Out Shopping

The Warm Moon waned above Skymoore, while the Pale Moon was out in full. It was an exceptionally quiet night, and a cold one, but Karessa had Lawrence Dufton to keep her company, and her father’s jacket to keep her warm.

Plus, being a halfling, she was low to the ground, and that made her warmer. Or was that cooler? (Well, definitely cooler. Because, like, you know. She was cool. Double meaning? You get it.)

As they made their way out of the maze of government buildings at the heart of Skymoore, Karessa stopped suddenly. “I can handle the walk from here,” she said. “Thanks again for walking me home.”

Lawrence made a farcical attempt at looking offended. “Don’t trust me to know where you live?”

“I prefer an aura of mystery,” Karessa replied dramatically. Lawrence grinned. “See you at school tomorrow?”

“If I decide to show up,” he said.

“So, no.”

“See you at Assembly on Saturday, though.”

And the premiere!”

“And the premiere.”

“See ya, Lawrence.” “Night, Plunderton.”

The real reason she wouldn’t let Lawrence follow her home is that she didn’t want him to know she lived in the Mish Mash. Down on Solkin, they would’ve called it the slums. It wasn’t just poor, it wasn’t just dirty, it was also kind of a jungle; a tight cluster of homes and businesses, oftentimes with as many as four stacked on top of each other. There were cheap bridges between the upper layers that formed a sort of canopy as well as a convenient smuggling route. Forty percent of the city’s guards were stationed there.

It wasn’t the kind of place one admitted to calling home if they could help it.

Karessa was adept at navigating the Mish Mash with little trouble, but sometimes it was unavoidable. That evening, two figures in dark cloaks loitered close to her home. Dwarves, she guessed, based on their silhouettes. As she approached, the only visible color was the smoldering orange of whatever they were smoking.

“Hey,” one of them called. “Little girl. Want something to forget your troubles?”

“No,” Karessa said, and kept walking.

“Hey, hey, nothing bad, nothing serious,” the other said, blocking Karessa’s path. Definitely a dwarf. His beard was unkempt and had globs of something viscous and green sprinkled throughout. His breath smelled like grapes and alcohol. “It’s just this jam.”



From beneath his cloak, the dwarf produced an unmarked jar about the size of a coffee mug. Sure enough, it contained normal-looking jam.

“No thanks. I’ve got some. Or, you know, I can get some.”

The dwarf shook his head. “Not this stuff. The uh, the health ferrets. Banned the stuff. Totally illegal.”

“Probably not a good idea to put it on my toast, then.”

“No, no. It’s illegal because it’s so good!”

“Oh boy. Well, I’ve really got to get home, but next time I’m craving a PB&J, we’ll be in touch.”

That satisfied them.

Karessa’s home, accessible via ladder, was built on top of a store owned by a cobbler named Dingleob Boelgind. He was a nice enough neighbor, but if you woke him up he wasn’t likely to forgive you for a week, and he’d make sure you know it. Karessa, being the type to come home late, had to be careful to avoid things like creaky rungs, stepping on her balcony with too much force, slamming the door, or being yelled at by her mother with the door open. It only took the slightest noise to wake him.

“Where have you been?!” Karessa’s mother, a portly halfling woman with greasy hair, yelled with the door open. “It’s practically dawn! Tell me you’re not out there whoring or drugging or jamming or whatever it is they’re doing these days.” She was sitting spread out on their sofa, a perpetually half-finished novel on her lap.

“The theater, mom,” Karessa said, setting her bag down by the door and kicking off her shoes. “I’ve got the premiere tomorrow, remember?”

“Oh, that’s right,” her mother grumbled. “I must’ve just forced myself to forget. I can’t believe my only daughter is wasting her life with that garbage.”

“Thanks, mom,” Karessa said, and began boiling some water atop the wood stove in the kitchen, which was technically the same room, separated only by the transition from hardwood to tile flooring. “Want some tea?”

“No,” she said. “I’ll be in bed before it’s ready. You shouldn’t be making a snack this late anyway. We don’t need you any fatter.”

Karessa hummed to herself as sliced some bread. She suddenly had a craving for jam.

“Do you know where your father is?”

“Out shopping,” Karessa said.

“This late?”

“Oh, you know how the Mish Mash is. You get all the best deals this time of day.”

“Hmm. Okay. Well, I guess I’m going to bed without him.”

Karessa kissed her mother on the forehead and helped her across the room to her door. Her mother nearly tumbled over twice on the short trip. “Goodnight, mom.”

After enjoying her tea and her bread, Karessa cleaned up the many glass bottles on the sofa, placed a bookmark in the novel, and put her pillow on the armrest. She used her father’s jacket as a blanket.


“Did you leave this bread out overnight?” Karessa’s mother demanded in the morning. “It’s all stale, now! I was going to have a sandwich for breakfast! Good for nothing, I swear.”

“Sorry, mom,” Karessa said as he prepared her bag for the day.

“Oh, and where do you think you’re going? To get more bread, I hope.”

“School, mom. It’s Friday. And I’ve gotta be at Luminous all night for the premiere. You should come.”

Her mother scoffed. “Get a real job. I’ll show up for that. Something that puts bread on the table.”

“Thanks, mom.” There was no point in reminding her about Odd & Ends. Karessa wasn’t in the mood for it.

“Do you know where your father is?”

“Out shopping,” Karessa said.

“This early?”

“Oh, you know how the Mish Mash is. You get all the best deals this time of day.”

“Hmm. Getting bread, I hope.”

Karessa kissed her mom on the forehead, and maintained a smile until she made it out the door. She slumped against it, and sighed.

“Oh, good morning, Mr. Boelgind,” she said as she climbed down the ladder. “Have a good night’s sleep?”

He glowered at her in silence as she made her way down the street. Just as well. She wasn’t in the mood to talk. After all, she was already going to be late for school; the nearest bakery was fifteen minutes away.


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