Jackie helped me.”
Pierre told her to be careful and Jackie helped him up as well. He inspected their work and then turned to them: “This one’s way better made than that old thing we had.”
“Well, Jackie’s got a green thumb, no, wait…”
Pierre sat down with them and they both gave Jackie a hug. She remembered what it feels to feel home again.