He was on the ladder in the lobby when he first heard the ryökäle.
“Ah!” He clutched for the sides, ladder rocking like a ship at sea. Looked down, and for the first time in a long, long, looong time Ahti was surprised.
It was a goose.
“Hhonnkh!” It flapped its wings, looked at him with eyes as deep as an ocean trench.
“Get out of here!” Ahti said. How did it get in at all? “Go on!”
He waved his arms at it, and the goose flapped its wings in return, and they both milled the air together before Ahti scowled, let his arms fall to his sides.
The goose tilted its head. Smart, Ahti thought grudgingly. A smart bird. What did he care about a bird in the end? It wasn’t doing anything.
He turned back to his task, hands raised above him. Light bulbs rarely needed changing around here, in his House, but it’d had a lot of darkness lately. He raised the bulb with hands slow and gnarled like branches on a tree.
Ahti startled, and the stupid thing at least had the sense to dance back as the glass shatters on the floor. Ahti looked from his bare feet on the ladder, to the broken pieces now littering the floor.
He pointed down at the ryökäle, a condemning finger.
“You are not a nice goose.” He said.
He didn’t see it again until his next shift. The people who used this place, they were always bringing in crazy stuff, all the time, real crazy, like killer fridges and floating TVs. Why not a massage chair? Nothing fancy, not a floating massage chair, but a regular one. That was real technology.
Maybe they brought the goose. Who cared.
Today, the Clog had come to visit. Mad this time too, hiisi vieköön. Didn’t like that Ahti had left it for his Assistant to take care of last time. Whatever. He was allowed time to sit his perse on the beach.
“Haista vittu! Smelly! Filth!” He roared, beating the gurgling thing with the rubber end of his plunger. It rumbled back, a nasty growling sound like a sick stomach. Like a volcano. “Disgusting thing!”
He already knew what he would see, but he turned anyway, so this time it wasn’t the goose who surprised him, but the Clog. Sprayed him from the pulsing knot front and center of the metaphorical muck it was made of. It was slimy, and smelled like paska. Sometimes, Ahti wished this cosmic bullshit just faded away, like in the movies.
He rounded on it with renewed vigor, jabbing at the air around it with his now dripping plunger, forcing it back. The plunger was dripping, the walls were dripping, he was dripping and when he slipped and fell on his ass, the Clog gurgled a chuckle.
“Hhonk! Hoankhh!” The goose said, pristine and just out of reach.
“Perkeleen hanhi!” Ahti shouted. The Clog at least gave him another gurgle in warning before spewing again.
Vittu. And vittu that goose .
After that, he couldn’t go a day without seeing the little bird. While he mopped. While he swept. Once, while he was shitting, it poked its head under the door, and honked so loudly he dropped his phone in the fucking toilet.
Yeah, he had a phone. Who didn’t these days?
For the first time in a long, long, loooong time, Ahti was annoyed.
He came up with a plan.
First, he pretended to look busy, until the goose showed up to bother him. He headed for the maze. The goose padded behind him, on soft, flappy feet.
“Yeah, that’s right you stupid runkkari.” Ahti said. Slipped new headphones on. The director had given him a raise- finally ! The plush padded leather sat tight on his ears.
Too bad he could still hear the stupid thing, honking at a plant in the corner.
“C’mon.” He said coaxingly, under his breath. Stepped forward into the maze.
The goose followed him. Smart bird, but not that smart. Hopefully he could strand it there, send in some of the useless security to do their job. Cook this goose, once and for all. Whistling, Ahti began to walk.
Turned left, and let the walls opened and closed around him. Turned left again. Turned right. The walls beside him reacted to him, sliding open and shut like the house was just waking up, blinking at him. He paused, changed the trash beside one of the chairs, although it didn’t need it. He was already there, might as well do the work. He turned right again. Turned left…
… turned around.
Ahti cursed. Shook his head.
“Okay.” He said. “Okay bird .”
He turned left, moving faster now. The walls divided, dropping him through the air, sending him floating through dark space, sliding him along wallpaper and carpet as the maze shuddered around him. He swung his body right, and it dropped him into the churning, milling center of the maze. Ahti dropped onto a pillar and stood for a moment.
Ahti began to move again. He made himself hurry. Ahti hated hurrying.
Finally he turned around. He wasn’t surprised, but he wasn’t happy either.
The goose stood on a tall pillar made of the house, head tilted as it regarded his lost expression.
Headphones on, feet away, with the heart of the House grinding away all around them, how was he hearing it? Over the music?
Ahti looked back into its soulless eyes.
“You are not a normal goose.” He said.
Predictably, it honked.
Ahti waited just outside the Executive Sector’s main branch. Sat on the edge of a chair, his hat crumpled in his hand. This was a first for him, but he actually liked this one. She was smarter. Maybe even smarter than him.
Hopefully smarter than that tyhmä goose.
Ahti glanced around, wary that his thoughts had brought it out of hiding. He hadn’t yet seen it today, which meant it was somewhere. Waiting.
