Good Night


eileen_icon.gif odette_icon.gif

Scene Title Good Night
Synopsis Christmas comes to Sedro-Woolley.
Date December 24, 2017

Sedro-Woolley Colony

It looks like it’s going to be a White Christmas.

Dark clouds billow and open like smoke as the breeze carries them off the mountains and down into Skagit Valley even though they’re impossible for Odette to see, no matter how far she cranes her neck or squints her eyes.

The sun sets earlier here than she can ever remember it setting in her short life, carving days into just a few short hours. Night seems to last much longer. Sometimes her life feels like it’s all shadows and fires guttering in steel drums outside, the sound of rain beating against the glass window of her bedroom and voices—

There are so many voices.

None of them are talking about the first flakes of snow that have begun to gather on the trees or on Odette’s window. Or at least not directly. She doesn’t have to press a hand to it if she wants to feel the cold — all she has to do is get too close to the glass and watch as her breath transforms into a fine, silver fog.

“You’re going to freeze,” someone is saying on the other side of her bedroom door. “You’re going to lose people, horses. Those pipes your people put down in the ground will burst.”

“I know,” another voice answers, and this one Odette recognizes.

“You need electricity, Ruskin. Reliable electricity.”

“I know that, too.”

“So take the deal,” the first voice insists. Odette thinks it belongs to a man. He sounds polished, like he should be wearing a business suit with all the buttons fastened. “Your generators eat fuel faster than you can scavenge it. What are they, diesel?”

The room that Odette calls her home is surrounded by color and warmth, even if it’s cold the closer she gets to the window. Her pale blue nightdress is covered by a warmer housecoat in dark red that’s got long sleeves and faux fur on the collar and cuffs. A fuzzy hat and she could pretend to be one of Santa’s elves with her auburn hair loose around her shoulders.

She doesn’t know everything that’s going on, why people aren’t more happy to see the pretty snow, but she understands lose people.

Picking up one of her many stuffed animals, this one Usagi-hime, a white half anthropomorphic rabbit with a pink ribbon around one of her droopy ears up into her arms and hugs her tight as she steps toward the door and opens it, hearing one of the voices she knows best among those here. “Aunt Leenie?” she asks, as she peeks through the cracks.

Illuminated by a sliver of light, Aunt Leenie stands at the top of the stairs with a man Odette has never seen before. As she suspected, he’s dressed in a suit, albeit with a heavy wool coat worn overtop to trap additional warmth close to his body. He’s compact, with dark hair, dark eyes, and an olive complexion.

Both of them turn to look in the direction of Odette’s small voice.

Only one of them smiles, and it isn’t the stranger.

“Come,” says Eileen, beckoning Odette to her, and gathers the girl up in her arms. She’s similarly dressed for bed in her familiar silk slip and dark, hunter’s green housecoat made of dense wool cinched high on her waist.

The gloves she wears are something softer rather than the calfskin pair Odette is accustomed to seeing her wear during the day, allowing her to stroke fingers through her hair and cradle her head against her shoulder.

“My employers are prepared to give you an advance right now,” the stranger continues, undeterred by Odette’s appearance, “in an exchange for your promise. Think about what you could do with solar panels, a water filtration system—”

He stops himself short as Eileen cuts him a look across the top of Odette’s head that the girl doesn’t see. “We make decisions as a group,” she says, voice gentle, careful. “The four of us. I’ll discuss it with them, see how they feel.”

“This isn’t Snoqualmie. You don’t have their infrastructure, or a hydroelectric plant—”

“Good night, Mr. Shih.” And Mr. Shih looks like he might say more still, but the appearance of two long shadows at the bottom of the stairs makes him hesitate. “We’ll be in touch,” Eileen adds, not unkindly. “Please give your employers our regards.”

The stuffed rabbit ends up half smooshed between them as Odette is happily pulled up into the small woman’s arms. An arm goes up on her shoulder to hand squeezing on the collar of her coat as dark eyes peer out toward the stranger, who doesn’t seem to be happy about anything. Instead of saying anything to the man she doesn’t know, she shifts enough to free a rabbit arm and uses it to wave goodbye to him.

Usagi-hime is saying goodbye, not her.

