“Due to budgetary restraints, all light sources and paper have been temporarily or permanently excised from meetings of the Skymoore PTA. If you are a creature who depends on light to see, we recommend providing your own illumination. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
The message, carved directly onto the door of a thin shack squeezed amongst Skymoore’s government district, was an inauspicious beginning to Alice Plunderton’s reintegration into the community. The Parent-Teacher Association could at times be a tense space, but it was typically a pleasant one. And a well-lit one. With paper.
Still, at the beginning of Autumn an evil sorcerer tried to send her entire neighborhood into a dark portal and nearly succeeded. If Alice could make it through that, she could handle some dim lighting.
She felt along the wall as made her way down the stairs placed immediately within the shack. As the building widened and flattened at the bottom, she began to feel a bit lost at sea, with nothing to hold on to, in almost pitch darkness. Alice was grateful to be a halfling then, as it was at least unlikely she would hit her head.
Dim light came at last, a single candle on the wall which illuminated a banner bearing the familiar chain-link insignia of Pulldrid’s Academy. An arrow guided her to the right, and only then did she realize she was now in a more modern building, with painted walls and numbered doors.
Some more fumbling through the darkness brought Alice into a spacious conference room, lit sparsely by lanterns, candles, orbs, and the luminescent skin of Blorp the Glow Frog. Participants were taking their seats at various long tables; against the back wall, an inscrutable chalkboard displayed the day’s agenda. A black curtain was drawn over one of the corners of the room – Alice averted her gaze immediately, remembering just in time that The Cabal watched over these meetings, and that their presence was not to be acknowledged or even implied.
Alice recognized several teachers she did not especially care for, and the first friendly face she saw was an unexpected one, that of Habit Weisman, who drove the bus coach that transported people around the Mish Mash. He looked elated to see her.
“Alice! I’d heard rumors that – but I didn’t think – oh, it’s so good to see you out and about again.”
“It’s so good to be out,” she said, taking a seat beside him. “And to see a friend. How’s Mr. Tabah?”
“It’s Mr. Tabah-Weisman, now, actually. Yeah, we finally tied the knot last spring. And he’s great! We’re great. Everything’s…Alice, if you don’t mind my asking –” Alice shook her head “– I’d heard Karessa wasn’t going to school anymore. That she’d…dropped out?”
Alice tensed up. “I’m still a parent. I’m still concerned about this city’s education. Stupid children don’t help anyone. Just because my girl made some bad choices, doesn’t mean –”
Habit put up his hands defensively. “No, of course not.”
“I have to admit I’m surprised to see you here. You didn’t strike me as the Parent-Teacher Association type. Whenever mentioned a meeting, you practically dozed off.”
Habit frowned. “Oh, no. Didn’t you hear about the budget cuts?”
“Lights and paper, yeah. We’ll live without pamphlets, I suppose.”
He shook his head. “No, it’s…oh, it’s starting.”
At a podium by the chalkboard, a barely-visible stout person cleared their throat, receiving everyone’s attention. “Good evening, everyone,” they said. “I am of course Paris T. Augman, and as always I am the president and supervisor of this PTA meeting. Before we get onto the main event, our wealthiest and most cubic patron…I mean “participant,” would like to have a word. Everyone please welcome Jerun Pollin, representing the Pagan Theology Assembly!”
One person clapped, another coughed awkwardly, as the sentient jelly cube who ran Skymoore’s only semi-reputable bank took the stage. A string of Severance Day lights floated in its gelatinous form.
“Good evening,” Jerun Pollin droned. “The end is upon us all, and I would like to begin this PTA meeting by preparing us for it. That is, of course, accomplished by spreading the word of Rohypnar, Eternal Lord of the Stars, the Sky, the Sea, the Earth, and All That Ever Was or Will Be…”
“What is this?” Alice whispered. “Why is…wait…”
Habit nodded. “I think you’re getting it now. Sharla Darkholm over there? Representing Pretty Treasured Agriculture. Ingrid Nittlepick? She’s from the Pristine Table Academy. Due to budget cuts, all the PTA organizations are forced to meet simultaneously.”
“How does anything get done?”
Habit shrugged. “Mostly, it doesn’t. We take the floor in an order determined by a Potato Tossing Activity, then we give a Presentation That’s Awesome as we eat our Pies That Aren’t. The presentations detail the issues facing our respective industries, and then we argue about how to distribute that month’s PTA budget. A lot of us just come for the free food and the potato toss.”
“So who decides what our children eat for lunch? What they learn in their classes? What routes our bus coaches drive?”
Habit forced a smile. “It’s decided by, uh…” Alice could see him resisting the urge to address the black curtain. “Upper government.”
“…and that’s why donating to my church is the surest way to avoid being boiled alive in the acidic haze that will become of our world in the coming days. Thank you for your time.”
Paris reclaimed their podium as Jerun squelched back to its seat. “Thank you, Jerun! Informative as always. We can always count on you for financial advice and spiritual guidance. Now, one more quick matter; actually quick, this time. After years of absence, today we are rejoined by the lovely Alice Plunderton. Mrs. Plunderton, why don’t you reintroduce yourself?
When Alice returned to the single room subterranean emergency housing unit she now shared with her daughter, Karessa was strumming absentmindedly on the guitar she was half-heartedly trying to learn.
“Sounds beautiful,” Alice said.
“Mom, I’m not even really playing,” Karessa said.
Some variant of this comprised most of their conversations.
After Alice spent a significant length of time sitting in their bed, not really looking at the book she was ostensibly reading, Karessa tried again.
“So, I was right about the meeting being terrible?”
Alice sighed. “I thought you were just being a teen. Things really have gotten…different, around town.”
“You mean worse.”
She didn’t say anything for a moment. Karessa plucked at the strings a few times, a few discordant notes that didn’t go anywhere. “I wish your father was here. He was always the one who was good at spinning situations like this.”
“Yeah,” Karessa said, strumming together something that vaguely resembled a chord. “Yeah…”
Karessa didn’t really play, and Alice didn’t really read, until the two of them didn’t really go to sleep.