Like Ahti was-
Ahti looked up. Ah, everyone here was so young, no wonder he always felt so old. His worn hands tightened on his hat.
“I’m here to see the Director.” He said. And then after a moment, added. “She used to work for me, before they demoted her.”
She stared at him for a moment longer, before glancing at her clipboard, like she hadn’t seen it before.
“Okay.” She said finally, and Ahti scowled at her tone. “Can I have your name?”
“I’m Ahti.” He said, and when she just looked at him, he added. “The Janitor.”
That made her pay attention, Ahti thought, satisfied, her eyes flicking quickly up and down his person like she couldn’t believe he was here. People like her never liked seeing a working man in their lobby. Made them nervous, some hevonpaska. Ahti waited.
“I… have to get my supervisor.” She said, already leaving as Ahti gave her a dismissive nod.
Tried to be patient, to relax. Kylikki was always after him to relax, ‘just be easy, Ahti’, sure, with his job. He was a good husband, though. Ahti tried anyway.
He turned. For the first time in a long, long, looong time Ahti was tired. The goose sat in the chair beside him, orange feet swinging.
“Hello, goose. Good goose.” Ahti said. He thought it was a bad idea before he tried, but reached for it anyway, slow and cautious. The goose hissed immediately, struck for his hand. Ahti jerked back. “Fucking, painu hiiteen-”
“Hello? Uh, Awtee?”
He looked up, hand still hovering close to his chest where he’d jerked it back. Supervisor, he was sure. Her hair said it all.
“I need to speak with my old assistant.” He told her. “Red hair? Big gun? Better looking than the old pukukummitus… if you're into that sort of thing. I'm married.”
“Yes, Director Faden...” She said, looking pained. “Is there anything you can tell me until she gets here?”
“It’s this goose!” Ahti said. Gestured to where it sat beside him. Double-took.
It was gone.
Of course it was gone.
“Okay.” He told her, and then more loudly. “Okay, goose. Fine.”
Her face had tightened with concern by the time he got back. Who cared. He’d be here long after she died, was reborn and died again. Also, he was off the clock, who gave a shit.
“This is very serious.” He told her. “There is a goose. It looks like a regular goose, but it’s a real kusipää. Very rude boy.”
“Okay, maybe we should just wait for the Director-”
“It’s fine. It’s fine, hiisi vieköön! Just tell her: No! Geese!”
He turned. Finally, the one he was looking for. No more middlemen.
“My assistant!” He said, shooting the supervisor a look she seemed immune to. “We have a pest problem. A goose.”
Ahti watch her absorb this information as she walked up.
“A goose.” She said. “Is it.... doing anything?”
“Not at first.” Ahti said. “ Not at first . Just put up a sign, tell your men. I can’t work on a farm.”
“I’ll get people on it.” She told him firmly, and Ahti nodded approvingly. Shook her hand, and let himself be walked back to the elevator.
“It’s smarter than it looks.” He warned her. “We never made them so smart. It’s unnatural on a bird like that.”
It wasn’t until he let the elevator doors close that he heard the soft honk from behind him. This time he didn’t bother to turn around. The goose got off when he did.
Ahti thought about retirement.
The signs go up the next day. Just a big picture of a goose, and red stamp across it.
It was not a picture of his goose. Ahti hadn’t seen his goose since he ratted him out.
It was a goose. It couldn’t hold a grudge.
He took the chance to get some work done. Cleaned the furnace. Bleached the mold. Listened to his music, blissfully uninterrupted.
Ahti, tasks finally completed, was forced to admit that maybe, for the first time in a long, long, looong time on this job, he was lonely.
He was stupid. Just like the goose. Maybe that’s why-
Ahti scowled. He wasn’t even sure the thing was a goose, not some devil in disguise. He dropped his mop in his bucket, listening to the familiar squeak of it’s wheels as he headed toward the Research sector. It was late, but some of his visitors were more like permanent guests. They could leave, they just didn’t. Sure enough, the lights were on, and Ahti stopped at the end of the hall, mopped his way toward the warmth. A House was only alive with people in it.
It was a long hall, but Ahti had done worse for less. He made short work of it, and soon enough his mop, was dragging a wet path past the open door.
The Doctor was inside as Ahti had thought he’d be. He should be careful that one. Once, a long, long, loooong time ago Ahti had been just a guest here, a janitor helping patch a single leak. Now, as the Janitor, he was no longer a guest. His problem wasn’t a leak, but a Clog, and he only got three paid vacation days, a year .
The Doctor here late, that was normal. What was not normal was the slow moving, plump little thief swiveling it’s long neck up to pluck the Doctor’s glasses from the desk where he’d set them as he rubbed at the bridge of his nose.
Ahti stared at it. He hadn’t seen the thing in a week, and now he watched as it placed the glasses on the floor, and scooted them onto its face, the thick bottlecap lenses magnifying its eyes hugely. Ahti started when it swung it’s head around and stared back at him.
