Other [FanFic] Stages (Ch.26/26 - Jul. 9 - epilogue soon)

Discussion in 'Fan Works' started by Kid Absurdity, Jul 18, 2016.

  1. Kid Absurdity

    Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

    That part of the fic is in fact medically accurate.
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    • ApertureGaming011

      ApertureGaming011 Scruffy Nerf-Herder

      Yes, I loved that reference! Go geology puns!
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      • MagicallyClueless

        MagicallyClueless Black Hole Surfer

        i love it and i love you

        great chapter! I really felt for Archie when he was left alone for that little bit. They seem a little bit out of sync but I look forward to see how that gets dealt with.
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        • Risukage

          Risukage Giant Laser Beams

          Oh gods, the jade reference. This got SO meta. :rofl:

          Hunh, neat medical info dump. I've had so much blood drawn/donated over the years for All the Things that I'm not sure what I haven't been tested for, but I've never heard of that one. Proper interesting! And nice nod to Harvey's backstory. I got a bit misty-eyed when I got to that part of his heart events. He is such a genuine sweetie. Though hmm, looks like Archie has had a medical scare in the past.

          As for the date, well, it looks like while they're not on the same page they had fun, as well as capping the night off with Netflix And *Snoooooore...* :p
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          • Kid Absurdity

            Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

            You don't go to the desert to chill!
            • Kid Absurdity

              Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

              I thought it was so telegraphed it was --- -... ...- .. --- ..- ... / .- ... / ..-. ..- -.-. -.-
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              • Bellamaryllis

                Bellamaryllis Aquatic Astronaut

                It took me a few days but I'm finally caught up on your fic. You have a good way with detail and I feel very immersed in Archie and everyone's lives. I didn't expect that romantic turn of events but I am pleasantly surprised! I can't wait to see how everything unfolds!

                Good luck with Nanowrimo, I will be cheering you on~
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                • Kid Absurdity

                  Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                  My NaNoWriMo is already completely screwed and it's only the first week. Stupid extra work on weekends.
                  • Kid Absurdity

                    Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                    Short chapter this time, I was going to put the Luau into this one, but I think it'll benefit form a bit more thought.

                    He didn’t see Sandy over the next couple of weeks, though he did arrange that she should visit again for the summer festivals, which were drawing ever closer. They each occupied their time differently, her running the Oasis and him preparing his farm with the advent of summer. Pierre recommended an emphasis on berries, but with enough of a generalist set of crops to satisfy local demand and maybe sell on to Hub Town, and so that’s what Archie did. The spring was profitable enough that the greater expanse of land he had cleared was largely tilled and planted by the end of the first day of Summer, after a gruelling 14 hour day of planting. He awoke so sore that he barely managed watering his newfound seedlings the following day. As he considered the larger yields he’d be expecting, along with the town’s small size, he decided he’d need to look into marketing his product more widely, something he hadn’t expected to happen for a while yet, and something he wasn’t entirely confident about doing in the first place. About a week into the summer, when the soreness subsided and he harvested his first crops, he called his sister in the evening for the first time since her blow-up over Archie’s inheritance.

                    “Bro!” She greeted him, sounding a great deal more delighted than the last time they spoke. “How are you?”

                    “Hi Maeve,” he returned, relieved that she wasn’t still totally embittered, “I’m doing well, but I need your help.”

                    “Not with clearing that overgrowth, I hope.”

                    “No, stuff that’s more your speed – business plans, and marketing, and all that stuff you eat, sleep, and breathe. I need your help leveraging my synergies to hit my KPIs and OKRs and get all my ROIs validated and into the TPS reports by the end of the quarter.”

                    Maeve laughed. “You’re a shithead.”

                    Touché. This set Archie to laughing as well. “Yes, but in seriousness, a shithead whose farm is going to outgrow his ability to handle it pretty soon without help. I’m going to be growing more than this town will buy by the Fall, if not over the summer.”

                    Maeve thought about it. “I can’t make it down ‘til the last weekend of summer thanks to my own work, but I can give you some basic advice to get you prepared.”


                    “How do you sell your crops and stuff now?” She asked.

                    “The general store in town buys them and resells them at a markup,” he replied matter-of-factly.

                    “That’s it?”

                    “So far, yeah. The Joja Mart in town doesn’t buy from me.”

                    There was a pause before Maeve said anything, and when she did, in was venomous. “There’s a Joja Mart in Pelican Town now?”

                    “Unfortunately, yes.”

                    “That’s not good, Archie.”

                    “I know that.”

                    Maeve sighed in exasperation. “No, Archie, listen. They run the general store out of business - and you know they’re trying to - what happens to you then?”

                    “I would need to find somewhere else to sell to.”

                    “Right, and if Joja is opening in places as tiny as Pelican Town, where would that be?”

                    He paused to think. “Organics shops in the cities, I guess, they don’t compete directly with Joja.”

                    “Smart. Now how do you sell to them while also growing all the crops, while you also don’t drive?”

                    “I get into a position to pay for help, and then get it,” he hazarded.

                    “Not quite. Now listen, here’s what you need to do…”

                    The next week, Archie finally remembered the anthropologist’s field notes about Pelican Town, that Gunther still hadn’t sent him, so he broke from his recent routine of staying largely secluded on the farm. He had even been skipped out on the saloon soirée for the first week of the summer, giving himself all too much time to think about how his relationship with Sandy was progressing, to call his family, or to frantically try to figure out how to prepare what Maeve suggested he needed to. He worked longer and longer hours, his endurance slowly building, out of a renewed sense of urgency about needing to grow the farm as fast as possible. He finished late into the evening with the exception of those blessed few rainy days most of the time, and even if he couldn’t afford to till over the whole grounds of the farm, he finally managed to clear the bulk of it, save a few clusters of trees. He would read a short while, or practice his music, and then fall asleep to do it all again the next day, and that routine continued until Harvey visited him one foggy morning before the clinic opened, when Archie was lugging his watering can up from the pond.

                    “Archie!” the doctor yelled, with a wave as he walked up the dirt path toward the farmhouse. When Archie was him, he set the watering can down and jogged over.

                    “Doctor, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Archie asked, smiling.

                    “Your test results are back, and on that front, you’re healthy,” Harvey replied, “though it seems you’re ignoring some of my advice.”

                    “You can’t possibly be telling me I should already be wearing sunscreen in this mist, Harvey.”

                    The doctor shook his head. “Not that advice, the advice about isolation. No one’s seen hide nor hair of you since the end of Spring, and that’s neither healthy nor good for the farm.”

                    How?” the farmer asked, quizzically.

                    “People buy your crops for different reasons. For some, it’s because they’re the best they’ll find, for others, it’s to support Pierre and the town, for others, it’s to support you personally. You being active about town, that’s helpful marketing.”

                    Archie didn’t particularly think about it that way until then. He thought it was a pretty captive market; either people would buy from Pierre, and by extension him, or the Joja Mart. He didn’t think people were backing his farm in particular when buying their groceries. He did, however, realize his neglect of the town, his customers, and his friends in recent days, and had a hard time imagining the Junimos would be too happy about that.

                    “You’re right, Harvey,” he admitted, if a bit reluctantly. “It’s Friday, I’ll work a half-day, get some books from the library and spend the evening at the saloon, which speaking of, I never see you at.”

                    “I usually go to Hub Town for a movie on Fridays,” the doctor replied.

                    “Skip it this week. You’re taking your own advice and joining me,” Archie gently demanded.

                    Harvey looked very surprised at that development, and hummed and hawed for a couple of seconds while grasping for a response, before finally concluding that he would. “The movie will still be there on Saturday, I’ll see you later.”

                    “Have a good day, Harvey, thanks for stopping by.”

                    Archie kept true to his word, and made his way over to the library early in the afternoon, and it was one of the few times he saw anyone other than Gunther there, since Penny was teaching Vincent and Jas at one of the reading tables. Archie and Gunther greeted each other and small-talked about the upcoming Luau - which Gunther, his wife, and daughter would be attending this year, which was pleasing to Archie to hear before they got down to business.

                    “Gunther, you forgot to send me the digital copy of the anthropologist’s field notes.” Archie stated directly.

                    “I did not forget, Archie, the book went missing before I could scan it!”

                    Archie looked at Gunther quizzically. “It went missing between you locking up and leaving for your daughter’s recital and the following morning?”

                    Gunther held his palms out in front of himself. “Yes, Archie, between that and the previous museum curator stealing the exhibits, it’s been a very embarrassing year.”

                    “You should put in cameras or something,” he suggested.

                    “Funding cuts,” Gunther replied.

                    Archie turned to leave the library. “I’ll put a notice up on the board. Happy hunting, Gunther.” Gunther said nothing.

                    Archie thought something was wrong. There were too many coincidences happening at once, he realized, as he reviewed the facts in his head – Gunther refused to loan him the field notes, and then they went missing over that same night. Gunther wasn’t carrying any books when he got into his car at the end of that day. There were pretty few options left – either someone driving down the highway broke in to the library and took it, one of the townsfolk did, or it was there the following morning and Gunther was misleading him. If someone driving down the highway decided to stop for some overnight crime, the book was long gone and there was nothing he could do about it. As for the townsfolk, it would take Archie a while to look into it, but checking up on the last possibility would not be very difficult at all. He took a seat leaning up against a tree behind the library, reading and waiting, distracted by the intermittent metallic noises of the blacksmith’s shop.

                    At around 3 in the afternoon, Archie heard the front door of the library open and shut, and he slipped around the tree to try to unobtrusively spot which way Gunther went. The librarian walked briskly up the path to the mountains, his blue jacket and hat bobbing slightly as he went. Archie had never seen him leave the library building before closing hours, nor go anywhere but to his car. He walked as quietly as he could, keeping to cover as much as he could. Gunther climbed the carved out staircase leading up to the mountain path, and Archie waited until he had climbed all the way before starting his own ascent.

                    By the time Archie reached the top of the steps, Gunther was already out of sight. He bit back a curse out of frustration, but when he thought about it some more, he realized there were only so many places the errant librarian could have gone. The Adventurers’ Guild, Linus’ tent, Robin’s house, those were the only places that were up this way, and he would have to rush back to the library back the way he came. He inched his way into the entrance to the mine, from which he could sort of make out the adventurer’s guild and the tent while remaining largely hidden from view. The air inside the cave entrance was heavier and moister, cooler than the summer day outside, stale and stupefying. He stifled yawns as he watched and waited, before, a few minutes later, Linus emerged from his test and walked over to the ridge looking out over the mountain lake, with Gunther following shortly behind him. He wasn’t sure because of the distance, but it didn’t seem to him that either of them were carrying a book, but Archie thought he’d know exactly where to look when something gripped his shoulder, nearly startling him out of his wits as he wheeled around to see Marlon.

                    “You weren’t heading into the mine, were you?” The older man asked.

                    Archie was pretty tempted to lie about going mining, but decided it wasn’t worth covering his tracks about this. “Not today, though I’ve been told I should get to mining one of these days.”

                    “Come by the guild first if you decide to. The mines aren’t empty, you know. Have a good day.” Marlon walked out as briskly as he said it, and by the time he left and Archie resumed his surveillance, neither Linus nor Gunther were in sight. Archie walked up to Linus’ tent and tapped on its exterior. Linus was not at home. He poked his head into the tent and didn’t see the book, before making his way back to the mountain lake to fish for a while before going home to get ready for the night at the saloon.

                    Archie arrived at the saloon a little earlier than usual, with the intention of telling Leah and the misfits that he had invited Harvey along and asking them to be a bit more accommodating than they usually were, which wasn’t a complaint about them so much as mindfulness to Harvey’s own sense of loneliness and isolation. Among the misfits there was a bit of reluctance, but when the possibility of Sam winning a game of pool for once was raised he assented, with Sebastian even cracking a hint of a smile while Abigail didn’t particularly care one way or the other.

                    As he usually did, he took his dinner in the main room at Leah’s table after placing his order with Emily and apprising her about his perspective on his trip the desert and the date, which he was surprised that Emily had heard very little about from Sandy herself given their friendship. He and Leah caught up on recent events – Archie’s trip to the desert, the date and farming at the start of the season, Leah’s art and the way her on-again off-again relationship with Elliott was switching on again. Harvey arrived, to the surprise of the bulk of the room, looking a bit nervous and apprehensive as Archie waved him over. The three of them talked and ate, mostly discussing the upcoming Luau. Archie shared the story of trying to persuade Gunther and his family to come, with his success at that uncertain. He kept the fact that his view of Gunther had diminished after the recent suspicious goings-on with the field notes to himself. Leah asked them what they’d bring for the communal soup, which was the first that Archie heard about this particular aspect of the festival, along with the fact that the provincial governor would be there to judge it. Leah was going to forage up something, and Harvey would bring some nutritious vegetable or another. Archie wasn’t sure, but he’d try to bring something good from his own harvests. As the conversation went on, the usually wound-up Harvey started to relax, and he hadn’t even been drinking. Archie excused himself and asked Harvey to join him in the arcade, where Leah joined them after finishing her own meal for a change.

                    As with the nature walk, the dynamic in the arcade was very different when there were six people in it rather than the usual four. While the conversation started off restrained as everyone was feeling each other out, it quickly became freer-flowing as they played games and did their things. Leah watched Abigail sketching and gave some thoughts on technique, Sam and Harvey had a series of close games of pool because they were both comparably inept at it, but Sam’s light-heartedness added to the friendly atmosphere of it. Sebastian and Archie managed to have a more extensive conversation of their own than they ever did when Sebastian asked Archie what the idea behind all of this was.

                    “The town’s so small it’s easy to feel alone, right?” Archie answered, rhetorically.

                    Sebastian nodded. “Sure is, some of us embrace it more than others.”

                    “Right, but I think it’s better to set things up so that people know they can choose to be alone together.”

                    Sebastian gave Archie an inscrutable look. “That’s not alone anymore, is it?”

                    “It’s more about the choice of it. Harvey didn’t think he could talk to anyone about anything other than their health. He still might not do it much after this, but he’ll know he can and that it’s up to him.”

                    Sebastian took it in silently, and when Archie got up to do his social rounds of the room, Sebastian considered his typical position of being alone in the group, and how much of that was by choice.

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                    • Risukage

                      Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                      Because I'm in a strange mood I wondered if Archie was humming his own super-spy theme music, in the vein of Kronk in Emperor's New Groove. :D Still, what are you up to, Gunther, you impeccably-dressed man of history and lore? Archie Holmes is on the case. Come, Samson, the game is afoot! Also, good on him for not only finally getting the hell out of the house (so to speak...) but getting others to do so. I should take that advice... And Sebastian getting character development? Perhaps I am mistaken...
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                      • Kid Absurdity

                        Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                        At 4700 words in so far with 2 major scenes still to write, this next chapter will probably be the longest one in the whole story and certainly the longest to-date. Stay tuned.
                        • Kid Absurdity

                          Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                          So we're back. Not on our weekly basis yet, but colour me amazed that this 7000 word opus of perfectionism only took 2 weeks. It was much easier to write these chapters faster when they were shorter. Things were getting complex, with a lot of moving parts, and I think I did the justice I wanted to. Feedback appreciated as ever, many internet love-hearts.

                          When the day of the Luau finally rolled around, Archie was struck by the fact that he’d be likely to have another confrontation at this festival, same as the last, though something he’d actually be able to anticipate this time, but he was also amped up slightly differently at the prospect of another visit from Sandy, and his morning coffee. His chores went quickly because he was brimming with caffeine, energy, and nervous tension, and all of that over a book and a beach party. The thought occurred to him that he could sneak up to Linus’ tent and pinch the book himself, but he felt surprisingly bad about the idea given how irritating the conspiracy around the book was. Maybe the experience at the Flower Dance, and with the Junimos, had softened his attitude, and Archie decided to try talking with him first. He hadn’t really spoken to him much, the conversation with Lewis on the day of the Flower Dance and the occasional pleasantries while fishing at the mountain lake notwithstanding.

                          He was also surprised by the fact that he had packed swim trunks, or maybe his mom had thrown them in when he wasn’t paying attention when she came over to say goodbye before he moved out of the city. He wasn’t sure anymore, and while he didn’t much care for swimming, the heat, coupled with the humidity, made the idea of a dip in the sea appealing. He called Sandy to check when she’d be coming and to suggest that she bring some swimwear as well. She laughed and said of course he’d suggest that. He laughed and said that after sleeping with her, what’s the big deal about swimwear anyway?

                          He was wrapping up the phone call and getting back to harvesting some crops when he saw Leah making her way up the dirt path leading from the river up toward his house. He put the phone in his pocket and jogged over to meet her. On closer inspection she looked a bit nervous, though not as much so as at the Flower Dance.

                          “Hi Leah, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

                          “I, uh, have a favour to ask of you.”

                          Archie could tell she was apprehensive about something, but he wasn’t sure whether it was the act of asking, or the substance of the request.

                          “Go on…” he urged her.

                          The words practically flew out of Leah in her similarly heightened nervous state. “It’s a long story, and normally I wouldn’t ask something like this, oh Yoba, I’m rambling. Elliott asked out me on a date, and I’d like you and Sandy to join us and make it a double-date.”

                          Archie had his own mixed feelings about the idea, and thinking them over was only making Leah more nervous about everything. “I don’t mind, personally, and Sandy’s coming for the Luau so I’ll discuss it with her before then. What’s the story?”

