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Boolangerie or Bust

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It's a Thursday when McLennan rushes in to Kate's tiny kitchen, her eyes wild and hair astray, and then spends nearly a full minute catching her breath with an elbow on the corner of the counter. Kate doesn't bother to look up from where she's on her best Internet foray yet: chickens adopting kittens. Wow, chickens are dumb. It makes her feel a bit better about eating them.

"McCartney," McLennan says, waving an envelope in the air, "did you get this?"

"What's it for?" Kate says, more uninterested than she actually is. There's not a whole lot that'll get McLennan worked up in this much of a frenzy. Cheese. Terrible food. Kate's dietary restrictions. Diets in general. People who won't shut up about diets in general. People who won't shut up in general. People in general.

...Okay, it's a list. McLennan's mouth is pursed, though, and she looks frazzled. "This is from Centrelink."

Kate pulls a face, eyebrows scrunched in confusion. "We have jobs."

"We have another job," McLennan says emphatically. "We're registered for paranormal investigation duty, remember?"

Kate... doesn't.

"Ghost hunting?" McLennan prods.

"Isn’t that like jury duty?"

"Yes," McLennan says, still very wild around the eyes, "and our last day to pick up our paperwork, McCartney! Did they not send you a letter?"

Kate looks surreptitiously at the pile of bills and letters slowly growing on the counter. It's fine, it's not falling over yet. "Eh, you know," she says. "Post."

McLennan hisses a breath, sounding rather like a kettle on the boil. "Get dressed, we're going. Now."

Kate drags her gaze off her laptop. McLennan's hands are on her hips, a stubborn scowl across her face, and Kate picks up her phone to check her messages. "Aren't we filming today?"

McLennan's eyes widen. "Oh, fuck."

 

They don't bring the film crew to the Centrelink meeting. It'd be awkward, anyway, having a dozen people in identical shirts milling around while they wait in line. "What's the point of having an appointment if we still have to wait?" Kate wonders, and McLennan looks just as miserable, shifting on her feet on the dirty blue carpeted floor.

"I don't know," she says, and gazes longingly at the front of the line. "Maybe we can cut ahead?"

The man in front of them, with a beer gut and reeking of alcohol, burps. Kate huffs a breath. "Yeah, like they'd let us. Maybe if I'd actually won a Logie."

But they make it there, eventually, handed off to an equally drab room where some guy wearing an ill-fitting suit stares at them with watery blue eyes. "Kate McCartney," he says, "Kate McLennan." He shuffles some papers. Kate tries to suppress her yawn.

McLennan elbows her when the man stops and clears his throat. Kate nearly jumps, a little guiltily, and elbows McLennan back. The man's dour expression gets dourer.

"Your duty," he says, in the drone of all office workers, "is to remove the ghost at the address on this request. Multiple complaints have been made."

Kate looks at the folder he slides over to her. McLennan actually opens hers, then covers her mouth with an astonished gasp. Peering over her shoulder, Kate immediately realises what surprised her: "Isn't that your house?"

"That won't pose a problem, will it?" the man across the table says. "You still have your government-issued equipment."

He turns his stare on McLennan instead of Kate. Kate crosses her fingers under the table.

"Um," McLennan says, "yes?"

"Good," the man says. "Please submit these forms in triplicate when you're done."

Stepping out of the Centrelink is like stepping out into a whole new, office-drudgery-free world. Kate breathes in the shitty, too-hot air and wonders if the producers will still pay them for today, even if they're not doing the show. McLennan's started pacing. "Equipment," she's saying under her breath, "equipment. What equipment?"

"You're the paranormal investigation expert," Kate says, "not me."

"Right," McLennan says. "Right. I... what am I registered as? What are you registered as?"

"I dunno," Kate says, pulling out her phone. Uber's probably covered by the government on this sort of thing, right? "I talk to them, I think. You murder them?"

McLennan winces. "Murder sounds violent. Gently... push into the afterlife?"

"There was a scythe in your garage," Kate says, remembering the hazards of tetanus she braved in trying to set up... something. Chairs. She'd thought McLennan had gotten it for some back-to-nature DIY grass cutting bullshit, but maybe not.

McLennan says, "Not for murder!"

Or maybe it was.

"Maybe for murder," McLennan relents. "But I'm sure we can come up with a nicer way, something that won't require me to swing scythes at things that I can't see that well like I'm twenty again and Mum wants me to see a therapist because hearing voices isn't normal, it must be a sign of all this stress I'm carrying around driving me crazy! How about... talking. Cooking. We could do a show! Food for the dead. Eating in the afterlife. Historical food re-enactment."

"You want to... cook for a ghost haunting your house," Kate says dubiously. "How'd you not notice there was a ghost in your house?"

McLennan turns pink. "It's a great idea, isn't it?"

"Well," Kate says. "It's your funeral."

Kate hasn't been to McLennan's house since the last time they filmed, really. It hasn't changed much - her list on the fridge's now empty, and when Kate opens it she's got six bottles of wine in there. Kate takes one and wrinkles her nose at it, but it'll do. She doesn't see any ghosts.