“Fuck!” The Doctor jumped, pouring his cup into his lap and the goose stepped backwards, moving away as quick as it had moved slowly before, back out of sight. The Doctor cursed, swiped at his pants, fumbled on the desk for his glasses.
“They’re gone.” Ahti said from the doorway, and the Doctor jumped again at the sound of his voice, staring blindly in Ahti’s direction. “The goose took them.”
“What?” The Doctor said, blinking. “Hello? Who’s out there?”
Ahti shook his head, mopped past the open doorway, and back into the dark. He hadn’t been worried about the thing. Maybe he was glad it had decided to bug someone else.
“Where are my glasses? Hello?”
It seemed to have forgiven him for the signs after that. Showed up when he came out in the mornings to take the trash to the incinerator. Waddled around underfoot, and honked as they watched things burn and pop. Sometimes he’d wax a floor only for it to suddenly have big floppy goose feet right through it. Sometimes it just came to the room he was in and poked its beak around, looking at his supplies, or his toolbox, knocking it’s wings against his bucket.
Funny little thing. Smart. A little fat.
Kind of cute, if you liked birds. Ahti didn’t.
But really, it was only about as much of a bother as Ahti was. Only a bother in how inexplicable its presence and purpose was. His little mysterious feathered friend.
Mostly, except for the times it honked right as he was spiking his coffee in the morning, Ahti forgot to be annoyed with the thing. Old gods should encourage new growth, he thought. Put his mind back towards the work.
He was eating a sandwich.
Not just any sandwich. Kyllikki had made it for him, and while she hadn’t put any mustard on it, it was still really good. He’d even sat down for it, instead of stuffing half in his mouth and then going back to work like he usually did. Life was about the little things right? His wife was not the kind to stand around making sandwiches, so when she did he enjoyed it.
He was sitting, chewing and watching his floors dry, thinking about the simple satisfaction of bread, when.
“Hello, ryökäle.” Ahti greeted him, voice warm with satisfaction. Good cooking was said to add years to your life, and if that was true, his wife’s sandwiches would probably keep him alive until even the roots on the old tree died. The goose sidled closer. Ahtis didn’t reach for it. He knew better by now. Just took another bite, and washed it back with the beer he was half-hiding behind one hip. “Come to keep me company?”
“Hhaoonk.” The goose offered, amicably enough, and Ahti nodded. It wasn’t coming any closer, although it was definitely watching him. Watching his sandwich. Ahti watched it back. Little eyes, little feet. Big mouth.
“Hungry?” He asked it.
The goose didn’t answer, just shuffled forward a little, fluttered its wings like it was anticipating.
“Hhonk.” It said softly, when Ahti didn’t speak again. Settled on the floor beside his boot, sinking into itself in that peculiar way birds do, so that it covered its feet entirely. Ahti took another bite and its neck floated up to follow the movement.
He thought about it. Food for the gods wasn’t really meant to be shared, but it had been a long, long, looong time since Ahti had a friend. After a moment, he tore off a little piece of bread and tossed it onto the floor.
Didn’t watch while it ate, just smiled into his beer.
Just because Ahti had settled his quarrel with his little ryökäle, didn’t mean everyone had.
“There it is!”
At the sound of raised voices and stomping feet, Ahti didn't even bother to raise his head from where he was patching a small hole in the wall. That was the important work. Always better to patch it. Who knows what could crawl through.
Until he heard it, anyway.
“Hhonkh! Hhoankk honkhhHoannk!”
He turned in time to see the goose, his goose running toward him, wings extended, little feet waddling as fast as they could, and a whole crowd of perkeleellinen runkkari chasing after it.
“Hey.” Ahti said, and when no one paid him any mind, he shouted it. Waved his arms a bit. “Hey! Leave it alone!”
They hadn’t expected interference.
“Sir, you need to vacate the area-”
“-holy shit, the Janitor, we aren’t even supposed to-”
“-et Arish on the comm-”
“The fucking Janitor-!”
“Damn right!” Ahti said loudly, puffing out his chest. “I have seniority in this situation! You, you go tell the director the ryökäle isn’t a problem, anymore!”
“Arish said not to interfe-”
“-he’s just one old man, we should just do our jobs-”
The goose pressed its head into his pant leg, and for the first time in, oh, maybe an hour? Ahti was furious . This happened much more often, but it was still explosive.
“Get out of here, you !” Ahti shouted, too angry to even curse, loudly, louder than he needed to certainly, for the floors of the Oldest House shook down to their roots, and the lights popped and flickered. He flapped his arms for good measure, and the goose did too.
When the men went running, he looked down at the thing.
“Good job, assistant.” He said warmly. “You really scared ‘em.”
Paused. Scratched his beard.
“Not that it mattered.” He mused. “Kyllikki’s food fed to a mortal… well, not so mortal anymore, you know?”
The signs went down the next day, and a new memo went out.
Order by the Director:
Do not interact with the goose, unless it is to give the goose what it wants.
Thank you for your patience in this matter.
Ex-Assistant Janitor Jesse Faden