                          Leah sighed in a mixture of relief and agitation. “I’d just feel less stressed about it that way…” she started, before cutting herself off with a different line of thought. “No, that’s not entirely true. I’m not so sure I should be doing it and I’d feel better about it if the focus wasn’t just on the two of us.”

                          Archie nodded. “Still unpacking your thoughts about relationships?”

                          “Yes, and trying to figure them out as far as relationships with him, specifically. I think having someone to discuss it with after the fact would be good, and, well, the only other couple in town is Alex and Haley, so you were my first choice.”

                          Archie thought about it briefly. He still had a bit of a negative vibe about Elliott that Leah, in her optimism about people, seemed willing to forego for her own part. She had become a pretty good friend since his arrival, one awkward patch excluded, and he did want to help her out in her own search for happiness. “I’m in if Sandy is, and I’ll try to sell her on it during the Luau.”

                          Leah startled Archie with a quick hug. “Thanks, Archie! I really appreciate it.”

                          “Quick question?”


                          “What do people do after the main party part of the Luau?”

                          “Not that much, typically. People hang around the beach for a bit but usually trail off pretty soon after.”

                          “I’ve got an idea for something fun that’ll give you and Elliott a chance to meet Sandy beforehand. Do you have plastic wineglasses at home?”

                          “Yes, actually.”

                          Archie smiled reassuringly. “Perfect. If you can bring those and some long, thin branches with you to the beach, it’d be a big help. I’ll take care of the rest.”

                          Leah eyed him, trying to figure out what the branches would be for. “Sure thing, Archie.”

                          “Trust me, Leah, it’ll be fine.”

                          “I’m not worried, Archie, just bring enough wine for me not to care even if it isn’t,” she joked.

                          He clapped her lightly on the shoulder. “Deal. See you later.”

                          Leah walked back along the southern path, looking more relaxed and secure in spite of Archie’s enigmatic surprise.

                          Archie finished picking his crops and decided to bring a few fairly large ears of corn to add to the soup, before heading inside to shower. He figured he’d have about twenty minutes spare between getting everything ready and Sandy arriving. After toweling himself off and changing into his swim trunks and a t-shirt, he took a leisurely jog into town to stop in to Pierre’s store.

                          Pierre was nowhere to be found, and Abigail was behind the register when Archie walked in, which didn’t bother Archie that much. They exchanged hellos before Archie went off in search of his grocery list for the evening; a couple of boxes of graham crackers, some chocolate, a jumbo bag of marshmallows, and two bottles of wine. As Abigail rang his purchase up, she quickly cottoned on to his overall plan. “Post-luau bonfire?” she asked him.

                          Archie nodded. “Exactly.”

                          “Can we come?”

                          Archie thought it over quickly. “Yes, it just complicates a couple of things as far as what I was planning.”

                          “And those are?” Abigail asked, impatiently.

                          “I only bought enough stuff for 4 people, and it was going to be something akin to a double-date.”

                          Abigail waved off the idea that that was any kind of problem. “I’ll bring stuff, and we’ll leave a bit earlier. Who’s the other couple?”

                          “Leah and Elliott.”

                          Abigail gave Archie an indecipherable look, but her tone said it all. “Oh, Yoba, not again…”

                          After a few seconds of silence, Archie asked her to explain.

                          Abigail sighed in vexation. “They’ve been on-again-off-again ever since Elliott moved here, and every time it’s off again it’s for the same reason.”

                          “So he can write?” Archie ventured.

                          Abigail shook her head. “That’s a pretext, not a reason. If you ask me, what happens every time is that Elliott decides he got what he wanted, then ignores her until the cycle starts again. It irritates me so much, seeing Leah go back and get hurt and disappointed over and over and over.”

                          Archie, who had his own suspicions, pinched the bridge of his nose, pondering what he’d gotten himself into. “I was afraid of something like that.”

                          She put a hand on Archie’s shoulder. “I don’t know why Leah and the town give him a free pass. It’s a strange thing. In some ways we’re so progressive and in others we’re so stuck in our thinking. Look, there’s no stopping them, but please look out for her as best you can, ok?”

                          “I don’t know what that would even mean in this situation, Abigail.”

                          “Yeah, it was a big ask. I understand.”

                          “I’ll see you there. Enjoy the luau in spite of it.”

                          He turned on his heel and walked out of the store, fuming, and already pretty sure how the night would play out regardless of whether Leah and Abigail’s apprehensions about Elliott were correct. He’d be a perfect gentleman in the early going, when outside eyes were on him, and no one would see abrupt change coming until it did.

                          He made his way back to the bus stop, where Sandy parked her car in the makeshift lot in the meadow a few minutes later. They greeted each other excitedly and started walking back toward the farmhouse, filling each other in on their recent goings-on. True to his word, Archie explained the double-date proposal and his plans for the bonfire to her, asking her to let him know by the end of the night if she’d be up for the subsequent outing. He didn’t explain the wider situation with Leah and Elliott, but his verbal recoil at the idea that he was playing matchmaker clued Sandy in to the fact that something about the situation was not as it seemed, but they both let it go as they drank a cup of mint tea in preparation to walk down to the beach.

                          “I’m still amazed at this place,” she said, speaking of the whole farmhouse.

                          “It’s only a little smaller than my city apartment was,” he replied.

                          “But no kitchen, though?”

                          “I do miss having one of those. The town carpenter says she’s happy to add one to the house once the farm is profitable enough.”

                          “When do you think that’ll be? You rarely talk about the business of the farm so much as the work of farming.”

                          “About a year from now, I think? I’m not totally sure on it, but I’m starting to build up some profit.”

                          “That’s respectable,” she said.

                          “Yep,” Archie added, finishing his tea. “Want to change into your swimwear and then we’ll head down?”

                          “It’s on under the sundress, actually,” she informed him, as they moved for the door, Archie grabbing up his bags full of groceries, corn, and firewood, and slinging them over his shoulders and leading her past the bus stop and toward the town. He pointed out the doctor’s office and the general store, the saloon and the houses, and the library and the smithy over the river. He told her what little he knew about who lived where. He knocked on the door to Emily and Haley’s house but they had already gone to the beach, it seemed, as there was no answer.

                          “The town is also really small.” Sandy mused aloud.

                          “Smaller than I ever thought it’d be.” He replied.

                          “You grew up in one of the biggest cities in the Republic, how do you manage adjusting to that?”

                          “By finding fulfillment in different things than I did in the city, the work I’m doing, finding ways to contribute to the town’s well-being that’ll stand a chance of recognition, honestly I think I’m becoming a better person since I moved here.”

                          “You found some answers?” She asked.

                          Archie grinned and nodded. “Not enough to make me stop asking you a million questions every time I see you, darling, but yes.”

                          They crossed the bridge over the river and continued along the dirt track down to the beach, where an impressive scene had already begun. They were among the later arrivals, and whoever was organising the event had gone fairly all out, in Archie’s opinion. A massive pair of tiki statues flanked a large open fire-pit, where Linus was attending to roasting a pig while Gus was serving cocktails out of tiki mugs from behind a portable bar nearby, which had a pyramid of coconuts placed on it. He was lighting some of the drinks on fire. Island and surf music blared from a pair of speakers, while the bulk of the townsfolk were up to their respective somethings. Sam and Vincent were taking turns cannonballing off the docks, splashing anyone unfortunate enough to be caught nearby, which, in this case, was Gunther, and, presumably, his wife and daughter. Archie smiled. For all his frustration with the librarian lately, he was pleased to see the man spend a bit of time in the town he worked, though getting splashed absolutely served him right. He hoped his wife would warm up to the place a bit too. He suggested to Sandy that he’d set their bags down and then find Emily before introducing her to more of the town, which he did quickly, leaning them up against the side of Elliott’s cabin and unpacking a couple of beach towels for them to lie on later. Emily was at the far end of the docks, over by Willy’s house and shop and out of Sam and Vincent’s blast radius. She was both very surprised and happy to see her friend; leaving Archie a bit surprised himself that she hadn’t announced that she’d be coming. The surprise seemed to be a pleasant one though, as they giggled and hugged and caught each other up on their recent developments.

                          Given that Sandy’s arrival wasn’t heralded by screeching brakes this time, and word of the farmer’s new relationship with the woman from the desert had spread like wildfire through the tiny town, the interest in her arrival was more muted than at the Flower Dance, though Haley continued to make a point of avoiding the three of them. They made a point of greeting Lewis, who was standing in the shadow of a larger stranger who turned out to be the provincial governor, and who seemed familiar to everyone else who was actually from that province. Lewis seemed a bit anxious, but was much happier to see Archie and Sandy alike this time. Lewis explained that the Luau was the one event each year that the governor made a point of coming out to, to check up on the region and its agricultural products, its skilled crafts, and its economy. The governor had some brief words about being pleased about Archie restoring the farm, and how he’d consider buying a retirement property here. He greeted Sandy with a more rigid, if effusive politeness born of greater familiarity than he even spoke to Lewis with in his capacity of one elected representative to another. Cactus Town is closer to Zuzu City and bigger, no wonder she’d see him more, he thought.

                          Sandy handled most of the rest of the introductions with the same seemingly effortless grace that Archie found so attractive in her to begin with. She seemed to have a knack for talking to almost anyone. A quick compliment toward Abigail’s sense of style here, a hearty laugh at one of Sam’s awful jokes there, and by and large, by the time Archie had introduced her to most of his friends and acquaintances around town, they were favourably disposed toward her. While she didn’t outright alienate anyone, there were a few blind spots – she actually didn’t relate particularly well to Leah and Elliott at all, because while she had a great designer’s sensibility as far as her tastefully decorated house, she was not particularly keen on art, and had considerably more difficulty relating to the pair of artists. Archie wondered about whether it would have been any different with him in slightly different circumstances. He had put his theatrical career on hold, but an idealistic artistic sensibility definitely drove him before his transition to the farming life. The idealism persisted, the aesthetic obsession, he was less sure.

                          He had a couple of conversations that he wanted to have, so he excused himself from Sandy and Emily and bee-lined for Gunther and his family. The librarian and his wife and gotten a safe distance from Sam and Vincent, though his daughter, who was about Vincent’s age, was playfully needling him from the edge of the dock and exchanging splashes with him.

                          “Gunther, I’m glad you and your family made it,’ he offered by way of greeting.

                          “I appreciate your insistence on it,” the librarian replied. “Ella seems to be enjoying herself,” he added, gesturing over toward his daughter, “and that roast pig smells phenomenal.”

                          Gunther’s wife seemed a bit on edge, but, on glancing over toward their daughter laughing and registering her husband’s sense of enjoyment of the event, her own disposition lightened up a bit. “So you’re the one who hectored him into bringing us here?” she asked.

                          “I didn’t think anyone hectored him,” Archie replied, a bit nervously. “I just made it clear that we welcomed him, and his family, being here for more than his work, though I’m hardly a representative of the town.”

                          She laughed as she faced Gunther. “There is a charm to these people, dear.” Turning back to Archie, she moved to excuse herself. “Excuse me, young man, I should speak to that child’s parents,” she said, gesturing in Vincent’s direction, “can you point me to them?”

                          Archie scanned the beach and saw Jodi near the fire pit, and pointed her out to Gunther’s wife. “Over there, with the long, straight red hair. Her name is Jodi.”

                          “And his father?”

                          “Off to war, regrettably,” he said simply.

                          She nodded in understanding and hurried down the dock to the beach, leaving Archie and Gunther alone and in a considerably more awkward state.

                          The two men stared at each other uncomfortably for a moment until Archie broke the impasse. “I’m gladder that you’re here than I am annoyed with you, Gunther.”

                          Gunther continued to regard him uneasily, as Archie continued. “It’s nice to see the town get to know you and your family a little better, you were unintentionally secretive leaving town right after work every day, you know?”

                          “I suppose it is, Archie,” Gunther replied, mechanically.

                          “Are you still concerned about that whole business with the anthropologist’s field notes?”

                          “I’d be lying if I said otherwise,” Gunther admitted.

                          “Don’t be.”

                          “Not interested anymore?” The librarian asked.

                          “Quite the opposite,” Archie started, with Gunther looking a bit crestfallen, “but it’s not your problem anymore.”

                          “I beg your pardon?” Gunther responded, incredulously.

                          “I know you gave it to Linus. I’m going to talk with him about it as soon as I finish up with you. Now the whole business with the book is his responsibility. Enjoy your Luau,” Archie told him, turning to walk back down the dock as Gunther stood there looking at him, partially stunned. Archie quickly cut back across the beach toward the fire pit, where he noticed Gunther’s wife and Jodi having an animated conversation nearby. He didn’t overhear much, but he presumed that Jodi thought it was good for Vincent to have someone else close to his age around, and that playdates might be arranged. He wondered how Jas would take that.

                          He watched Linus rotating the spit for a couple of minutes before interrupting him with a question: “Where did you learn to glaze and roast a pig?”

                          “The Volcano Islands, years ago,” Linus responded. “Though, it’s not quite the same without fresh pineapples.”

                          “I understand that you did a lot of traveling between leaving here and coming back.”

                          “Decades worth of it,” the wild man replied with a nod.

                          “Like Emily and Haley’s parents?” he asked.

                          “A bit different to them. More living local for a while at a stretch than going place-to-place. You get to know a place better that way when you’re not concerned about time.”

                          Archie had a hunch, a gut feeling, that this simple conversation had pieced part of the puzzle together. “And its people, I gather,” he said simply.

                          “Yes, them too.”

                          “I didn’t take you for being all that interested in culture in general, since you seem to shun it here,” he said, trying to sound more matter-of-fact than judgmental.

                          Linus scoffed. “I’ve seen enough culture to last a dozen lifetimes. The biggest cities in the world, remote communities, and you know what all the accumulated civilization of the planet is building toward?”

                          Archie shook his head.

                          “Suffering and Joja Marts. War and pollution. I’ve had enough of culture.” Linus said, beginning to redden.

                          “Then why did you go through all the trouble to get hold of the field notes about Pelican Town? I know Gunther gave them to you to keep them from me.”

                          Linus nodded, his face still flushed. “You’re cleverer than your grandfather was.”

                          “And you’re avoiding the question.”

                          “Hardly,” Linus spat. “I know those notes. I know there are things in them that you won’t want to read, and there are things in there I don’t want you to read. Now what do you want them for?”

                          When Archie put it into words, he realized how foolish some of it sounded: “To try to get some insight into why my grandfather gave me his farm and what the Junimos want from me. To figure out where I am so I can figure out why I’m here. The same things I’ve wanted since I got here.” He paused, deciding to end the game they were playing, “I wanted to ask you nicely to let me read them, rather than steal the book back from your tent while you had a pig to watch or make a scene while the governor’s here. What’ll it be?”

                          “You might be even more stubborn than your grandfather, and I’m telling you that as a warning, because while it isn’t obvious, that cost him. Come by my tent another day, I’d rather be around when you read them.”

                          He nodded, thanked him, and walked off with more questions than he started with.

                          Before rejoining Sandy and Emily, he stopped at his bag to pick up the corn he’d brought for the communal soup, and handed the ears off to Marnie, who was charged with cooking it. She seemed happy about his contribution, while Shane was helping with some of the rest of the prep for the soup, scowling. Archie greeted him and Shane promptly told him to leave him alone. Archie was not put off by this in the least, having enough people around who enjoyed his company. He said hello to Evelyn and George, Caroline, Pierre and Jodi, Willy and Clint. Sandy had taken up a spot on one of the beach towels near Elliott’s cabin, and Archie joined her on the adjacent one. Alex and Sam were throwing a Frisbee nearby. Sandy lifted her sunglasses to look at Archie eye-to-eye.

                          “You keep strange company,” she said.

                          “How so?” Archie asked.

                          “You’ve hardly said a word to people of our generation all day,” she said.

                          “Actually, this is a bit of a rare exception, and we’ll have the bonfire for that,” he replied, going on to explain about it being the first time Gunther came to town for any reason other than to work, and Linus agreeing to share some historical field notes on the valley with him so he could learn more about his new home.

                          Sandy looked at him strangely, shrugged, and put her sunglasses back down, enjoying the sun. Archie took off his shirt, applied some sunscreen, and lay down on his own towel, lobbing the tube toward Sandy’s side in case she wanted to use it. Archie’s farmer’s tan, considering his pale skin tone and tendency to freckle rather than tan was still fairly pronounced from all the time he was spending outside during the summer. He hadn’t really afforded himself the time to just lie on the beach or live idly. Even his fishing was purposeful, and he felt a great deal of contentment lying there with Sandy next to him before the heat began to get to him and he decided to go swimming in the ocean before the roast pig and the soup were ready. The water was cooler than he expected, the shock of the abrupt change in temperature jolting him into a more wakeful state. Sandy joined him not long after and they swam, roughhoused and splashed each other for a while before returning to the beach when Lewis announced over the PA system that the festival meal was being served. They hastily swam back to shore and toweled off before the wider community came together to see how their soup, with one ingredient per person, turned out.