The film crew's there, though. Kate waves lackadasically at the camera guy as she pours herself a glass of wine and downs it. "New idea for today," she says. "McLennan thinks we should do a ghost special."

The cameraman looks over to the rest of the crew. There's a huddle. Kate tries not to feel too left out. The producer's the one who comes forward, his serious face on. "McCartney," he says, "not that I'm not happy with McLennan's new idea, but ghosts don't sell. No one's clicking on a The Katering Show: Cooking With Ghosts. You got half-decent view numbers from that kitchen appliance review episode, you know, so we picked up a few props for you - "

"You're here already," Kate says. "You've even started setting up, yeah? We're doing a ghost episode."

"McCartney," their producer says. Kate nods at her Centrelink paperwork on the bench and he picks it up as he scans it, face undergoing a myriad of expressions before he sighs. "A ghost special, huh?"

"Yep," Kate says, and anything he was going to add is lost when when McLennan stumbles in, covered in dust and cobwebs and carrying a scythe just as tall as she is. The blade's covered in rust and makes a scraping noise when she sets it against the wall with a relieved huff, blowing the hair out of her face.

Kate re-fills her wine glass and tips it to her. McLennan pulls a face. "Did you find the ghost?"

"Was I supposed to?"

"That was your job!" McLennan says. "You find the ghost, and talk to it, and then we..."

"Stab it," Kate says. She wonders how sharp that scythe is. She wonders if it matters, considering ghosts don't exactly have bodies.

"Ask it its favourite foods," McLennan says determinedly. "See if we can get through to it. There's a reason they send hunters out in pairs, isn't there? Why aren't you getting more squeamish about this?"

"It's already dead, isn't it? And it's not like we're eating it." Kate swirls her wine in her glass; she's not really tipsy enough for this conversation. "You haven't seen it before?"

"Scraping," McLennan admits, her head in her hands, "groaning, but it could have been a dead mouse or someone getting stabbed outside and getting a plumber in to look at it will really make a dent in my mortgage repayments. How's there's a ghost here? Who died? Have they always been here and I didn't even notice? ...I paid way too much for this house."

"There, there," Kate says, and pats McLennan on the shoulder once as she drops her half-empty glass into her hands and walks by, picking up the rest of the bottle as she goes. "I'll be back."

It's not like Kate hasn't spent a good amount of time hiding in the loo with a bottle of wine, but usually it's better than this shit. She takes a swig from the bottle as she shuts the door with her foot, putting the toilet seat down so she can sit on it. When she pulls her phone out of her pocket, it's acting as expected; flickering signal, her wifi down to two bars. "You know," she says, "she's not actually that bad."

Kate looks pointedly at the mirror. The faint fog around the edges is obvious enough, and she only has to wait two minutes of flicking through lizard photos on her phone before the ghost fades into view, bringing with it a brief draft of wind that sends an uncomfortable chill down Kate's spine.

"She's that bad," the ghost says, folding her arms across her chest. She's of the bratty teenage variety. "She spent five hours yesterday crying over a turkey."

That does sound like McLennan. "You've been bothering the neighbours."

"Well, yeah," the ghost says. "It's not fun if she has a fucking mental breakdown. The guys next door do salvia and think I'm, like, a spiritual messenger from on high or something."

"You can't stay here," Kate tells her. "Even if it is fun. Come on. She'll slaughter her own cows but she has this weird thing about people. You'll be fine."

The ghost says, "I don't want to."

"You'll be on the internet forever," Kate says. "We do a show, you saw the guys outside, right? What's your favourite food?"

"I like danishes," the ghost says, reluctantly. "And mac and cheese. But I'm gluten intolerant."

"Yeah? Me too." Kate offers her a smile as she gets to her feet. The bottle of wine's still not quite empty, but McLennan likes putting wine in her food. Maybe even a gluten-free mac and cheese. Kate wonders if she's still got those cheese pills in her purse.

The ghost looks like she's thinking it over. Kate says, "Can't hurt, can it?"

"I saw that scythe," the ghost says.

"Endear yourself enough and she'll be happy to have you around," Kate says, "as long as you don't bother people enough for complaints. It'll probably even be good for her," she adds, consideringly. "McLennan's always calling me up at midnight and saying she's drunk and lonely."

The ghost raises her eyebrows in disbelief. "You don't really - "

"No."

"You couldn't just - "

"No."

The ghost shakes her head. "And now I feel sorry for her," she says, and floats straight through the toilet door.

Kate flushes out of habit, turns on the tap to wash her hands, and pointedly ignores McLennan's quickly muffled shout. There's nothing to be done about it, she knows, but by the time she's dried her hands on one of McLennan's sinfully fluffy hand towels, pointlessly checked her messages again, and finished the bottle of wine, the ghost's hovering in the kitchen counter and arguing with McLennan that Kate's at least a bit of a terrible human being. McLennan's on Kate's side. Kate feels a little flush of warmth inside and immediately makes herself stop smiling.

It's fine. McLennan'll be cheery again until she has to do the paperwork. And, from the way the camera crew's getting into position and even the producer's looking happier, Kate's pretty sure it'll be a good show.