“Did you come to read me a story?” she asks the blue-eyed woman now with her soft gloved hand holding her head now that the conversation seems to be finished.

Mr. Shih descends the steps, his briefcase tucked under his arm, and disappears from view.

“It’s past your bedtime, little peach.” Eileen carries Odette back into the bedroom, but leaves the door yawning open behind them. There’s a chance, she knows, that Lang or Tara might happen down the hallway. “And mine.”

She sinks down onto the bed and swing both her feet up onto the sagging mattress, drawing Odette even closer. The fire burning in the hearth on the other side of the room is not enough to warm it thoroughly, so the Englishwoman swiftly bundles the two of them up together in Odette’s quilt and goose down comforter.

“I’ll tell you one, though. How about that?”

“Princess Usa doesn’t like him,” the little girl says as she looks back toward the stairs and the man who’s no longer in them. Which probably means she didn’t like him. “He looked mean.” As she looks back, though, she has a smile on her face, brightening the pale skin and touching the corners of her eyes. “I couldn’t sleep, I was watching the snow. It’s pretty.” At least in this she doesn’t blame one of her stuffed animals for her being up.

Just the weather.

“I didn’t know you had a bedtime too. Does everyone have a bedtime? Does daddy have a bedtime?”

There are so many questions to ask, but instead, she leaves it at that last one.

“Everyone has a bedtime,” Eileen says. “Emile and Iago, too. Even Mr. Shih from San Francisco.” She doesn’t tell Odette that she doesn’t like him, either — it’s perhaps not the sort of thing one confides in small children.

“Once upon a time,” she tries, instead, “in a very faraway jungle, high on the top of a mountain inside the clouds, there lived a prince named Aquila. Aquila was strong, and he was handsome, and he lived in a magnificent stone castle hidden by the mist, but he was lonely, too, because Aquila wasn’t always very nice. In fact, he had only one friend: a rumpled old owl named Hector, who used to be a man before he was cursed by a sorceress.”

She speaks slowly, cautiously, with the quiet deliberateness of someone who’s making the story up as she goes along, because she is. “Aquila wasn’t very nice to Hector, either, even though they were friends,” she continues. “Every time he came down from the top of the mountain to visit the village nestled in the foothills below, he would tie Hector’s feet to his glove and carry him on his arm so he couldn’t fly away.”

It’s not difficult for Odette to understand that this story has a sad middle. A lot of stories have a bad middle, that’s what makes the end happy! As she listens, she keeps her eyes wide, looking on as she takes in the story. The rabbit plushie even seems to be listening, but she’s not, even if Odette holds one of her ears up a little. To squeeze it like she’s holding onto the collar of the woman’s night robe.

“Was the prince trying to protect Hector?” she asks curiously because that is why someone might try to keep a friend from flying away. Instead of thinking bad of the prince.

Eileen hesitates. “In a way he was trying to protect him,” she concedes. “Sometimes princes like Aquila do bad things to the people they care about because they want to keep them safe, or because they’re worried about losing them.”

She reaches up and curls a strand of Odette’s hair around her knuckle before tucking it neatly behind her ear. “Hector knew this, though, and every night before Aquila locked him in his cage, he would say good night, my prince, I’ll see you in the morning, and Aquila would say good night, Hector, I suppose I will.

“Until one morning, when Aquila woke up and went to put on his finest clothes for his daily trip down to the village, he noticed that Hector’s cage was very quiet. He wanted to see what was the matter, so said to the still-dark room, good morning, my friend. And a voice answered: Good morning, my prince. But the voice was not Hector’s voice.”

The little girl’s hand tightens on the collar of the robe, a worried look in her brown eyes. The story might be short, but Odette is already invested. “Who was it!?” she asks immediately, afraid for the owl and the prince.

“It was a big black snake,” answers Eileen, suddenly decisive, “an anaconda, and although Aquila didn’t know it, she was the sorceress in disguise. I have eaten your friend, she told him.” She regrets leaving the door open, perhaps, on the off-chance it isn’t Lang who stops to check in.


“At first, Aquila didn’t believe the sorceress, but then he saw the big fat bulge in her middle, and feathers scattered across the floor of Hector’s cage, and he knew she was telling the truth. He sank to his knees and held his face in his hands, weeping. Don’t cry, my prince, hissed the sorceress. There is a way for you to get him back.