                          While Archie expected they’d all have their soup at once, it was apparently a tradition that the governor taste it first and judge it for all to hear. He couldn’t help but wonder how that would go if the soup were judged to be bad; and the governor poisoned everyone’s expectations of it before they had a chance to try it. He shook his head as he listened to the governor pronounce it to be a good, but not exceptional soup. Then Archie’s mind wandered to how gazpacho would probably make a lot more sense than a hot soup on a blazing mid-summer’s day while he collected his own bowl of soup and found himself agreeing with the governor, which most of the town also did. Linus served him a healthy chunk of one of the pig’s cheeks – not a cut Archie was particularly accustomed to, but Linus assured him it was the best part of the pig, which Archie couldn’t help but agree with after finding it almost impossibly tender, juicy, and flavorful. He marveled at the mystery of how Linus had done it, and he shared it with Sandy, who was similarly impressed. They stopped by the bar where Gus had taken a break from serving the exotic flaming cocktails. Pam was struggling to stay balanced on her elbows on the bar-top and looking pretty unsteady.

                          Archie looked at Gus inquisitively, as if to ask how he allowed Pam to reach that point. “Pam, are you alright?” he asked her.

                          She mumbled something that Archie interpreted as “haven’t been in years” before lolling over to one side, looking as though she was going to pitch over off her stool and into the dune below, before swatting her arm out in Sandy’s general direction, continuing to ramble incoherently.

                          Archie turned to Sandy, “Join me while I get her home safely?” he asked.

                          Sandy didn’t look thrilled about it but assented, while Archie hauled Pam off of the stool and propped her up, preparing to slowly amble up the beach. He looked back toward Gus. “How often does she get like this?”

                          Gus was silent, looking on guiltily.

                          “Too much. I understand. Find Penny and tell her we brought Pam home.”

                          Archie walked between the slumping Pam on one side and Sandy on the other, up the dunes and onto the path leading into town. What would normally be a pretty brisk walk was fairly ponderous, and the whole of the trip was made more unpleasant by Pam’s moments of comprehensibility, during which she lashed out at Archie, and, to Archie’s greater embarrassment, at Sandy, having gotten so smashed as to mistake her for her daughter. She ranted about how Archie had no right to interfere, and about how Penny would never amount to anything, even trying to lunge across Archie to take a swipe at Sandy a couple of times to accentuate an ill-conceived point. When they got to the trailer, he tightened his grip on Pam while he asked Sandy to fish the keys out of her purse, before carting her inside while Sandy waited on the doorstep. He set her down across the couch on her side, and pulled over a waste-paper basket that he stuck a fresh bag into. He scribbled a quick note that he pinned down underneath one of the two large glasses of water he left on the coffee table for her. The note simply read, “We need to talk”.

                          He emerged from the trailer to see a distraught-looking Penny running up from the beach with Sam trailing well behind. He took Sandy’s hand and walked toward them.

                          After ascertaining that Pam was relatively OK, which is to say as well as can be hoped for, considering, she stammered out a mixture of thanks and apologies to Archie and Sandy – thanks for bringing Pam home, apologies for not being around to take care of it herself and ruining their Luau. Archie shook his head. “I’d rather not have, but given the circumstances, I’m glad I did. Go have a look, but I’d keep my distance from her.”

                          Penny zipped into the trailer while Sandy whispered to Archie. “I don’t envy that poor girl.”

                          Archie nodded grimly. “Me neither. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.”

                          Sam remained silent, but the tension in his shoulders and fierceness of his blush and glare alike gave a clear outward sign of how he felt about the whole business. Eventually, he murmured to Archie, “This has got to stop.” The three of them exchanged looks of uncertainty, though Sam seemed relieved; perhaps just to have said it out loud to someone else.

                          Inside the trailer, Penny was pleasantly surprised by Archie’s handling of her mother, until she saw the note under the glass of water and tensed up, before gently plucking the note out, and carrying it with her to her room where she tore it up and put it in her own waste-paper basket before sinking onto her knees and sobbing into her hands.

                          Though the incident had cast a pall over all of their moods, the three of them returned to the beach determined to enjoy their after-party millennials-only bonfire. The governor had left in the interim, and Lewis was supervising the older adults, plus Leah, Elliott, Maru, Sebastian, and Alex, dismantling the decorations, while Gus was packing away the bar. When he saw them returning, he set down a pair of bottles and jogged over, himself looking emotionally exhausted as well. “I am so sorry about that,” he said.

                          Sam began laying into Gus verbally, ranting, if quietly, but with a hard edge, about his recklessness enabling Pam, before Archie managed to interrupt him.

                          “Gus, on the walk to the trailer, Pam mistook my girlfriend for Penny, let loose some vicious insults and took a couple of swings at her.”

                          Gus looked fretful and dismayed at the point-blank revelation. “You owe Penny an apology, and much more,” Archie continued. “And we’re going to find a way to address this. Not right now, but I am not going to let you off the hook. We’ve got a Town Hall meeting next week. Think of something by then, please.”

                          Sam looked like he had a great deal more to say, but also seemed strangely satisfied at the resolution, whereas Sandy looked on feigning impassiveness but her own sharp mind at work trying to assess the situation and Archie alike in his handling of it. After they left Gus alone and walked down toward the water, Sandy asked him, “Are you really planning to take that family issue public?”

                          Archie nodded, and without hesitation, answered affirmatively. “Yes. It stopped being a family issue when she took a swipe at you.”

                          Sandy wasn’t entirely comfortable with his answer but didn’t have a counter-argument ready.

                          The next little while was quieter as Archie started setting up the campfire with little to no knowledge about setting up campfires. He eventually managed to get a mixture of bark, twigs, and starter fluid to catch without creating a towering inferno pillar of flame, and the larger logs from trees he’d cut down around the farm heated up and ignited as well. Eventually people moved their beach towels around the fire and sat around it, not looking for warmth on the balmy midsummer’s evening, but welcoming the light and convivial atmosphere. Archie and Sandy sat by Leah and Elliott, with the misfits completing the circle, Sam sitting next to Sandy on the other side, flanked by Sebastian, with Abigail sitting next to Elliott. The wine flowed fairly liberally, though Archie and Sam were relatively restrained in their consumption after the incident with Pam earlier. They took their sticks and roasted marshmallows over the fire, a long conversation starting that was punctuated by sips of wine and bites of s’mores.

                          Being a relative stranger, Sandy was the object of many questions that weren’t asked by Archie for a change. Leah asked about the landscape of the desert, and while Sandy did it justice in her explanation, Archie added his own details, mentioning the views from the cliffs and the dinosaur fossil that he had forgotten to suggest Penny take the children to see. Sam was also interested in that idea and said he’d bring it up with Penny if Archie forgot. Sebastian, once again, mentioned that the daytime weather of the desert didn’t suit him, but talked about loving motorcycling through it at night. Abigail didn’t seem as interested in getting out to the desert in particular so much as getting out of Pelican Town for a little while in general, while Leah expressed interest in wanting to try painting different landscapes and vistas. Elliott didn’t think the change of scene would affect his writing much, but was on board to go anyway.

                          The possibilities of group trips being raised was one topic that Archie largely stayed out of, though it made him happy to see people taking interest in places outside their sleepy little town.

                          They discussed the Dance of the Moonlight Jellies next, that being the next Pelican Town festival, and one that Archie actually had some recollection of from visiting his grandfather as a small child. More so than past luaus, the bioluminescent jellyfish made a strong impression on him, and he expressed an almost childlike glee at getting to see them again, something that Sandy found both surprising and at least slightly endearing, along with the rest of the crowd. Archie mentioned that he’d already invited Sandy, and that his sister was also going to be coming to visit. People asked about Archie’s sister, and he explained that she was very different to him, a high-powered businesswoman with focused ambitions as opposed to his intellectual and idealistic drifting. Leah, recalling the telephone conversation between Archie and his sister that she had overheard, asked how they generally got along. Pretty well, Archie told them, though like any sibling, she knew which buttons to push to aggravate him on those rare occasions that she chose to. He was happy to introduce her to everyone when the festival happened. Sandy smirked as she remarked that his sister sounded like her, putting an arm around Archie’s shoulder. Returning to the talk of the festival, even Sebastian, who was usually pretty restrained discussing anything he was excited about, told them that he found something tranquil and comforting in the jellyfish’s annual migrations. Sam joked that it was because it was a festival that took the focus off of people for a change, though there was a core of truth to what he was saying - most of the rest of the assembled people thought. “It’s a more interesting topic for a festival than eggs, anyway,” Sebastian said, his dislike of eggs evident in his tone.

                          Sandy found the beach agreeable – while the desert looked out to sea from its plateau, she rarely got to the base of the cliffs or any beaches in the area. The oasis wasn’t quite the same as an ocean, and while she liked the ocean, like Archie saw when they went on their date, she looked more to the city than the sea. Elliott gave his impressions of living on the beach. Those were a bit surprising because aside from the relaxing background sound of waves crashing into the shore, there wasn’t that much Elliott actually liked about it. He didn’t surf, or swim particularly much, so he rarely made use of the proximity to the water that he had, looking to the sea and its changes of temperament as inspiration for his writing. Sandy asked him what it was he was writing, and while he wasn’t that much more forthcoming than he had been when he discussed dialogue with Archie in the springtime, the answer surprised Archie: “It is a novel about writing, very post-modern, I know, but about the sacrifices that have to be made in the name of art, and whether they’re worth it or not.”

                          Abigail and Archie immediately glanced toward Leah, who seemed surprisingly un-phased about having been one of the sacrifices Elliott made. “That doesn’t sound like my kind of book,” Sandy told him, “but I wish you luck.” Elliott tried to represent his writing a bit better to Sandy, with little success. Though Archie didn’t mention it out loud, he found that this was one of the similarities between himself and Elliott – their tendency to overthink and intellectualize life, whereas she was more preoccupied with living it. That was one of the ways Archie thought opposites attracted between himself and her, her occasional frustration at his questions and approach to problems notwithstanding.

                          They kept on talking as a large group until Abigail, Sam, and Sebastian excused themselves shortly before midnight, leaving just the two new couples. The dynamic shifted slightly no sooner than the trio were over the dune leading up to the path to town. Leah scooted closer to Elliott and leaned against him, with Elliott lazily draping an arm around her hip. Archie was surprised at how natural it all looked given their awkward history.

                          “What are the odds that two people would come here around the same time to turn this place into an artist’s colony?” Sandy asked, idly.

                          “We’re artists, not mathematicians,” Archie said, lumping himself into that category in spite of his limited artfulness lately, eliciting a snort from Sandy.

                          “The rents were inexpensive,” Elliott pointed out. “A pre-requisite for artists. Apparently, with the collapse of the local mining industry, there were too many houses, not enough people, and not much real estate value. My cabin…” he said, gesturing to the shack behind the fire pit, “had been unoccupied almost as long as Archie’s farmhouse, from what I’m told.”

                          “It’s not just that, though,” Leah added, “there is something beautiful about the landscape and the pace of life here that’s conducive to it. You get to know yourself, and be yourself, and that’s so important to making art. I’ve been so much more productive than when I was living in Zuzu City that it’s hard to believe.”

                          “Think you’d want to stay when you strike it rich, you two?” Archie asked them.

                          Leah unhesitatingly said she would while Elliott said he wasn’t sure. The city still held a great deal of attraction to him, though he admitted that once he could get his first book out of the way, he could do it from anywhere. Leah turned the question around on Archie, about whether he thought he would stay in Pelican Town long-term.

                          “Yeah, I think I would. The stuff I miss about the city seems small compared to feeling the fulfilment of farming and feeling like I have a place in the world,” he answered.

                          “What about you, Sandy?” Leah asked, excitedly.

                          “I like visiting the valley, but it’s the desert or the city that are in my future,” she replied. “I’ve got my home and my business, and a pretty good life.” She turned to Archie. “What would you say to a commute from Cactus Town?”

                          Archie certainly never considered it. “There are good reasons to be in the fields close to dawn, I’m not sure it’s commuting work,” he said simply, trying not to think too much about the implications going forward. “Though I have no idea what I’d do here in the winter; and the desert seems like an appealing place then.”

                          No one around the bonfire actually knew what winter farming would be like. Archie had no immediate haste to add animals to the farm, which he imagined would be the bulk of any winter work and income, but the price of barns and feed held limited appeal. He’d have to ask Pierre, or resign himself to taking seasonal vacations, like a reverse schoolteacher, just without the accompanying income.

                          More wine and small-talk flowed; with Sandy agreeing to the double-date sometime early in the autumn since her schedule was already a bit off with her two summer trips to the valley. As one-in-the-morning approached, the two couples’ respective focuses narrowed away from conversations and inward, toward enjoying time with each other rather than company. After a while of silent cuddling Archie suggested it may be time to call it for the evening. Sandy agreed, and Elliott and Leah decided they’d sit by the fire a bit longer. Archie debated asking Leah if she was going back to hers, but decided it wasn’t his business even if he was suspicious of Elliott’s motives. It was, ever and always, her choice. Though a bit disquieted about that, he packed up the towels and leftover marshmallows into his bag and joined Sandy for the walk up to the farmhouse, letting Sandy know he was glad she came for the festival, even if a lot of things got in the way of them spending as much time together as he would have liked. She didn’t seem fazed, but he assured her he’d make it up to her even if it was only a perceived problem on his end.

                          They were both unsure what direction their relationship was going, or even where they wanted it to, but both wanted to enjoy it in the present. It was the first time that Sandy had slept over, and she was surprised at how comfortable the house was with the nighttime breeze drifting through the window, along with the sounds of the forest animals, the likes of which she didn’t hear, due to the limited wildlife and how loud the desert gales could get. They cuddled closely both out of wanting to and the circumstances of the cramped bed; though Archie thought it was more comfortable than her couch. They kissed, caressed each other, and explored each other’s bodies, which was vastly more enjoyable than their impromptu exploration of their own futures was. When they woke up to the rooster crowing at the early hour of midsummer dawn, Archie spied a look of contentment on her face along with that of surprise at the novelty of being woken up by a rooster. They smiled at each other and went back to sleep.

                          Yes, I hinted at INTERCOURSE. The exploration included EROGENOUS ZONES. It was not at all tinny.
                            Minimanta and Risukage like this.
                          • Risukage

                            Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                            Ah, yes, intercourse, a good WOODY word. :rofl:

                            On a story note, nifty, this is the first time that anyone's given Gunther any screen time more than "hi, welcome to the library," and the mystery around him, Linus, the farm, and all is intriguing. What is it that you hide, Linus, and worry about others knowing? You poor bearded Cassandra, Archie is going to read those notes anyway and regret it. You did the best you could. *Pats comfortingly.*
                              Alkanthe likes this.
                            • Kid Absurdity

                              Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                              Two chapters within 6 days, including busy times at work yo whaaaaaat? I guess my motivation has returned for a quick burst. This chapter is less ridiculously long, but should be pretty punchy. Right in the feels.

                              After the Luau, when Sandy drove back to the desert and after Archie had spent a good chunk of his day in the fields, he finally decided to take the initiative on what his sister had asked him to do some weeks back. In order to do that, he would need some help, and from Leah, specifically, so after cleaning himself up he passed by her cottage, only to hear her shouting at someone on the phone this time. When she started shouting at him to stop calling, he pieced together that it was her controlling ex-boyfriend from the city. He stepped away from the door for a bit and waited it out, and a couple of minutes later, Leah, blushing and flustered, burst out of her cottage only to notice Archie standing not very far outside. The absurdity of the situation dawned on her too.

                              “So,” she said with a forced laugh, “how much did you hear?”

                              “A sentence or two, but enough to guess who you were shouting at,” he answered, fairly honestly. “I actually wanted to ask a favour of you, or, I guess you could call it a commission.”

                              “You want me to make you art?” She asked, slightly incredulously.

                              “Nothing as lofty as art in its glorious subjectiveness this time, sorry, I need a logo for the farm and I’d like you to design it. I can’t pay a huge amount, maybe 4500 Guilders.”

                              “Throw in a couple of veggie baskets and you have a deal. What are you using the logo for?”

                              “Stickers for the produce, marketing, a website one day, maybe. I think that by the fall I’ll be able to grow more than there’s local demand for. Even now, Pierre is saying I’d better start making jam out of my blueberries, because there isn’t much more of a market here. Not like I can make much jam on my tiny hot plate…”

                              Leah excitedly agreed; she was glad to have a paying project to tide her over while she literally chipped away at the sculptures she actually wanted to spend her time making. With that first stage taken care of, he looped through town and up to the mountains to go to Robin and her family’s house before stopping in to see Linus and read the field notes. He entered through the carpenter’s shop door, raising excitement and false hopes for Robin that there was going to be a big woodworking job for her. He hadn’t really caught up with Robin since the Flower Dance, and they exchanged small talk about how their respective business was going, and his grandfather’s old house. He mentioned that his girlfriend seemed to prefer something more modern, which Robin scoffed at. For her part, the wood panelling of thirty years ago’s home décor trends had never and would never go out of style. He asked if Sebastian was in, as he wanted to commission him for a job. This was even more surprising to Robin, who pointed Archie toward the basement, where Sebastian lived, and told him to knock very loudly. Archie did. Some muffled muttering and a few seconds later, Sebastian opened up his door, clearly surprised to see the farmer there.

                              “Hey Archie,” he said with a bit of a yawn, walking past Archie and up the stairs. “Good timing, I need some more coffee before I get back to work, what brings you here?”

                              Archie followed him up to the kitchen. “I have an upcoming job that I wanted to see if you can and would be willing to do. I’m not sure I can pay you what it’s worth, but I can pay.”

                              “What’s the job?”

                              “Leah’s making me a logo for the farm that I’m going to need digitized, and that would look good printed on something as small as a produce sticker.”

                              Sebastian considered it, looking surprised. “Holy Yoba, Archie, you do not mess around with the easy jobs. It’s outside my usual expertise – I can do it, it’ll just take me some extra time to research how to approach editing graphics for small-surface printing. I’m a programmer; I just dabble with image editing.”

                              “How much do you think is a fair price for it?”

                              “4000. 500 an hour for 3 hours of research, 1250 an hour for 2 hours of work.”

                              “Alright,” Archie said, offering a handshake to seal the deal, thinking about how over half of his forthcoming blueberry harvest’s profits were about to get expended, but it was an investment that his sister assured him needed to be made. “Pleasure doing business.”

                              “Stick around for coffee,” Sebastian offered, to Archie’s surprise. Archie agreed. They discussed a range of topics – the bonfire, Sebastian’s current freelance contract, Archie and Sandy, Leah and Elliott, Abigail’s suspicions, much of the gossip. While Sebastian could be aloof sometimes, he was keenly perceptive of what was going on around town, and he had his opinions of them, even if it sometimes took a great deal of coaxing to get them out of his mind and into the open. At some point during their discussion, Demetrius walked into the kitchen looking for some coffee of his own, and was surprised to see Sebastian above ground, and talking with someone. Archie and the scientist exchanged greetings before he puttered back off to his lab. Shortly after, Sebastian excused himself to get back to work, leaving Archie to pass back through Robin’s shop on his way out. He thanked her and let her know that Sebastian was going to help digitize his farm’s new logo, which Robin thought was almost as wonderful as building farm buildings on his property would be, or expanding his house, or renovating it to fit his girlfriend’s modern sensibilities. Archie said he’d keep it in all in mind for when he could afford it with a weary laugh while Robin cackled to herself.

                              He pressed on along the plateau to Linus’ tent. The older man was standing by his fire-pit, looking out over the mountain lake, when he heard Archie approaching. Without turning around, he told Archie to take a seat, which Archie did next to the ashen logs. After a few minutes, Linus turned to walk back toward his tent, pausing to let Archie know, “rain tomorrow”.

                              “Forecast was just for cloud and wind,” he replied, having watched it after waking up.

                              “They’re wrong. It’ll rain,” Linus repeated. Archie shrugged and waited while Linus dipped into his tent and returned with the field notes. “I hope you find this worth it,” he said, gently depositing the book on Archie’s lap.

                              “So do I,” Archie said, flicking open the front cover:

                              Notes on a Cultural Probe of Mining Towns

                              L. Forester – Department of Anthropology

                              Ferngill University – Zuzu Campus

                              He glanced over at Linus then back to the book, skimming it for topics of interest, Junimos, agriculture, and mining, the intersections of which the migrants to Ferngill from the Finegan family occupied.

                              Pages 17-18, [dated 44 years ago]: While Yoba-worship is pervasive in the Stardew Valley region, the rural farming and mining towns have developed their own regional variations on the faith and spirituality more broadly. Ensconced between the Cindersnap Forest, the Gem Sea, and the Sawtooth mountain range, the hamlet of Pelican Town, population 247, is a prime example of such variations. In contrast with monotheistic Yoba-worship, local superstition holds that mischievous spirits from within the mountains, roughly analogous to the Aos Sì of the Emerald Isles – traverse the mines causing mischief, occasionally foraying into the town itself. Rumours of dwarves and subterranean monsters abound, particularly among the miners.1 The fishermen have their own nautical superstitions, of merfolk and sirens, misleading will o’ the wisps in storms, and even ghost ships prowling the waves in search of no one knows what. Those who make their homes in the forest make occasional offerings to the Junimos, purported to be helpful nature spirits. While evidence of their existence, and helpfulness, is thin on the ground, the troubles that befall the miners and those who eke out their living at sea largely pass over the forest.

                              1) Minor injuries to the miners beyond the ordinary scope of their exertions are startlingly more common than one would expect out of a town with an entrenched mining culture for three generations. It seems that hardly a shift goes by without some poor sod getting dazed by a rock falling on his cap.

                              He continued leafing through the book, finding the tone changing from the dry, detached, academic one into a more involved one as the anthropologist stayed in the town longer and longer, and got to know more of the people living there.

                              Page 53, [dated 42 years ago]: This summer, one of the farms in the Cindersnap Forest part of Pelican Town, experienced a boom that could scarcely be believed. The other farmers produced about the same as they always had in spite of the soil not being significantly different from property to property, a fact confirmed by Professors Grattan (Geology) and Rathborne (Agronomy). Initially, the owner of the property in question, Lachlan Finegan, claimed it was the luck of the Emerald Isles following him. The town is more inclined to point their fingers toward the Junimos, and each explanation is about as likely as the other. It defies both description and belief.

                              “Did anyone ever find out if that first boom year on the farm was thanks to the Junimos?” Archie asked Linus.

                              “Yes,” he replied, “he did, so keep reading.”

                              Archie kept skimming the book, picking out an observation of interest here and there, but it wasn’t until another entry dated several years later that the entry Linus was referring to came up.

                              Page 119, [dated 39 years ago]: Over the past few years where I would take my summers doing fieldwork here, I have benefitted from the friendship of the fortunate farmer, Lachlan Finegan both in terms of company and his astute cultural observations about life in Pelican Town being the way it is because of the particular configurations with which nature, culture, and the economy intersect here. Today, while his wife was making a social call to the Mullner house, we sat sipping whiskey in his farmhouse, as cozy as it was cramped, when I observed a great change in my friend’s behaviour. It was not habitual for him to start his drinking alone, which I brushed off at the time as he was only more animated than usual for his intoxicated state, though he seemed more disinterested in our line of conversation. As I realized some hours and tumblers later, that was because he had something very specific he wanted to say, something that he had hidden for a long time and that had weighed heavily on him, but that he only felt that he could express in a less coherent frame of mind.

                              “It was the Junimos,” he said.

                              “What was the Junimos?” I asked him.

                              “The farm,” he told me, guiltily, as though all of his effort in building and maintaining it, and the good it did the stability of the town was all rendered invalid. “The boom years, it’s all because of them, and what I’ve offered them. Oh, Yoba, what I’ve offered them,” he near to wailed, burying his face in his hands.

                              I took a long and anxious sip of my whiskey and put a hand on my friend’s shoulder.

                              “I pledged my life to this place, but that wasn’t enough for them, oh no, not nearly enough,” he began, his voice shaking. “Not just me, but one of my descendants.”

                              Archie stopped reading, stunned, as he tried to piece together the consequences of that sentence in his own mind, while Linus turned away. He felt nauseated.

                              His voice shaking, he tried to get the older man’s attention. “Linus?”

                              Linus’ response was strained as well. “It’s in there. I told you that you wouldn’t like it, but you might as well commit to it, now.”

                              With a deep breath and belaboured movements, he opened the book and kept reading.

                              The explanation was a muddled one, as much due to the whiskey as his own perturbed state. At first, I wasn’t sure of what the problem was, since he hoped to keep the farm in the family anyway, though his daughter was ill-disposed to taking it over. The subtle tendrils of the Junimos influence would ensure that whoever that hapless descendant was, however many generations down the line, they would never enjoy any greater success in their lives than running this farm in this remote mining town.

                              He swore me to secrecy about what he had told me, and in my cowardice, I agreed.

                              Suddenly Archie saw all his failures in the city in a new light. Sure, he was an unmotivated millennial in a difficult job market, but perhaps he also kept failing for reasons beyond his control. And while the Junimos were pleasant enough in their stated goals for local harmony with nature and among the townsfolk, they were not, universally, nice, in human terms. As much as he had come to enjoy farming, and found fulfillment in the work, in the moment he finished that paragraph, he wanted nothing more in that moment than to leave for the city or the desert, to go back to his struggle to find his own way, against the current of fate the Junimos had dumped him in, and to never look back.

                              Grimly, he kept reading, the next entry of note was dated about ten days later.

                              I could only in good conscience keep what Lachlan told me a secret from the town, but not his wife, who had also become a friend, and who had every right to know what Lachlan had signed their bloodline up for. She had a grudging and superstitious respect for the Junimos, but that didn’t stop her from being absolutely livid. In the next few days, she’ll be going to Mayor Lewis, the local officiant, to start the process of divorce. Any trust whereby the townsfolk would help me with my research, however, is shot to pieces. I don’t expect I’ll be returning after the end of this summer.

                              “The Mayor Lewis my grandmother went to for her divorce; he was the current mayor’s father?” Archie asked.

                              “His grandfather. The Lewis family was in the habit of marrying and having children early, the current mayor being the exception.”

                              “I thought Lewis was his first name.”

                              “It’s the first name everyone calls him.”

                              The divorce was finalized quickly, creating rumour and scandal in the town and one further surprise for me. The former Mrs. Aisling Finegan asked me to take her to Zuzu City rather than her staying in Pelican Town.

                              The final entry was dated much more recently, only sixteen years ago:

                              I came back to Pelican Town for only the second time since leaving with Aisling. The first was two years ago, when, after a happy and travel-filled period as my companion, she died. I thought I owed it to my old friend to tell him in person. The town has been in disarray since I left, the local mining industry is near to collapse, but the farm marches on as ever it has.

                              With the benefit of years to reflect on it, Lachlan forgave me for telling his secret and ruining his marriage, though maybe he always cared more about the farm and the Junimos than it. He invited me to take up residence here again, something I have to admit I had considered but didn’t for fear of the past.

                              Lachlan confided one open secret to me, having no fear of me breaking his trust with it. He has grown sick and expects to live only another two years or so.

                              This most recent time was when he died. Like my relationship with his former wife, his former farm, and his former town, my relationship with him was a complex one, but one where I wanted to be present when his soul was steered off of this great green Earth. My anthropological survey is a dead project, but with all those intervening changes in my life I may yet stay in Pelican Town.

                              “You wrote this.” Archie said aloud to Linus, half-asking and half-telling. He had pieced together that Linus was an old friend of his grandfather’s with exposure to the Junimos.

                              “Yes,” the older man said.

                              “I need some time alone,” Archie said, getting up and starting his long walk back toward the farm, book in hand, and a torrent of negative emotions; anger, fear, anxiety and helplessness, in his heart.

                              So a few things about this chapter.
                              1) I was kicking around a few thoughts about the Junimos and how they're represented pretty benevolently in the game, which is cool, but I wanted to take a slightly different tack with them using the old trope of bargaining with spirits entailing more than you ever expect as a way to tackle free will vs. determinism and to feed into Archie's obsession with what he's doing in Pelican Town, and the relationship between his family and this place.
                              2) This also extends to Linus running off with his grandmother post-divorce and being an anthropologist. We know Linus doesn't care much for traditional work, that he's well traveled and knows a lot of things, and this was the way I decided to render that while also connecting him to the locale + Junimos (see Chapter 7).
                              3) How Archie responds once he's had time to process this, and the acceleration of the farm's development, will come up big in the next couple of chapters.
                                Risukage, Alkanthe and Minimanta like this.
                              • Risukage

                                Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                                Gah, I wanted to reply sooner, but noooo, I had to come down sick and incoherent. And I need to comment 'cause those academic papers, tho. I hate writing and researching and making footnotes, but it's always cool to see people actually do it right in fiction. It makes it more "real." And perhaps it's time that Archie had words with our little fruit-shaped friends, to figure out why things went all pear-shaped...
                                  Alkanthe likes this.
                                • Kid Absurdity

                                  Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                                  Motivation is a fickle thing + busy holidays. I'd say I hope yours were as amazing as Shane, but that is not my train. Happy new year everyone!

                                  The rest of the summer Archie kept to himself, continuing to work toward growing the farm but resenting it at every turn. If the forecasts called for rain the next day, he’d hustle through his chores and catch the bus to the desert, eager to be out of the Junimos’ grasp and in Sandy’s for a while. Pelican Town started to feel a bit insufferable, not because anyone was aggravating him in particular, except for Pierre. The shopkeeper was starting to boil Archie’s blood with his constant talk about the autumn Harvest Fair and how he was going to win the grange display contest yet again this year, as though Archie’s products, or those of any of the other artisans in the city, weren’t even a competitive consideration.

                                  He went to the saloon on Fridays to spend time with Sam, Sebastian, and Abigail. Leah was occasionally there and occasionally not, given her relationship with Elliott being on again. Archie’s heart wasn’t particularly in it, and it showed, though only Abigail really pressed him on it, and let up after Archie told her he’d tell her about it a little later on.

                                  The one reprieve from Archie’s funk was the buzz of excitement about the upcoming Dance of the Moonlight Jellies, one of the few festivals in Pelican Town he remembered from his childhood visits to his grandfather’s farm over the summers. Vast migrations of bioluminescent jellyfish passed by the beach and the docks, and Archie remembered being mesmerized by them as a child. He was excited to see them again, and, each for their own reasons, his friends were too. Everyone found the jellyfish beautiful, but Sebastian welcomed the cooler weather coming, Sam built up, and got caught up in, Vincent’s excitement about it, and Abigail enjoyed the holiday giving her some harmonious family time. Archie was additionally excited that his sister was finally coming to visit, half a year after he’d moved into the place. For all the friction in their personalities, outlooks, and life paths they managed to be very close, especially after his health scare.

                                  The morning of the festival, Archie went to meet his sister in the meadow by the bus stop, where he suggested that she park her rental car. Since Archie didn’t drive, or have a car, the space that his grandfather used to park his was occupied by trellises of chili peppers stretching upward to get the most sun. His sister flew in from Gallibrand to Zuzu City, business class, he was sure, and drove through the desert in the sporty rental convertible that she gently eased to a stop in the meadow. He imagined that the drive would have been a very enjoyable one with the rag-top down.

                                  “Bro!” She greeted him, pulling him in for a forceful hug that he returned in kind, startling her with the strength of it. “The farm work’s been good for you!” she added with a laugh.

                                  “Welcome, sis. Thanks for crossing the country. It’s nice to see you,” he said, a huge grin on his face.

                                  “It’s good to see you too. Can we grab something to eat in town after we drop my bag off? I’m starving,” Maeve ranted, “the quinoa I had for breakfast wasn’t the most filling thing in the world.”

                                  “I’ve got food at home if you want,” he replied.

                                  “No offense to your cooking, Archie, but I’d appreciate the convenience and I want to see the general store your business depends on,” she countered.

                                  Archie shrugged. She had made the point that in addition to seeing the jellyfish, she wanted to use her couple of days in Pelican town to help Archie’s business out. They rounded the bend in the dirt road leading up to the farm and no sooner than did they pass through the gate than Maeve squealed in delight. “Oh Yoba, Archie, this is already looking so much better than those photos of the disaster zone this place used to look like. How did you do it?”

                                  “Working fourteen hour days,” he replied casually. “I was motivated thanks to Joja threatening to ruin the joint.”

                                  Maeve looked surprised. “It has been good for you.”

                                  “Not all good, but I’m definitely working harder. Let’s get you set up and then fed.”

                                  They walked more slowly up to the farmhouse, replaying memories of years long past with their family here, the pace of things continuing when Archie opened the door and let Maeve in, watching with interest as she took it all in – the old fireplace, their grandfather’s table, photos on the wall, the simple and utilitarian couch he commissioned from Robin so that there’d be room for both of them to sleep.

                                  “You’ve hardly changed the place,” she mentioned.

                                  “I’ll worry about interior decorating when I’m swimming in money,” he replied, “but getting a kitchen would be nice.”

                                  She nodded. “I’m sleeping on the couch?”

                                  “Yeah, provided my girlfriend doesn’t boot me out of the bedroom,” I’ll have to be on my best behaviour today,” he joked.

                                  “With how picky you were in the city, I’m surprised you found one here so quickly,” she teased, though there was some matter-of-fact truth to it.

                                  “Technically, she found me. I think you’ll like her. She’s very business-minded, like someone we both know.”

                                  “Yoba, the one time that I don’t take a trip involving business networking my brother’s dating a business type. Mom and Dad will never believe any of this.”

                                  They laughed, and walked back toward the bus stop and into town. The square was comparably more bustling than usual since more people had the day off than usual. Maru and Penny were reading on one of the benches between the square and the cemetery, Lewis was out and about checking in on things while Evelyn was doing some gardening. They kept the introductions short so that Maeve could get some food, though the expectations of everyone getting to meet the farmer’s sister were running high. The general store was more bustling with activity when the pair walked in, as Jodi and Emily were buying camping chairs and blankets for the night’s festival, Leah, Demetrius, and Harvey were all getting groceries. Archie grabbed a couple of chairs and blankets, and a muffin, while Maeve spent more time looking at the food.

                                  The pleasant bustle of the store didn’t last. A couple of minutes after they walked in, the bell on the back of the door jingled again as an only vaguely familiar person walked in. Archie knew that the man, who was dressed in a double-breasted suit; far too formal for the locale, and wearing small circular glasses, was Morris - the manager of the local Joja Mart. He hadn’t had much occasion to meet him, save for walking past the Joja Mart early in his visit and from correspondence about taking out a Joja membership, but he felt instantly repulsed, and tense. He could only imagine how much worse Pierre was feeling at the moment his nemesis strode into his shop.

                                  “I have a gift for all you hard-working residents of Pelican Town,” Morris shouted with joy tinged with a hint of malice. “Coupons for half price on all Joja Mart purchases, valid today only!”