That— isn’t the way stories were supposed to go! There’s a noticeable squeak from the young girl as she clings to the stuffed animal in her arms and looks up with the first hint of tears in her eyes. But just as the prince did not believe, Odette listens in for longer, waiting for the catch— only to hear the prince start to cry when he realized. “No no no…” she whispers.

Until she hears the rest. “How! How can he get him back!” she calls out. “Mister Hector has to come back!”

You must travel to another world, said the sorceress, and to get there you must give up everything you have ever known. Your castle and your fine clothes, this mountain and lush green jungles. Everything that you are now, you must abandon.

Eileen uses her gloved thumb to wipe the tears brimming in the corners of Odette’s eyes, and gathering in the narrow spaces between her fair lashes.

I will do this, answered the prince, and without warning, he drew his sword, prepared to strike the sorceress’ head from her shoulders.” Eileen leans in, her voice lowered to a thin, breathy whisper. “Aquila was strong, he was handsome, he was brave and fast, but he was not fast enough. As he swung down his blade, the sorceress caught his leg in her teeth and she bit him.”

The tears still form as the story continues, obviously worried for the handsome brave, but mean prince who had lost his only friend. Odette continues to look on in worry as she hears what the sorceress did to him. “Why is the sorceress mean!? Was she lonely too?” she frowns, hugging the stuffed rabbit against her.

“Maybe he can get a metal leg like Mister Iago has!” she adds on, as if she hopes that is how the story ends. “After he finds Mister Hector at least.”

“Maybe,” Eileen echoes. “Aquila plunged into a deep and dreamless slumber, or so it seemed, because the sorceress sent him to the underworld.

Which. Is a terrible place to end this story, but she was telling the truth about bedtimes, both hers and the child’s. “I’ll tell you all about his adventures there another time,” she promises, and shifts her weight so she can slip seamlessly from the cocoon of blankets. When she rises, it’s with noticeable reluctance.

It would be easy for her to stay, to keep spinning this story until both of them are asleep and the fire in the hearth has chilled to coals.

It would be easy to wake up in the morning and pretend that it’s just another Christmas, or that she doesn’t need to have a very difficult conversation with the others about Praxis Heavy Industries.

It would be easy.

“Good night, my princess,” Eileen says. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

The little girl’s mouth is open when she realizes that’s the end of the story for the night. Odette lifts the rabbit up, as if trying to emplore the story to continue with big sad rabbit eyes. It doesn’t really work cause Usagi isn’t the puppy dog-eye type. She will blame it on her later. “Usagi-hime wants to hear the rest of the story now.” Cause it’s okay if the stuffed rabbit is selfish. Nothing at all wrong with that! “She doesn’t think she’ll be able to sleep without it.”

“Usagi-hime needs to learn patience.”

Eileen crosses to the hearth, crouching to add another piece of firewood for the low, lapping flames to consume. “If Usagi-hime is good, Finn will take you both sledding after breakfast.”

She braces a hand against the inside of her knee and leverages herself back to her feet, satisfied that the fire will provide enough light and illumination for Odette’s imagination to lull her to sleep, even if the child herself insinuates otherwise.

“If Usagi-hime is good, she can have brown sugar on her oatmeal.”

At first, Odette looks as if she wants to protest more— but then the incentives start to come out. Looking toward the stuffed animal, she finally nods. “Usagi-hime says she’ll be good.” Not because she has learned patience, but because there’s something for learning patience, most likely.

Putting the stuffed animal down, she reaches her arms out one last time, as if quietly requesting a good night hug.

“Thank you for the story.” She will probably be thinking about it for a while until she falls asleep, trying to come up with ways that the Serpent could be stopped if she ever showed up. “I do want to hear about the Prince’s trip, though! Tomorrow night.” Or the next night. Or all the nights thereafter if it takes that long.

It will.

Next time, Eileen should probably stick to stories that have a definitive ending.

The distance between the hearth and Odette's bed is much shorter; she returns for one last goodnight embrace, complete with a firm kiss pressed quick to the top of the girl's crown.

"I love you," the Englishwoman says, in case she forgot. "Dream sweetly."

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