                                  Pierre groaned and seethed at the underhanded tactics he felt powerless to prevent, as the scene unfolded around him. Archie, and Maeve, from down the aisle she was in, glared daggers at Morris, while Jodi, Emily, and Demetrius went to grab their coupons and leave the store. Harvey and Leah didn’t move, as Morris zeroed in on the farmer.

                                  “You’d probably save 2000G on your purchases today, and 50 on the muffin alone!”

                                  Archie shuffled the things he was holding, and told Morris to wait a moment as he walked down an aisle. Thinking he’d replace the goods he was going to buy, Morris smirked wickedly at Pierre before turning around to see Archie return with everything he was holding before, plus another five muffins.

                                  “Sorry about that,” Archie told him, “it was the strangest thing; I just suddenly started feeling unbearably hungry. Can you please step to your left? You’re in the way,” he added, gesturing at the counter and a slightly relieved looking Pierre.

                                  “What?” Morris spluttered. “But think of the money you could save.”

                                  Archie shrugged, walking straight toward the counter with little heed for Morris, whose shoulder he clipped on the way. “I’ll pay not to buy your flimsy, processed crap. Happy Dance of the Moonlight Jellies.”

                                  Flustered, Morris offered coupons to Leah and Harvey, who both declined them. Archie assumed it was due to their general health-consciousness. Morris turned on his heels and walked toward the door, pausing to inform Pierre – “You can’t sustain this forever,” before leaving. He missed Maeve entirely.

                                  “Well, that was unpleasant,” Archie said as he started loading his purchases onto the counter, then, calling out, he shouted, “sis, you find your food yet?”

                                  Maeve stomped up to the cash with a ham, cheese, and tomato sandwich and a packaged salad. “What a scumbag.”

                                  Pierre started to ring up the purchases with relief manifest on his face. “That cost me half my customers for the day, but thanks, all of you. I wish I could compete with that.”

                                  “Pretty soon, you might not have to,” Archie said, cryptically, as he paid for the festival supplies and the food for himself and Maeve. “After you ring up their purchases,” he said, gesturing to Harvey and Leah, let’s talk business. Harvey, I appreciate what you did, Leah, especially given your budget, same to you.”

                                  Some brief outpourings of solidarity followed as the doctor and the artist left the store, wishing the Finegans and Pierre good luck in carrying out their business.

                                  “Are Abigail and Caroline around?” Archie asked.

                                  “Abigail is, Caroline’s out.” The shopkeeper replied.

                                  “You may want her to be around for this. It could be a good learning experience.”

                                  Pierre looked at Archie curiously before exiting the shop and into his house, returning with Abigail, wondering on his way there and back what it was about the farmer that allowed him to so easily commandeer tense situations. He thought that the farmer’s fiery temper at the Flower Dance was a bad influence on his daughter, but that his attitude was also aimed at helping his business. He couldn’t imagine what the farmer was planning, especially in so far as his daughter would be involved. When Pierre and Abigail got back, proper introductions between them and Maeve were made, and they explained the situation with Morris, which set Abigail off onto an angry cursing rant of her own. Once Abigail had expended her fury, Archie took the lead.

                                  “Alright, I think what happened shows that Joja is getting as desperate as you are if they want to take more losses to drive you out, and they probably will be able to because of the amount of profits they make in the city. I think you’re screwed unless you diversify your business, and my sister had an idea that should let you side-step Joja Mart completely instead of getting stuck competing directly with them.”

                                  Pierre looked uneasy and apprehensive, while also being interested, but it was Abigail who urged them to go on and explain.

                                  “Pelican Town is too small a retail market for either you or Joja to be sustainable, in my opinion,” Maeve said, “and it’s the same problem for my brother and the farm. He’s hitting the point where he can’t sell everything to you because it’ll rot on the shelf before there’s enough demand for it in town.”

                                  “That hardly sounds encouraging,” Pierre responded.

                                  “Believe me, Pierre, the fact that it looks like an awful situation is what makes the solution so simple and elegant,” Archies told him. “Please go on, Maeve.”

                                  “To solve both problems, you partner up. Pierre, you become the distributor for the farm’s produce, selling to organic food stores in the larger towns and cities at a markup, and split the profits. Joja can bleed themselves dry trying to put Pierre’s General Store out of business, but with Pierre’s Organics Distribution as a side-line, your livelihood and family will be fine. Archie grows the farm and his market, and makes a little bit extra off his share of the markups. You both win, the town wins, city-folk who pay 400 Guilders for a head of farm-grown organic kale for some reason win. Think about it.”

                                  “It’d be a different life selling to shops and delivering to the cities,” Pierre mused. “I’d need someone to look after the shop.”

                                  “You have someone,” Archie said, pointing directly at Abigail, who was beaming. “And you’d probably need to work on some Wednesdays, too. Look, discuss it among your family and let us know when you’re ready, but if you could before the first fall harvest, that’d be best for us.”

                                  “I pulled in a favour from my company’s lawyer, and I’ve got a draft template for a contract back at the farmhouse,” Maeve told Pierre and Abigail, “it should be pretty straightforward to negotiate the terms and fill them in, or worst case, I can pay to have him re-draft something.”

                                  “Have a chat with your family about it, Pierre, without us around,” Archie said, picking up the chairs, blankets, and muffins. “See you at the festival, pleasure doing business, and down with Joja Mart.”

                                  “Please tell me we’re toasting to that tonight,” Maeve added.

                                  “Grab a bottle of wine,” Archie said, good-naturedly, even though he wanted to get going at that point, as he waited and then paid for the bottle, before the two of them moved to leave to enjoy their food and prepare for the festival. “Oh! Abigail - one more thing.”

                                  “Yeah, Archie?”

                                  “If your family decides to go for this, be vague about what I offered until we’re underway, please?”

                                  “I don’t think it’s necessary, but if you insist,” she said, with a look of consternation.

                                  “I do,” the farmer concluded. “I’d rather Joja stay blissfully ignorant until we start to bleed them.”

                                  They said their goodbyes, and in the store, Pierre and Abigail began a long talk about the merits and flaws of the Finegans’ plan. Outside, Archie and Maeve found a bench to sit on and tore into their food. The square had mostly emptied out, affording the siblings a return to their privacy.

                                  “You handled that well,” Maeve told him. “You were just pushy enough.”

                                  “Thanks, and you made it seem perfectly rational.”

                                  “That’s because it is, Archie, but only because you’ve ramped your production up this fast. You have to maintain this now,” she admonished him with earnest seriousness. “If he agrees, you have responsibilities to a lot more people than just yourself with this farm.”

                                  “It’s funny,” Archie said, running a hand through his hair, smoothing its waviness out momentarily, “not long before you got here; I was completely demotivated to do much farm work at all. I learned some stuff about the farm, the town, and our grandparents that really gave me pause.”

                                  “What could possibly… wait, our grandparents? Both of them? Spill it, Archie.”

                                  “I got hold of an anthropologist’s field notes about the town. He lived here while Granddad was middle-aged, when it was still a mining town. They’re on my bedside table if you want to read them yourself,” He informed her.

                                  “I will, can you give me the capsule summary first?”

                                  “Sure. Remember the Junimos?” He asked, by way of a preamble.

                                  “The forest spirits people think exist around here.”

                                  “And the ones I saw the day you brained me with that plank. Bear with me when I say this, but I’d experienced a lot of reason to believe they’re real, before reading that Granddad struck a bargain with them in those notes. He thought they existed, Grandma did too, and the anthropologist, who should have been the most skeptical, bought in after eliminating other possibilities.”

                                  “Like what?”

                                  “Read it yourself,” Archie said, waving her question off with an air of irritation. “We’re talking about what I found and how it affected me. Which is: Granddad bargained with the Junimos such that they’d ensure the farm’s success, but someone in the bloodline would be fated to come back here, it being the only place they could succeed. Turns out, that’s me, and I’m not exactly happy about having no say in the matter. It made the success feel as meaningless as cubicle work at Joja HQ. Grandma was also not happy, as it turned out. As soon as she found out about that, she started the divorce proceedings and ran off to the city with the anthropologist. I don’t know why she never spoke to mom after that, though. Guilt, maybe?”

                                  Maeve took it all in, looking confused at points and concerned at others. “Does mom know?”

                                  “Not yet. I’ve been sitting on it a bit. Eventually she will, though I’m not sure what it’ll help.”

                                  She nodded. “But you, it seems so weird to hear that coming from you, you’re the least fatalistic person I know. Remember what you told me when you decided to study theatre?”

                                  “I remember that like it was yesterday,” he mused, smiling wistfully, “I told you I’d rather make my own bad decision than my family’s good one. Same deal here, I’d say.”

                                  “Except it was your decision to come here. You could have sold the place off the second you opened that envelope, but you chose to become a farmer instead and bust your ass. Even if you were fated to come here, you weren’t fated to magically become a hard worker out of nowhere.”

                                  Archie paused and reflected on that, stroking his chin. “I’d have to think about that some more.”

                                  “Feeling more motivated?” she asked.

                                  Archie didn’t know, and said as much.

                                  By the time Sandy arrived, after dinner and later than anticipated, there was hardly any time for small talk and introductions to Maeve before they had to head down to the beach to ensure they got a good spot to observe the jellyfish from. Sandy was skeptical as to what all the fuss could possibly be about, prompting stealthy eye-rolls from Maeve in the darkness of the evening. Archie waxed nostalgic about his past experiences of the festival; so much as he could remember them. While his enthusiasm was normally contagious, Sandy’s skepticism didn’t go away, though she was fully prepared to let Archie enjoy it even if she wasn’t entirely open-minded about it. She liked the undivided attention she got when Archie fled to the desert, and the change of pace, while refreshing, left her wondering why the evening’s activity had to be looking at jellyfish, of all the possible things they could do together. But that was Pelican Town’s village provincialism, she told herself.

                                  As it so happened, their presence at the beach was not only anticipated, but several people had clustered by the mouth of the path leading onto the beach, waiting for them. Pierre’s family, and Lewis, flagged them down as they approached, looking to be in good spirits.

                                  “We discussed your proposal,” Pierre told them, leaving Sandy somewhat confused as to what this was all about.

                                  It was actually Maeve who was the first to answer. “We’re glad. I don’t mean to be rude, but we’d hate to linger on business during the festival, so can you please cut to a quick summary?”

                                  Pierre nodded. “We just need to pin down the exact numbers, and scale them according to how much Archie can provide so we’re covered against risks like poor harvests and the like. We can negotiate it and finalize it in the next week or so.”

                                  “Great!” Archie told them, simply, scanning the beach for a good spot to sit at. Leah and Elliott were sitting outside of Elliott’s shack, talking casually. Alex and his grandparents were off on a far corner of the beach, and it seemed that a lot of the town hadn’t arrived yet, giving him an early selection of seating space. He decided that Willy would be the most informative about the Jellyfish themselves, which could present a nice bonus to the evening, so he ushered Sandy and Maeve out to the docks, to sit near the front of Willy’s cabin. At the base of the docks, he was surprised to run into Gunther and his wife. They were overlooking their daughter playing on the beach with Vincent and Jas, while talking with Jodi. He greeted them quickly, introduced Maeve and Sandy to them, and let them know how pleased he was to see them back, before walking out onto the docks themselves.

                                  They unfolded their folding chairs and took out the blankets, as the crispness of Autumn was finally coming in at night. Maeve sat down, huddled up in the blanket and kicked back, taking in the ocean, while Archie and Sandy set up their chairs, but sat on the dock, cuddling up with each other.

                                  “So what was that about?” Sandy asked him.

                                  “We’re working on a deal where he distributes produce from the farm outside of town,” Archie informed her. “There are bigger markets to tackle, and it should help both of us keep our businesses afloat.”

                                  “That’s very clever,” Sandy responded, “though I’m a bit surprised you didn’t come to me about it too.”

                                  “She’s the clever one,” Archie said, tilting his head toward his sister, knowing full well that all three of them were clever in different ways, “and we never really talked about your store’s business in enough depth for me to know you were interested in farm-grown organics.”

                                  Sandy shrugged. “I could see our customers liking having the choice, I’m not sure how much it would sell, though.” A somewhat lengthy discussion about the people of the Calico Desert and their demographic and consumer profiles followed, with Maeve asking a lot of questions that Sandy answered to varying degrees of completeness. It could have probably gone on even longer before they were interrupted by the sound of a creaking hinge, as Willy stepped out of his home to see the trio sitting up against the front wall of his house. Archie quickly greeted him and introduced him to Maeve and Sandy, before asking him to tell them a bit more about the Moonlight Jellies.

                                  “There’re a lot o’ things we don’t know about ‘em,” he offered as preamble, before waxing a bit more poetic about the marine life that formed the basis of his land-bound one. “They’re migratory, and they come ‘ere this time o’ year, every year I can remember. But no one knows where they go from here. They light up to see in the deep ocean, where they live. Same like an anglerfish’s bulb. Then they come here, to our shallow moonlit water, and they light up all the same. We dinnae know why, but we appreciate it all the same.”

                                  The three of them thanked him as he moved to walk down the docks and onto the beach.

                                  “When do they arrive?” Sandy asked before Willy got very far.

                                  “Midnight, give or take,” the fisherman shouted over his shoulder. “We send a boat with a candle out to sea, and then you won’t miss ‘em.”

                                  It was about half past ten, so while they were afforded a great vantage point to watch the jellyfish, they also had a great abundance of slightly awkward time on their hands. While Sandy was gracious and polite, and Maeve was Maeve, the dynamic with the three of them was not nearly so easygoing as Archie had with either of them individually. This was not lost on anyone involved. Maeve suggested that Archie should catch up with his friends before the jellyfish arrived, so he asked if Sandy wanted to join him. Sandy opted to wait for him, giving the two businesswomen some time to discuss, he presumed, business things.

                                  He walked along the other side of the docks to the beach, where Sebastian, Abigail, and Sam were standing, and he greeted them. Abigail cut the other guys off, startling everyone else, and pulled Archie aside.

                                  “Remember when I told you I’d never run the store?” She grilled him.

                                  “How could I forget?” He replied.

                                  “I didn’t want to run the store. I still don’t, but I’d like to pick up some experience beyond stocking shelves while I’m living here,” she ranted, looking both noticeably tense and more relieved as she went on.

                                  “I thought he was going to give you the responsibilities while he’s in the towns working on the new venture,” he said. “Why isn’t he?”

                                  “Mom’s going to do it,” she answered, flatly.

                                  “I’ll talk to them,” Archie tried to reassure her. “I don’t know what I’d say, mind you, but hopefully we can arrange some time for you to be in charge, even if your mom is supervising things. If worse comes to worse, I might be able to arrange something with Sandy for you to manage her store while we go on a Winter vacation.”

                                  Abigail seemed surprised at the response. “Thanks, Archie. I think I’m bashing up against not knowing what I can even do in Pelican Town anymore. I don’t mind helping Dad out, but I don’t want to do this forever.”

                                  He put a hand on her shoulder. “I hope you find something, and I’ll do what I can to help. You’ve got bigger dreams, even if you haven’t picked which one to chase.”

                                  They rejoined their friends, who had no difficulty discussing something else amongst themselves. When they returned, Sebastian had lit up a cigarette and was enjoying a rare lull in a conversation with Sam.

                                  “It looks like Vincent’s been getting along well with Gunther’s daughter.” Archie mentioned to Sam.

                                  “Yeah, dude! It’s great – we were lucky growing up with more of us around the same age. He isn’t so lucky, but I’m glad he’s got another friend, at least. He’s a good kid, y’know?”

                                  “And he doesn’t cramp your style too much,” Abigail joked, getting a good guffaw out of Sebastian and Sam alike.

                                  “I’m real glad,” Archie said. “You should make sure to meet my sister before she leaves tomorrow. I think you’d all like her. Hopefully Sandy is handling her in overprotective big sister mode.”

                                  Sebastian smiled. “That’s cute.”

                                  Abigail looked sharply at him. “That is about the last thing I thought you’d say.”

                                  “It’s cute because Archie is a grown adult, and because I would never do that with Maru.”

                                  Archie shrugged. “It wouldn’t suit you anyway, you’re not intimidating enough.”

                                  Sam cut in. “Ex-cuuuu-se me. I think you’d find that he can be plenty intimidating in the right circumstances. Try playing Legendary League with him sometime and listen to the creative ways he’ll threaten to remove your vital organs.”

                                  Sebastian chuckled at him and put a hand on the taller man’s shoulder. “Well, I wouldn’t have to if you weren’t such a feeder noob.”

                                  Archie and Abigail shrugged at each other, while Sam protested that he was not, in fact, a feeder noob, and Sebastian listed a number of instances in which Sam’s actions were noobish, and entailed feeding an opponent. After getting three-and-a-half items deep, Abigail and Archie walked off past Elliott’s cabin, where Abigail cast an anxious glance at him and Leah.

                                  “Have you seen Emily?” Archie asked her, both out of wanting to know and by way of a distraction.

                                  “She was at the back of the beach with Clint and Shane the last I saw,” she offered.

                                  “I’d like to let her know that Sandy’s here, care to join me?”

                                  She shook her head. “Nah, I’ll take my chances with Sam and Sebastian. Thanks again, Archie.”

                                  “You’re welcome.”

                                  Archie jogged over to where Abigail had pointed. Shane had since left, leaving Clint and Emily alone together. Archie waited in the wings for a gap in their conversation to say hello and to let Emily know that Sandy was in town and to say hello before the end of the night, before zipping back off toward the docks, and not a moment too soon as Lewis was preparing to launch the boat ahead of the arrival of the jellyfish. Archie offered to help out, but didn’t realize that the boat itself was barely large enough to hold the large candle. For symbolism’s sake, though, Lewis magnanimously let him “help” push the boat out to sea, before urging him to get back to his seat and enjoy the show. Archie took off down the dock, rattling the wooden boards with each stride.

                                  He got back to the spot he had taken and moved one of the folding chairs directly next to Sandy’s, slipping into the seat and bundling up with her under a large green woolen blanket. The tiny wooden boat bobbed as its prow cut through the fluctuating tide, carving a path out to the Gem Sea while the townsfolk’s anticipation built up. They waited as the boat pulled beyond the docks and inched toward the horizon, the flame flickering and nearly fading out of sight. Then, Maeve thought she saw a patch of the sea looking a bit more green than black, though Archie wasn’t so sure. While they argued about it, the patch of green grew in size and brightness as the bioluminescent jellyfish swam toward the shallows. If it were just a few, or a moderate sized school of them, it would have been pretty, but not nearly as impressive as the mass migration of jellyfish that it seemed there were. There were probably more than ten thousand of them, Archie estimated, all glowing, a beautiful show. Even Sandy, who had been so skeptical of the whole thing, leaned forward to watch with a mystified look, there being nothing quite like it in the desert save for the cacti flowering after the rare rainy days. Though there was more than enough to focus on in the water, Archie thought he saw something above him in his peripheral vision, and looked up to see a shooting star, pointing it out to Maeve and Sandy.

                                  “Make a wish,” Sandy suggested.

                                  “OK,” Archie said, pulling her close and kissing her while Maeve smiled and sighed.

                                  They watched the jellyfish inch toward the shore, circling and dancing beneath the waves in a hypnotic pattern, before, as a mass, they began to swim out from the inlet of the beach, back out to sea and Yoba-knows-where.

                                  “That was beautiful,” Archie mused aloud.

                                  “Made me feel like a kid again,” Maeve agreed. “I don’t think I’d seen that since I was 9.”

                                  “It was impressive,” Sandy said, a hint of surprise in her own voice. “I haven’t seen anything like it before.”

                                  “I keep thinking this valley is full of surprises, it’s just that was the most obvious one,” he said.

                                  “You do love your surprises,” she replied, prompting a snort from Maeve.

                                  “The only thing he likes more than getting surprised is doing the surprising,” she said, with the knowledge of having grown up with him that it was completely true. And while Archie wasn’t necessarily thrilled that his girlfriend and sister were ganging up on him, he knew it was true too. So much of his rural life, from the festivals to the dealing with Pierre, was motivated by his eagerness to surprise people. It was, he concluded, his theatrical nature.

                                  Their walk back from the beach was interrupted with many of the townspeople wanting to meet Maeve, given the beginnings of the business deal as well as simply being someone new to speak to. She handled that gracefully even though it was with less aplomb than he’d seen Sandy handle the few awkward situations he had seen her in. Maeve was a different kind of businesswoman, more driven, more always-on-the-go, and it filtered into her dealings with people. She didn’t give too much away, especially about how she thought her brother was doing, or much in way of embarrassing stories about him, which she easily could have, but she didn’t alienate anyone either. The walk through town and back to the farmhouse was fairly quiet, but relaxed. Archie and Sandy went to bed, while Maeve made herself comfortable on the couch, hoping against hope they wouldn’t be noisy, and thinking of what a mismatch the two of them were.

                                  The next chapter is going to be lighter shenanigans, I NEED THAT.
                                    Minimanta, Risukage and Alkanthe like this.
                                  • Kid Absurdity

                                    Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                                    January was a month of dragging contract negotiations that definitely affected my inclination to write. But anyway, here we go.

                                    Archie, Maeve, and Sandy all woke up early – Archie out of the habit of wanting to get into the fields early, Maeve out of the habit of being a go-getter whose peak productive hours were in the morning, and Sandy out of a need to get back to the desert to mind her shop. Archie cooked a batch of blueberry pancakes with part of the last harvest of the summer to go with everyone’s coffee. The table talk was of vague plans, what they’d do today. For Sandy, it was running her store before an evening of reading design blogs, and possibly a movie. For Maeve, it was enjoying a relaxing day. For Archie, it was press-ganging his sister into helping with the farm chores before they’d both enjoy a relaxing day together. Maeve did not look disappointed at this revelation, not that she’d ever demonstrate an unwillingness to do work in front of her brother. Archie and Sandy idly discussed the double-date they’d be going on the following week before the time came for Archie to walk her back to her car. No sooner than they were five steps from the farmhouse, before Archie had a chance to take in the slight discoloration of the autumn leaves, did Sandy inform him:

                                    “Your sister is intense.”

                                    Archie laughed. “Yeah, that’s the word everyone uses. What’d she do to give you that impression?”

                                    Sandy ran a hand through her hair, “Let me just say that I thought you asked a lot of questions – she wanted to know everything about my business from the supply chain to the demographic profiles of my customers.”

                                    “Sounds about right.”

                                    “She also asked a lot about me.”

                                    “She’s a protective big sister,” Archie replied. “I wouldn’t think too much of it.”

                                    “I think I made a fine impression, but it was uncomfortable.”

                                    He apologized. “I should have seen it coming, to be fair,” he added, neglecting to mention that he had suspected it was but he thought Maeve would ultimately approve of her by the end of it anyway.

                                    “Get away from people for long enough and they’ll surprise you in ways you wouldn’t expect,” Sandy replied.

                                    “I’ll try not to let that happen with you,” he said, thinking it was romantic at first, then quickly changing his mind once it was out of his mouth.

                                    Sandy, for her part smiled, they shared a quick kiss, and she was off to the desert. Maeve was sitting on the steps to the farmhouse when Archie got back.

                                    “What’s on the agenda?” she asked.

                                    “It’s the first day of fall, we’re going to harvest the last of the summer crops, then buy seeds for the fall, plant, and water those. These are usually the hardest days, I’m glad I’ve got some help.”

                                    “You should get help from the town,” she suggested.

                                    “When I can pay for help from the town, I might just,” he shot back. “We’ll have a nice lunch in town, and a good long talk, it feels we haven’t since well before I moved here.”

                                    Maeve nodded. “I’m looking forward to it.”

                                    Archie nodded. “I could guess. After the heart-to-heart you had with Sandy last night, I was sure you’d have something to say.”

                                    Maeve nodded again. “I do, it just isn’t what I expected it would be.”

                                    Archie motioned to her to go on.

                                    “You can do so much better.”

                                    Archie was momentarily stunned. His own infatuation with Sandy was pretty high-powered, and he acknowledged that in that moment, at least. It was part of why he thought the opposite; that it was him who was out of her league, rather than the other way around. It wasn’t just that she was attractive, inferno hot, even, but that she had that effortless social grace and confidence that he still felt he was playing at having. It seemed so incongruous to him that he could only answer with a confused, “wait, what?”

                                    “She’s gorgeous, Archie, and pretty pleasant, I’ll give you that, but she’s even lazier than the worst I’ve seen you, and your personalities don’t match at all.”

                                    Archie scratched his head. “I don’t understand how she’s lazy. She’s got her main business and her side-business;; she’s profitable enough that she doesn’t have to concern herself with money, what’s the issue?”

                                    “I can tell she’s not stupid, but she’s really ignorant about key aspects of her own business. She doesn’t care about learning about them, she doesn’t care about growing it, and she’s perfectly happy to let it stagnate and her with it. She hasn’t read a book in years. Even when you weren’t doing much to chase after your dreams, at least you dreamed big. I could respect that with her as much as I did with you... ”

                                    Archie cut her off. “You had a funny way of showing it,” he told her, tersely.

                                    “That’s because I wanted you to do more about them, not because I thought the dreams were stupid!” She protested, shaking her head forcefully enough to send her own red hair swinging. “She has no ambition, and you’re more ambitious than you would ever care to admit. Whether it’s with the farm, or just trying to understand the world, you obsess over the details. She doesn’t care, Archie, and unless she starts to, you’re spinning your wheels with her.”

                                    “I haven’t really seen that side of her, and it hasn’t been an obstacle yet,” Archie replied.

                                    “Look, maybe it will work out for you two, but I’m giving you my best prediction and advice. Try to get her to care about what you’re doing, because what’ll you do if she doesn’t?”

                                    Archie thought about it some more. She had no desire to move from the desert to the valley, or into his farmhouse, whatever modernisation might come down the track, at least not yet. In the long distance of the relationship it wasn’t always clear to him what he offered her, though they seemed mutually satisfied, but Sandy did seem indifferent about certain things aside from the geography of it.

                                    “I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought that much about the long-term potential, just trying to enjoy it as it happens,” he said, truthfully.

                                    “That’s fair, but you’ll have to start thinking about it eventually,” she conceded. “The sex good?” The bluntness of the question surprised him.

                                    “Yeah. It’s definitely good,” he replied.

                                    “I could tell. Thin walls,” she replied pointedly, before pausing to let her brother squirm before offering him a congratulatory high-five. “Enjoy yourself, but figure this stuff out eventually, ok?”

                                    “Will do, now help me with the last of these crops,” he said, sighing and blushing in evident agitation.

                                    They harvested the last stray blueberries and peppers before turning out the roots with hoes. It was a few hours of strenuous work, which Maeve soldiered through brave-facedly, though her discomfort was starting to show after the first hour.

                                    “You don’t have to keep on this,” Archie told her. “You should be comfortable on your flight back, not burning in every muscle.”

                                    “I’d rather be helpful.” She was terse, and proud, Yoba bless her, and Archie was sure she wouldn’t voluntarily stand down on a matter of work.

                                    “Be helpful filling up the watering cans instead for a few minutes, you’re the harder worker, but you’re not used to this.”

                                    After a few hours, the fields were cleared and the two of them headed into town for lunch and to buy the seeds they would be planting that afternoon. Pierre and Maeve haggled a bit about the proportion in which the profits of the joint venture would be distributed, but it ended with Pierre signing the contract with a split that Maeve said was in a favourable range for Archie. Archie signed as well, and the next stage of the farm’s development had begun in earnest. With help from Maeve, the planting went quickly, and the siblings bid each other a warm goodbye, with Maeve admonishing Archie to visit the family in the winter, something he was more than willing to do in the absence of having crops to grow or farm animals to look after. As the autumn was starting he didn’t have a good grasp on how he would spend the winter, though he had a number of unfocused ideas. He could try mining, like so many people had recommended, he could take short trips into the desert to beat the cold and spend time with Sandy, he could even travel a bit further afield if the fall was prosperous enough and the war wasn’t putting too much of a strain on being able to travel. He gave all of that some thought as Maeve piled her things into the rental car and drove off toward Zuzu City Airport.

                                    The next morning, while Archie was watering his freshly-planted crops, he was surprised to see Leah walking up the southern path onto the farm, a portfolio case in hand. Visits from Leah were infrequent, especially this early in the morning, as she was inclined toward either sleeping in or more solitary nature walks this early into the day. She was smiling widely while also looking nervously alert when she waved to Archie, pointed to the case, and shouted “It’s ready!”

                                    Archie put down the watering can and walked up to greet her and usher her into the farmhouse. “I’m so excited,” he said, “and your timing is perfect!”

                                    Leah looked at him strangely. “Because your sister just left?”

                                    “No,” Archie said, starting to clear off the antique teak table in the living room. “I’d rather she were here, but I’ll send her a photo. It’s because Pierre and I just signed a business deal that should help both of us out, and the logo is going to be a useful part of it.”

                                    Archie continued by explaining the distribution deal, which Leah thought made a great deal of sense. Of course it did, Archie mentioned, his sister was always the sensible one, but he was pleased both by the sense that he was starting to set down roots in the valley and the prospect that it might be profitable.

                                    Leah opened the portfolio case and started spreading different sketches and drawings and paintings across the table, which was nearly too small to accommodate all of them. Archie marveled at some of the drafts of his new logo, and some of the sketches that clearly weren’t for the logo but highly entertaining. There was a flattering looking sketch of him holding a Junimo in the dramatic pose that the tragic protagonist of the timeless Shakespen tragedy did, and another of Archie gazing out over a field of wheat that would not have been out of place on one of the Republic’s propaganda posters. He thought both were great, though he had no idea why Leah would have made them, but he got a bit too distracted to ask when the more landscape-oriented logo drafts came out. There were different combinations of landscape features around the valley – the hills, rivers and forests, combined into his farm differently, along with fields and produce.

                                    The final product was a very artful combination, showing the hills in the background, the forest on the edges, and a stream running through the fields, where a lone farmer worked, with barrels of varied produce in the foreground. At the bottom of the oval, a royal blue background with “Finegan’s Farm” written in a classic font, with a tiny Junimo dotting the “I”. He was floored by how good it was for the relatively short turnaround time.

                                    “Leah, this is amazing,” he told her, “I don’t know how you did it, but you captured the farm as it is, and as I want it to be.”

                                    She blushed. “I used a lot of my landscape paintings as reference, but there was a lot of research, trial, and error. It was fun trying out some different techniques.”

                                    “I saw that in some of your sketches. The Junimo skull one and the propaganda poster are hilarious. I’d love to keep those, if you’re OK with that.”

                                    Leah thought it over briefly. “For now, choose one,” she offered.

                                    It was actually a trickier choice than Archie expected, but he went with the Junimo one owing to his theatre background. He thanked her for the drawing and the logo with a spontaneous hug. They talked a bit more about the logo, and when Archie mentioned he’d have to bring it over to Sebastian for digitising, Leah suggested they walk up together, and she’d do some sketching by the mountain lake. Archie helped Leah pack up the rest of the drawings and they hit the road. Once they were onto the mountain path, Leah caught Archie with the question that had been preoccupying her.

                                    “Are you and Sandy still up for that double-date?”

                                    Archie nodded, though his tone of voice indicated he was less than thrilled with it. “Yeah, we should be able to on Friday or Saturday, which do you prefer?”

                                    “Saturday,” she replied, “I’d rather you have your Friday night at the saloon, to be honest.”

                                    “That’s considerate of you,” he said. “I have to tell you, I have some misgivings about it.”

                                    “What’s the matter?”

                                    He sighed, against his desire to be more unaffected by it. “I’m fine with telling you what my read on Elliott is but you need to understand that people behave differently when other people are around. He can behave perfectly well on the double date, and that isn’t going to mean as much as I think you hope it does.”

                                    “I know,” she answered quietly. “But I’ve always missed when his heart wasn’t in it before. I’d like a better chance at not being behind the curve this time, that’s all.”

                                    “If you don’t trust yourself or him, it’s a bad start, but we’ll see in a few days. How’ve you two been since the bonfire?”

                                    Leah shrugged. “Stable, I guess. I’ve seen less of him since I’ve been working on the logo, he’s been writing as usual. Thanks again for thinking of me for that job, it was different, but refreshing.”

                                    Archie laughed. “I knew you were talented, but not that you were that talented. I think my sister would say it’s on par with the big city ad agency her company uses. You could easily make it in the city, but I respect you for choosing to be here and to make the art you’re making. That and I’m glad you’re here in general.”

                                    Leah’s face lit up with a smile. “Thanks, Archie. It’s not that I mind the city, but I’m glad I’m here. I love the freedom of it - I can make what I want to try making, I can take nature walks for hours if I’m not feeling productive, and the people are friendlier.”

                                    “I agree, for the most part. I’m not sold on Haley, but people have been really good to me in general.”

                                    Leah laughed as they pulled up to Robin’s house. They walked in through the entrance to the carpentry shop where Robin was looking over a blueprint, until the surprise of customers prompted her to look up at the door expectantly.

                                    “Archie, Leah, what can I do for you?” she asked.

                                    “We’re here to speak with Sebastian, actually,” Archie started, “Leah finished the new logo for the farm, and now it’s Sebastian’s turn to work his computer magic on it.” He paused. “Leah did a beautiful job with it, would you like to see it?”

                                    Robin looked tremendously excited about it. “Of course I want to see it! How exciting!”

                                    Leah beamed while she extracted the sheet from the portfolio case, which Robin scrutinized with her craftswoman’s eye.

                                    “It’s excellent work, Leah, excuse me a minute, I’ll have to show the rest of the family,” she said, peeling out of the room and stomping across the house to gather Demetrius, Maru, and a still-groggy Sebastian.

                                    Aside from Robin, Maru was the most excited about the logo, asking Leah a bunch of questions about art, and how she did it. The answers didn’t mesh with Maru’s engineering approach to things, but she was a good sport about it. Demetrius found the logo very pleasant and to the point, which prompted Robin to try to explain what she found evocative about it. Sebastian liked the logo but was nervous about the prospect of digitising it for use on small packaging, especially given one problem.

                                    Sebastian yawned. “It’s too big for me to scan here. I’ll have to take it to a print shop in Zuzu City before I can get started, do you mind?”

                                    Archie glanced to Leah, and they both shook their heads. “Let me take a photo of it first,” Archie said, pulling out his cellphone. “My sister will want to see it.”

                                    Leah opened the portfolio case and pulled out a hard plastic tube, that she plunked the logo drawing in after rolling up the sheet. She handed it to Sebastian. “Drive safely,” she admonished him.

                                    “I will,” he deadpanned, before starting to walk out of the shop. “Coffee, anyone?”

                                    Archie and Leah accepted his offer and followed him out, bidding the rest of Sebastian’s family goodbye. “When are you going to go?” Archie asked.

                                    Sebastian shrugged. “The sooner the better, I don’t want to have to cut through the desert in the midday heat. I can take a laptop and work from a café til early into the evening. You know the print shop can probably do a better job than I can, right?”

                                    “Use your judgment,” Archie told him, “but the print shop will always be there, so give it a proper try first, as long as you keep the original scan intact, there’s nothing to lose by it.”

                                    Sebastian nodded, taking a long sip of his coffee. “Will do.” He started walking down the hallway toward the stairs down to his basement bedroom. “Have a good day, both of you,” he added, hastily. They both did after they looped around town, past the library and back to Leah’s cottage, where they bid each other goodbye, Archie to finish up with the crops and Leah to go foraging in the forest.

                                    The few days until the double-date went by quickly, with Archie working extra-hard to ensure the autumn crops thrived in their early days of growth. The saloon Friday was a bit more entertaining than usual with Leah joining Archie and the misfits for a change. Even though Abigail was still immensely skeptical about the oncoming double-date, she didn’t give Leah too much of a hard time over it, and in Leah, Abigail had finally met her match for ineptitude at video games.

                                    The afternoon of the double-date, a rainy one in the valley, Archie, Leah, and Elliott piled into the bus to Hub Town, to catch the one to the Calico Desert. There was an undercurrent of tension to the brief bus rides, during which everyone was quiet and a little bit on edge. Aside from being brought on board as a watchdog, Archie was trying to navigate his own thoughts about what Maeve had to say about Sandy. Doubts swirled like the eddies of current crashing into the beach. Leah was nervous and excited about the potential for resolution if nothing else, and as for Elliott, who ever knew what he was thinking?

                                    Archie called Sandy as they were approaching, and she let him know that she was getting held up a bit at the store again, so to go for a short walk in the desert before meeting her. When the bus pulled up at the stop, they stretched out and disembarked, all surprised at the desert’s warmth compared to the oncoming coolness of the fall in the Valley. The only difference that Archie noticed in the weather was a stronger breeze. He showed Leah and Elliott the dinosaur fossil and the oasis, and picked up some of the coconuts strewn in the sand. Leah and Elliott both seemed to take in the new landscape with aesthetic eyes, Leah taking in the sunlight striking across the carpet of sand, creating glistening, rippling undulations across the dunes into the horizon, the protrusions of cacti, and turning the dryness of the desert into a visual representation. For Elliott, perhaps something similar with words instead of images.

                                    “Feeling inspired?” Archie asked.

                                    Leah nodded affirmatively while Elliott looked guarded and pensive without really answering one way or another. Archie ushered them toward the store, where Mr. Qi was as conspicuous as ever in his duster and hat. Though Archie found him awfully strange, he mustered up the manners to greet him.

                                    “Hi, Mr. Qi,” he offered.

                                    Mr. Qi grinned with savage glee. “You’re almost there on pronouncing it. It’s pronounced Qi! How are you, farmer?”

                                    “The farm is going well, and so am I. We’re excited to see your business partner, this is Leah, and that’s Elliott, both of you, this is Mr. Qi.”

                                    “It’s pronounced Qi,” he replied good-naturedly. “More visitors from the valley - how wonderfully uncommon! Farmer, this is a pleasant enough surprise that I won’t even chastise you for not having gone mining yet. You really ought to. You don’t know what you might find in there.”

                                    “In the winter, when I don’t have crops to grow,” he suggested, which Mr. Qi seemed pleased enough with, if not entirely thrilled.

                                    “She’s just wrapping up, go on in,” he said, gesturing at the door. He didn’t seem to be in the mood for that much more small talk that wasn’t about mining, though he was weedy-looking enough that Archie could hardly believe he’d ever swung a pick enough to justify his seeming passion for it. Then again, the same could have been said for Archie and farming at the beginning of the spring, so he let it slide.

                                    While Sandy wasn’t entirely sure about the reason for the double-date, she seemed quite thrilled about it. She greeted Archie effusively, and Leah and Elliott not much less so before the four of them hopped into Sandy’s hatchback and drove into Cactus Town proper to go to that same sushi restaurant that Archie and Sandy had gone to. Leah was a bit apprehensive about the menu but found a noodle and mushroom stir-fry that suited her more than raw fish did, and the double-date was off to the races.

                                    While the food was delicious, the conversation was not particularly free-flowing. Sandy wasn’t altogether that interested in Archie’s business deal or the new logo for the farm, and art talk in general wasn’t her forte either. Archie and Elliott were more attentive to Leah’s recent projects, while Sandy was polite, at least. The bigger surprise, for most of the table, was Elliott’s faster-than-expected progress with his novel. He mentioned that he expected to be finished by the middle of winter, the first time Archie, or even Leah, for that matter, had heard him speak of a firm deadline for any part of his writing, much less the whole thing being done.

                                    “… in fact, this trip to the desert is just the kind of new experience that could frame this last part of the book. I shall have to come back earlier in the day.”

                                    That, finally, turned out to be the thing to pique Sandy’s interest in the conversation, and perhaps the double-date on the whole – she did love the desert, after all. Elliott was guarded about the sort of experience he’d want to have there, as he didn’t want to spoil the book, but he mentioned the sort of rut he’d felt like he’d been in in the Valley. Leah and Archie were both silently concerned, and shared a knowing glance with each other about it. Sandy, however, seemed pleased about more people showing an interest in the region, so she and Elliott launched into a deep discussion of the tourist attractions of the desert, while Archie and Leah mostly listened to pick up ideas for when they’d eventually return. After a while, Archie and Leah began a small side-conversation of their own about what she’d look to create with the experience of the desert fresh in her mind.

                                    “Landscape paintings, a portrait of the dinosaur fossils, maybe even a sculpture of it, there are a lot of ideas!” Leah told him, excitedly.

                                    “I think you’d love to paint the view out to sea from the edge of the plateau,” Archie replied. “Sandy took me there on our first date, it’s a view that strikes awe into one’s heart.” For her part, Sandy was distracted from her conversation with Elliott by the mention of her name, and smiled in satisfaction when the subject of discussion was shared with her.

                                    In the course of the dinner, Archie came to a complete conclusion, and to a partial one. The complete conclusion was that if Elliott didn’t bring Leah on his trip to the desert, their proto-relationship wasn’t going anywhere. The partial one was that it was really strange to Archie that while he and Sandy managed well in their conversations alone, the dynamic to the double-date was awfully strange. He had gotten used to being the focus of her attention, and he also chalked it up to having been on alert about Elliott, something he’d have explain to Sandy in full later on. The combination of the doubts about the relationship that Archie may have always had, but were certainly brought to the forefront by his discussion with his sister, and that, meant he was decidedly not on his A-game that evening. He’d arrange another date with Sandy, individual, to make up for it. Perhaps in Zuzu City the next time.

                                    When Archie and Elliott paid the bills, after an excellent dessert, they hopped back into Sandy’s car, and she dropped them off in Hub Town to catch the last bus back. The ride in was as silent as it was on the way out.

                                    I kept saying that we've been slow-burn building toward stuff, and it's kind of starting to happen. Considering I want to end this in not that many more chapters, I should hope so!
                                      Risukage, Alkanthe and Minimanta like this.
                                    • Kid Absurdity

                                      Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                                      Part of the reason for the relatively fast turnaround on this chapter is that I've been excited to write this since around Chapter 5. I had the basic outline of the Harvest Fair part of the chapter figured out for ages, but the rest came together surprisingly quickly, both in terms of character development and memes. No guarantees on the next chapter being ready this quickly, as the stress that slowed the previous chapters down still persists, but is also being counterbalanced by new exciting prospects.

                                      While the double-date’s relative awkwardness left a bit of a bitter taste in Archie’s mouth, the way things on the farm were accelerating, he was a bit distracted by it as he prepared for larger harvests to come in, and for Pierre to sell the goods on at even higher profits. A few days after the double-date, Sebastian came through with the digitized and printed labels and produce stickers, enough for the first harvest Archie was expecting, though the Zuzu City Print Shop was going to have a lot of repeat business, he anticipated. He had a brief meeting with Pierre about the plan for him selling on, and to his credit, the shopkeeper had been making a number of calls to arrange sales visits in Hub Town and Zuzu City the coming Wednesday. Pierre also reminded him that the Harvest Fair was coming up, with the grange display contests; that he always won, due to his superior produce, et cetera. Though this was his business partner now, Archie got his hackles up at the man’s incurable smugness, especially since he didn’t produce any of his produce. While Archie was able to power through listening to Pierre’s boasting, he resolved to take the man own some much needed pegs when the competition rolled around.

                                      He made time to meet up with Sandy in Hub Town for an evening movie, and stayed the night at hers. The conversations were a bit more stilted than usual, though still pleasant. Archie felt that he had done something to offend her and was walking on eggshells. Sandy was her usual self, but a bit more muted. While they were cuddling together before going to sleep, she asked him what the double-date was all about.

                                      Archie sighed. “Leah’s been let down by Elliott a number of times before, she wanted to get a gauge on him, with an outsider’s perspective – mine. Though I think she’d welcome yours too.”

                                      Sandy nodded distractedly. “And?”

                                      Archie shrugged. “And I don’t know. They were both really jazzed about the desert - maybe they can enjoy it together.”

                                      Sandy mulled it over in silence before eventually adding that that would be nice. “They seem well matched, a pair of similarly obsessive artists, they should understand each other.”

                                      Archie’s reply was animated. “I agree! They should but I’m not sure they do. At least not yet, and Leah’s forgiven him way more than I would.”

                                      “You hold grudges,” Sandy scoffed.

                                      “Not really, no…” Archie started before being cut off.

                                      “You’re gunning for your business partner for sassing you, Archie.”

                                      She had a point, which Archie was forced to concede.

                                      “OK, a little bit…” He trailed off considering the wider conversation. “I wonder how well we understand each other.”

                                      “In some ways, very well, I think, but we have big blind spots,” Sandy told him. It was not something he expected to hear from her.

                                      “Like what?”

                                      “That our lives are going in different directions, would be the main one.”

                                      “I thought about that,” Archie responded. “I didn’t think it was such a big deal – yeah, I’m committed to the farm, but Cactus Town isn’t that far away that we wouldn’t be spending time.”

                                      Sandy was somewhat mollified by that, but not entirely. “And the 14-hour workdays?”

                                      “A necessary evil for the short-term, but the farm should be running at close to capacity by Springtime,” he said – it was an estimate, but he thought he could do it, especially with the Winter to regroup and prepare. “But what about you? Where’s your life diverging?”

                                      It was a rambling reply that Archie struggled to keep up with, but what he did ultimately understand was that she was happy in her house, happy with her business, and wanted to stay put and enjoy it as much as possible, in company. Archie didn’t see that as mutually exclusive with his own interests, and he said as much, partially reassuring Sandy. They opted to simply fall asleep in each other’s arms that night.

                                      On the Friday before the festival, there was a raucous commotion in the saloon, over and above Shane or Pam getting drunk (as usual) and mouthing off to someone. Archie missed the beginning of it, having been in the arcade trying to calm down an agitated Abigail, who had been passed over to help run the store while Pierre was on his sales visits in favour of Caroline. The raucous and loud argument from the main room caught the young adults’ attention. From what they could piece together of it, Pierre extended his bragging beyond Archie, to Clint, Marnie, and Willy. The fact that long-suffering and kind-hearted Marnie was the one to start shouting him down indicated how aggravating Pierre must have been. Archie fumed about how he had received the same treatment, and he found a surprising amount of sympathy from Abigail, who seemed to also be on the outs with her father at that moment. Sam, Sebastian, and Leah found it all terribly off-putting too.

                                      Archie also realized he had no idea what goes into a grange display and asked.

                                      “A variety of your best crops,” Abigail suggested. “Dad mostly does produce.”

                                      “Everyone does their specialty, except Robin, for some reason,” Sam added, casting a quick glance at Sebastian, who shrugged. “Marnie does animal products, Clint does gems and metalcrafts, fish for Willy. You do you, baby-boo,” he suggested.

                                      “I will,” Archie said, “and if he thinks he’s going to beat me with produce, he has another thing coming.”

                                      “A bunch of his display probably is your produce,” Sebastian suggested, “you’d probably be looking at a tie at best, you’re competing against yourself.”

                                      Archie thought a bit about that and then cracked up. “You’re a genius.”

                                      Sebastian looked confused, but graciously gave Archie an “I know” of acknowledgment, while having no idea what was so ingeniously insightful about what he had just said.

                                      At the end of the night, when people said their respective goodbyes, Sam held Archie up to speak with him alone for a moment. “You’re up to something again,” Sam told him. “And I want in.”

                                      Archie smiled innocently. “I’m not, but come to my place with Sebastian and Abigail before the festival starts because legitimate and definitely unrelated reasons.”

                                      Sam held out a fist, and the two exchanged a bro-fistbump. “My man!” Sam said, excitedly, with his smile looking a little bit more predatory than usual.

                                      On the morning of the Harvest Fair, Sam, Abigail, and a groggy-looking Sebastian turned up at the farm while Archie was sorting through his recent crops to make the final decisions on what was going to go into his own display. There were some high-grade hot peppers and melons left over from the summer, but the blueberries were no longer good. Some wheat and corn were ready to go, but not exceptional. He figured he could round the display out with a geode he found clearing the farm way back when, since rocks don’t spoil. He was a bit distracted when Sam shouted a hello from right behind him, startling the kneeling Archie to his feet.

                                      “Yoba alive, that spooked me,” Archie said, catching his breath. “Hi everyone.”

                                      Sebastian nodded nonchalantly while Sam and Abigail were more effusive with their greetings, before they got down to business.

                                      “Something like this happens every year,” Abigail told them, “the Harvest Festival turns Dad into a jerk.”

                                      The three men looked at her silently, waiting.

                                      “… a bigger jerk.” Abigail hastily corrected herself. “And having a go at the rest of the town’s craftspeople was way out of line.”

                                      Sam cut in. “So when she found out you had a plan, she was more than happy to help out.”

                                      Archie looked only a little bit surprised. “Isn’t it good for your family when he wins?”

                                      Abigail shook her head. “Not really, it’s too small a competition to really get any fame from it, but with business being rough, he’d cling to any recognition he’d get.”

                                      “And you?” Archie asked Sebastian.

                                      Sebastian shrugged. “I’m bored, but stuck at the festival with the family. This’ll give me something to do other than look at people’s grange displays over and over for hours.”

                                      Archie chuckled. “That was more candid than I was expecting. Are you guys, uh, real pranksters?”

                                      “Yeah.” Sebastian replied.

                                      “Tell me about that one sometime. Ever engaged in psychological warfare?”

                                      “Only daily,” Abigail replied.

                                      “Ever tried an elaborate distraction?”

                                      “Well, technically, yes.” Sam answered.

                                      “Alright,” Archie expounded dramatically, drawing on his theatrical training, “I can see that I will not have to teach you how to be pranksters. I need a distraction that’ll pull Pierre away from his display for a few minutes.” He pointed to Abigail and Sebastian. “And you are going to be that distraction.”

                                      “What about me?” Sam asked.

                                      “You’ve got the most important job. You’re the one who has to sell it well enough for Pierre to leave his stand. Here’s what I’m thinking, but you guys will have to help with the details…”

                                      A short while later the plan was hashed out, and the misfits scattered to rejoin their families with mischief in their hearts, while Archie obsessively sorted out his produce, trying to find just the right things to put on display. Eventually he decided he wasn’t finding anything better on short notice, and headed down the southern path to town, past Marnie’s ranch, and Leah’s cottage. Marnie was just leaving to head to the fair as well, and they exchanged polite greetings and wishes of good luck in the competition. Marnie wasn’t too confident about either of their chances, but Archie wasn’t too put off. “Welwick’s Oracle said the spirits were pleased with me today.”

                                      Marnie shook her head and laughed. “It’s a TV show, Archie, the spirits are pleased with absolutely everyone who watched it today.”

                                      “Well, I’m feeling lucky,” he replied. And he was, though it was also tinged with some regret about potentially causing a scene at another local festival, and disappointment that Sandy couldn’t make it out to this festival, though she’d been a good sport about the other ones. He did feel in command of his destiny today, probably due to his decision to make bold and reckless decisions in terms of dealing with Pierre.

                                      Leah wasn’t at home, and he figured that she was either out for a walk or at the fair early. He’d catch her eventually, he thought, and jauntily strolled into the town square, produce in tow. He waved to the townsfolk as he walked up to the general store, where his display stand was set up directly next to Pierre’s, which was meticulously set up. A stunning display of fruit and vegetables topped the straw matting in the display box – blueberries and melons, oranges, peppers, cauliflower, grapes, and others. Archie had to hand it to Pierre. Even the foraged grapes looked exceptional. He was in the middle of closely examining them when Pierre returned to his stand from inside the store.

                                      “Sizing up the competition, there, farmer?” Pierre asked, still inveterately smug.

                                      “I’m impressed,” Archie told him. “The oranges and grapes are a really nice touch,” Archie told him, “and your arrangement is excellent. It looks to me like the melons and peppers are from my farm.”

                                      “The blueberries and the cauliflower are too,” Pierre told him.

                                      “What? How?” Archie asked, dumbfounded. “My berries all rotted, and cauliflower is a spring crop.”

                                      “I used a blast freezer,” Pierre replied simply. “It’ll be useful when we start selling elsewhere as well, it expands our options for what to sell when. Anyway, you should get started on setting up, people are starting to arrive.”

                                      Archie set up his own display under Pierre’s watchful eye and expressive mouth, as Pierre was sizing the competition up as well, along with serving up a bit of smack-talk to go with useful business facts like the fact that he had a blast freezer. When Archie finished, Pierre had a detailed look of his own. “Good quality produce, Archie, but you’re just strewing it around with no regard for presentation, and the geode is out of place.”

                                      Archie shrugged and made a half-hearted effort to feng shui his crops while Pierre tut-tutted at him. Emily wandered by the displays, oohing and aahing at both of them. “I’m getting such a good vibe from both of these!” Of Pierre’s she continued, “That’s so beautiful!” and of Archie’s, “that’s great minimalism!” The business partners looked at each other and shrugged before thanking Emily for her comments. Archie asked Pierre to look over his stand while he checked out the other displays, which Pierre agreed to, snarkily mentioning that he looked earlier so he wouldn’t have to leave his display alone. Archie felt a pit in his stomach. Sam would have to sell the heck out of it to draw the slightly paranoid Pierre away from his display for long enough that Archie could put his plan into action.

                                      The other displays were visually impressive, but Archie thought that it was going to be a two-horse race between him and Pierre. Clint’s metalwork was functional, but he didn’t go through the touches of embellishing them. He felt sorry for Clint – the guy never especially wanted to be a blacksmith in a town this small, and unfortunately, it showed a bit in his work. Willy’s fish were genuinely impressive, especially the large albacore tuna and the giant purple sea cucumber, but they were ill-suited to being out of water. Marnie’s animal products were the next most impressive to his and Pierre’s display, he thought, especially with a massive cheese wheel as the centrepiece for duck eggs, foie gras, milk, and wool.

                                      A distraught Leah caught Archie’s attention as he left Marnie’s display to walk back toward his own. “Archie, have you seen Elliott today?”

                                      “No. He’s not at home?”

                                      “No, he isn’t.”

                                      Archie found it very strange, especially since Elliott wasn’t prone to leaving his cabana unless it was for a specific purpose. “We’ll ask around.” The two of them split up, walking through the square asking the villagers. No one had seen him so far today.

                                      “Could he have gone to visit his family? Archie asked.

                                      “It’s unlikely,” Leah told him. “They live pretty far away, and it didn’t look like he had packed for a long trip. Maybe some kind of emergency?”

                                      “Maybe, but if it is, at least it’s not him having it, otherwise Harvey would know.”

                                      Leah considered it quietly. “Who knows?”

                                      “I don’t, but I have suspicions.”

                                      “Me too.”

                                      They wished each other well for the day. Archie was disappointed for her. It seemed like in spite of the fluctuation of their relationship, she could always at least bank on Elliott for some company at the festivals up until this point.

                                      Back at his display, Mayor Lewis was doing an informal pass of the display booths, saying hello to the townsfolk and participants, before the formal judging was set to start, about an hour later. Lewis seemed pleased at both of their displays as he tottered off toward Clint’s on the other side of the square. It was not that much later that Sam walked up from his house across the square directly to Archie and Pierre’s stands. “Hey Archie, sick display, hi Pierre.”

                                      Archie smiled and thanked him, knowing that not commenting on Pierre’s display was sure to get on the older man’s nerves. While Pierre started fretting, Sam continued. “Yours is nice too, Pierre, but I actually wanted to discuss something else with you, a strange thing happened with Abigail earlier today that I can’t quite put my finger on, maybe you can help me out.”

                                      Pierre’s look of concern redoubled. “Well, uh, what happened?” he asked, unused to the millennials being anything but secretive about their goings-on.

                                      “Well, when I was playing with Vincent outside my place, I saw her walking off toward the forest with Sebastian. I felt a bit excluded, but y’know, fair enough. I asked if they’d be back for the festival and they told me it depends. ‘Depends on what?’ I asked. Good question, Sam. Abigail told me it’d depend how long the Wizard would take to brew a protection potion for her. Can you imagine? She doesn’t go in the mines, what could she possibly need to be protected from? Bears? It makes absolutely no sense to me. What do you think, Pierre?”

                                      Pierre, for his part, got progressively redder as Sam told the story, first, he flushed at the mention of Sebastian and Abigail going into the forest. He blushed even more deeply at the mention of the Wizard, then again at the mention of the protection potion. “I’m not sure either, Sam,” he stammered, “Archie, watch my display, please,” he added, as he peeled off toward the forest.

                                      They watched Pierre zoom off into the distance.

                                      “Sell it well enough?” Sam asked, grinning with his Cheshire grin.

                                      “I’ll say,” Archie said, “he certainly bought it. Now stand in front of Pierre’s display and keep talking with me. You choose the topic.”

                                      While Sam rambled on about Solarion Chronicles, Archie gently lifted the fruits and vegetables that he had identified as being from his farm, before carefully sitting them back down in their original locations. “Great. Done.”

                                      Sam looked confused. “It doesn’t look any different. I thought you were going to do something to his display.”

                                      Archie shook his head. “I did do something to it, it just couldn’t be obvious. You’ll see at the judging, enjoy the show.”

                                      A few minutes later, Pierre, still blushing furiously, came back to town with Abigail and Sebastian behind him and stormed furiously over to Robin, exchanging some heated words. Robin took Sebastian aside and quickly discussed something with him, before returning to Pierre, and, from Archie’s best guess, asking him why he would ever believe anything that outlandish coming from Sam of all people.

                                      Pierre returned to his display stand, trying to calm down. He quickly checked that all the produce was intact, and seeing that it was, started shifting it around minutely to make it look just right, while Archie’s throat clenched, as any bigger moves could reveal the trickery, but Pierre eventually settled back down to await his inevitable victory.

                                      “That sure was something.” Archie said.

                                      Pierre shook his head, and Archie wasn’t sure if Pierre was chiding himself or Sam by it. “It was considerably more innocent than he suggested. They were just cuddled up under a tree near the forest lake. Not that I approve of that, either.”

                                      “They’d be a pretty good couple, I think, though I don’t know how much staying power they’d have,” Archie replied.

                                      “Hopefully not enough that what just happened becomes a real concern,” Pierre decided.

                                      Not too long after, Lewis hopped on the PA system and informed the town that the formal judging was about to begin, with Willy, Clint, Marnie, Archie, and Pierre having their displays judged in that order. Archie asked Pierre if they were meant to stay at their booths or follow Lewis. It was their choice, though people usually stayed at their booths so as not to influence the judging. That suited Archie just fine.

                                      It took a while for Lewis, with the crowd of townsfolk who weren’t competing lagging just behind, to make his way up to the store and to start appraising Archie’s display, with surprising inscrutability. Archie had no idea how his produce was stacking up, and was sure by the end of it that if he ever found himself in a game of poker against Lewis, he would get absolutely smashed. Lewis was a very detail-oriented judge as well. He picked up each item, turning it over in his hands, looking for hidden imperfections on their undersides. He would not be fooled by basic visual merchandising technique, which was exactly what Archie was banking on. When Lewis moved on to Pierre’s display, while Pierre watched from a distance behind the stand, he picked up the melon, brought it close to his chest, and gently spun it, stopping when his eyes alighted on a flash of royal blue against the melon’s green skin. Upon closer inspection, it was a Finegan’s Farm produce label. Lewis’ stony visage was etched with slight confusion as he replaced the melon. He moved on to the oranges and the grapes; then saw the same royal blue against the green under-leaves of the cauliflower, and against the scarlet red of one of the hot peppers. He replaced the crops without a word and walked back to the PA system, calling Pierre and Archie to report there.

                                      The crowd was instantly abuzz, as this was not standard procedure. After the judging, it was usually straight on to the announcement of the scores, but something was different this time. Archie and Pierre looked at each other and ambled over to Lewis, whose face now openly demonstrated his consternation.

                                      “Pierre, which of the crops in your display are from Archie’s farm?”

                                      “The cauliflower, melon, hot peppers, and the punnet of blueberries are.”

                                      “I suspected as much, not least because they have the farm’s label on them. I’m not used to that kind of carelessness from you, Pierre.”

                                      “What?” the shopkeeper spluttered. “There aren’t labels on them!” Then the penny dropped. “Or, there weren’t.”

                                      Archie’s smile widened. “There weren’t. But I think it’s only fair that I should get the points for growing the things.”

                                      “Absolutely not!” Pierre burst out yelling before getting cut off by Lewis.

                                      “Absolutely not, indeed.” Lewis said, though not as an addition to Pierre’s outburst. “Go join the crowd, it’s time for the results.”

                                      Archie joined the misfits, who were standing with Robin, on the fringes of the crowd.

                                      “So what happened,” Sam whispered to him.

                                      “No idea, Lewis kept what he was thinking to himself.”

                                      He didn’t keep it to himself that much longer when he picked up the microphone and addressed the crowd.

                                      “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, it’s time for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the results of the Pelican Town Harvest Fair! We had a field of 5 competitors this year, our most in over a decade. Congratulations and applause are due to everyone who participated!”

                                      The town broke into a polite round of applause, and then Lewis continued.

                                      “Clint’s metalworking display scored 52 points out of a possible 100. Willy’s Fishing display scored 54 points. Marnie’s Ranch’s display scored 62. Archie Finegan of Finegan’s Farm and Pierre’s General Store…” The crowd started to buzz with anticipation,

                                      “are tied…” and then they burst into a commotion as Pierre and Archie looked at each other, Pierre in shocked confusion and Archie also surprised but more indifferent,

                                      “with a score of zero points. They are both disqualified from this year’s competition for breaking the contest’s rules. Archie is disqualified for tampering with a display, and Pierre for using another competitor’s goods in his. This year’s winner is Marnie!”

                                      The town, still abuzz and in shock at the double disqualification, still mustered a roaring round of applause for Marnie, who Archie rushed over to congratulate.

                                      “Congratulations, Marnie,” he said, laughing good-naturedly, “I was just thinking about how lucky it would be if I didn’t have to deal with having to listen to Pierre gloat over winning. I guess Welwick was right after all!”

                                      Archie bought a few rounds of drinks for the misfits at the saloon that night, and invited Leah to join them, given her distress earlier in the day. Leah was looking morose and very slow at sipping her wine and eating her salad again, which Archie recognized as a sign of emotional turmoil. While he definitely replayed the sabotage for the misfits’ amusement, the evening was tempered with trying to reassure Leah – not of anything particular to where Elliott may have gone or what he may have done, but that fundamentally, she was alright. It had a limited effect. At around ten past twelve, Archie got up to leave and asked Leah to join him, surprising the rest of the people in the arcade.

                                      “Easy there, ladykiller,” Sam quipped.

                                      Archie glared at him, brusquely replying. “I don’t really have time to argue with you about how off base you’re being right now.”

                                      “What’s the hurry?” Abigail asked while Leah slowly started getting up.

                                      “The last bus from Hub Town arrives in seventeen minutes.”

                                      “So what?” she continued.

                                      “So I want to know if Elliott is coming back on that bus.”

                                      Abigail squeaked out a muted “oh,” and the group said their goodbyes and scattered with Sam, Abigail, and Sebastian walking back to their houses and Archie and Leah meandering toward the bus stop.

                                      “You think he went to the desert, don’t you?” Leah asked him.

                                      “I do, and didn’t you think it too?” He answered with a question of his own. “It seems to me it almost doesn’t matter whether he did, with how distraught you got over it.”

                                      “I wasn’t that distraught,” Leah pouted.

                                      “You eat and drink that slowly when you’re anxious,” he stated simply, “and I understand why you would be. Wherever he went, you’re probably going to have an unpleasant conversation to get through. I don’t envy you that.”

                                      Leah sighed, and her shoulders started to shake, jostling her braid, as they arrived behind the fence by the road near the bus stop, where Archie had picked the daffodil for Sandy after the Flower Dance, a few minutes before the bus arrived. They waited in tense anticipation, both uncertain of whether they wanted to see him walk off of that bus, or whether they preferred some other, unforeseen outcome. The hum of the engine and the sound of the tires bumping over the road came before the bus’ headlights lit up the road, and the bus gently coasted to a stop. The bus looked mostly empty, and with Archie and Leah standing back from the stop, the driver, if he even saw them, wouldn’t have taken them for would-be passengers as the bus finished its route off in the direction that Archie never took it. The door hissed open, and Elliott skulked out into the autumn night. Archie glanced over toward Leah, who even in the darkness of night, seemed on the edge of tears.

                                      “Elliott,” he called out gently, startling the other man, who surely did not expect to be intercepted on his way home. “You had us worried sick.”

                                      Elliott walked over to Archie and Leah, addressing him first. “A thousand apologies. How was your Harvest Fair? Victorious?”

                                      “In a manner of speaking. I was disqualified. It was phenomenal - you really had to have been there. I’m glad you’re safe, but you’ve got some explaining to do.” He glanced over to Leah. “You good?”

                                      She nodded.

                                      “Goodnight, then,” he told them, walking off toward the farm, thinking that Leah would not be good.

                                      He flicked on his porch light, and pulled out a book he’d taken out from the library, an actor’s biography, determined to read for a little while, both for his own sanity and to ensure that if Leah cut through the farm on the way to her cottage, that he could make sure she resembled being ok. It was a chapter and a half later that he heard heavy, thudding, footfalls on the dirt road leading into the farm, accompanied by sobs and sniffles. Crap, he thought. He watched as Leah stumbled along the perimeter of one of his fields, before realizing the outside light was on, and then, that Archie was watching from the porch. She froze, torn between running home, and away, or toward him. He set the book down, and waited. They looked at each other for maybe half a minute, but it felt like an hour, before Leah started taking slow steps toward the farmhouse. Archie offered her a hand up, and the chair he was sitting in to read, while he leaned up against his front door.

                                      “He was in the desert today,” she started.

                                      Archie nodded. “I was afraid of that.”

                                      “I… I tried to explain how it made me feel, and I couldn’t even finish. He said… he said he met a new woman in the desert,” she elaborated, her voice straining as she choked out the last part of her sentence: “and he’s pursuing her.”

                                      Archie’s heart sank. His own relationship was going through a rough patch, and his past relationships weren’t fantastic, but they never exploded that spectacularly, thanks to very one-sided callous disregard. His face burned bright red.

                                      “What’s wrong with me?” she asked. “Why does this keep happening?”

                                      “Don’t blame yourself.” Archie told her. “It’s not because there’s something wrong with you. You made a mistake, that’s all.”

                                      Leah seemed unconvinced, but thanked him anyway. “I’m going to get home. Thanks for being a friend, Archie.”

                                      He gave her a hug before she went on her way. She was still shaking, and he knew she’d be struggling with it for a while to come. He wished he had a better idea of what to do to help her.

                                      He pulled out his phone and saw that he missed a couple of texts from Sandy while he was at the saloon. He’d call her in the morning, he decided, and went to bed. He had a difficult time falling asleep with Leah’s predicament on his mind.

                                      When he woke up the next morning, with rainy weather outside that meant no immediate farm chores, he gave himself the opportunity to sleep in an extra hour and a half, waking back up in time to call Sandy while she was enjoying her breakfast.

                                      “Hey Archie,” she greeted him, “how was the festival?”

                                      “Oh, like the Flower Dance,” he replied. “I wound up causing a bit of a stir.” She asked him to explain, and he did.

                                      “… so that was that,” he concluded. “Though there was something troubling in the aftermath, when Elliott got back. He said he met a woman he’d be pursuing in the desert. Did you happen to introduce him to anyone?”

                                      There was a noticeably long silence. “No, Archie, I didn’t. He’s talking about me.”

                                      While he thought they were suddenly chummier on the double-date, that still blindsided Archie because he never considered – never would have considered, that to be a serious possibility. “What?” he asked, lamely.

                                      “We were going nowhere, Archie. We had problems, and I didn’t want to fix them.”

                                      For all his quick-wittedness in other situations, he didn’t have a clue how to respond to this one. He stayed silent for a while.

                                      “Goodbye, Archie,” she said, with finality, her parting words a decree as much as good wishes. She hung up the phone. Archie lay back in bed staring at the phone, pulling the covers up over his head, and trying in vain to get back to sleep.

                                      You know you're watching to many YouTube meme videos when you think that Archie discussing a prank with Sebastian, Sam, and Abigail is JUST LIKE Robbie Rotten discussing the finer points of villainy with his imperfect clones in that now-famous episode of Lazy Town. They are Number One!
                                      They aren't. It's clearly Shane.
                                      lol jk

                                      I kind of want to do a Stardew Valley/Lazy Town crossover with Alex as Sporticus and Shane as Robbie, now.
                                        Risukage, Alkanthe and Minimanta like this.
                                      • Minimanta

                                        Minimanta Spaceman Spiff

                                        That was absolutely glorious! :D
                                        Ahh, if only we could do that in-game, just kick Pierre off of his high horse at the fair once in a while. Even if it meant someone else would win.
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                                        • Kid Absurdity

                                          Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                                          Cheers! I'm glad you enjoyed it, I thought it'd be a fun scene! More interactions like that in game would be cool, but they're hard to integrate well. One of the benefits of fanfiction, I guess!

                                          I also forgot to mention a couple things:

                                          1) The double disqualification was an idea I came up with late in the writing process, because Archie shouldn't win at everything.

                                          2) Sam's distraction line is adapted from one Risukage suggested. Thanks, friend!
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