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The New Guy

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There were more drawings of Lady Feste/Sir Andrew going on wednesday morning when some of them met at Fabian’s to play football, and the boys were talking about them, teasing Feste, saying they all thought the two of them would make a great couple. They had to let the guys get it out of their systems, in hopes the joke would wear itself out, there was no fighting it. But there were more people doing those drawings, which meant it would get worse before it got better

The game itself was the same as usual, they played the offense with Curio so well for the first few minutes, the other team was onto them for the rest of the game. After that, they all occupied the closest bar, and enjoyed a few beers. It was a nice way to start the day, and Feste was probably not the only one who thought nothing would go wrong after such a great start.

Some of them decided to go to the woods on the west side of the hill, for no reason, the guys wanted a good scenery to look at while they got high, and thought it was a perfect idea. Feste joined them, of course. So there were five of them entering the small path into the woods, sharing stories of people who had died there.

Smoking, and coming up with absurd ideas to where the track would lead them was a much safer choice than actually exploring the darkening path. The wind started blowing a lot harder, and it didn’t stop. In the end, they left the woods because the sound of the wind shaking the trees made everyone paranoid.

They passed through the campsite on their way down, where the shacks made of whatever material their owners could get their hands on were challenged by the unusually furious wind, and Feste hoped that against all chances, the little houses would stand the force of nature another day.

As they followed the uneven, stone steps of the stairs that went down the west side of the hill, Feste and the guys could hear the wind slamming doors and rattling the windows of the masonry houses they passed by. The sky kept getting darker, and by the time they made it to the base of the hill, the first thunders could be heard. Feste decided it was better to go back to Toby’s, and stay indoors. They said goodbye to the guys, and navigated the steep alleys that would take them there the fastest.

Seeing Willow hanging out with Toby’s soldiers filled them with worry, and they didn’t care very much for it, which contributed to making them sound so annoyed when asking: “What are you doing here?” Those guys were no company for a little kid, they’d be teaching Willow how to shoot in no time.

“You’re Lady Feste, they told me everything,” the little devil said, before bursting into laughter.

“Thank you so much, guys,” they said, ironically of course. The boys just laughed at their displeasure. “It’s going to rain, you should go home,” they told Willow.

“My house is shaking, I don’t want to stay there,” the kid explained. “Do you wanna watch lighting bolts with us?”

“No, let’s watch cartoons, inside,” Feste decided, pulling the kid by the hand, without waiting for a yes. Luckly, Willow didn’t fight it. So the two of them entered the living room, and Feste asked Toby if they could watch a kid’s shows, which he was about to laugh at, until he noticed Willow, and handed the kid the remote. “Go ahead,” he said, getting up from the couch, and beckoning the kid to take his seat, right in front of the screen.

He, then, invited Feste into the kitchen, where they opened a beer. “It’s gonna rain a lot today,” he said, looking for something in the fridge. “I hope it’s not too bad.” Feste shrugged, they hoped for the same, of course, and didn’t trust that hope at all, but didn’t want to voice out their worst fears either, lest they came true, which they sooner or later would. Then Toby looked away from the fridge, to Feste, obviously troubled with some doubt. “What do kids eat?”

They laughed. It wasn’t where they thought Toby would go next in his talk, though Toby did have a thing for feeding everyone who entered his house, and no one had ever complained, Feste least of all. So they helped him to find food for Willow. “Maria was telling me about the prank you’re pulling on Malvolio. I don’t see how that’s better than kicking his ass.”

“But you will,” they promised, despite not being so sure, actually. Helping Maria write the texts had been fun, and they were grateful she’d been able to convince Toby not to act with his head still hot, but they knew she didn’t share the full extent of her plans, so it was impossible to say more than they already had.

Fortunately, Toby didn’t press them for details, he asked for some music, instead, so Feste got their guitar from the studio, and played for him, as they both watched the pouring rain. Willow decided the music was more interesting than cartoons, and came closer to them, sitting on the floor, and watching Feste’s hands move.

“Here,” they handed the kid the egg shaker. “Help me make some music.” Once Willow began, Feste was satisfied in finding the kid had rhythm. Outside, the rain was getting harder, and the day, darker, but shelter and music were enough to make the three of them immune to it. Until the news found them, that is.

Beast, one of Toby’s longest serving soldiers, barged into the room breathless, unarmed, wet, and with an urgent look in his eyes. “We need the boys at the campsite,” he said, staring desperately at Toby, who jumped up.

“What’s going on?” he asked as his hand immediately went for his gun.

“The wind’s taken down a tree, it fell on some of the shacks, and the water will take the rest if it rains much longer. I think there’s people under there.” Toby cursed, and left the house to give the orders to the boys, who were sitting by his porch, and Beast went with him.

“Was it my house?” Willow asked, sounding truly scared.

Feste was about to say maybe, when Maria came down the stairs in a hurry, shouting for Toby. They both pointed her to the outside, and she ran that way. “I think she heard the news,” Feste remarked.

Willow almost smiled, but worry won over it. “What about my house?” the kid asked, sounding so upset Feste could feel it in their stomach. “Ok, I’m going to find out what happened, and then I’ll tell you, alright?” Willow didn’t say anything, but obviously disliked the idea. “I’ll be faster alone,” they explained. “But you have to wait for me here, so I can find you. Do you understand?”

The kid held them, instead, with teary eyes. Feste was used to children invading their personal space, but that was different. Willow was turning to them for comfort, and that was something they weren’t sure they could give. They weren’t even sure they’d ever wanted to comfort anyone before that very moment. Willow needed a grownup, and they weren’t it. Feste wanted to disentangle from the kid’s hold, and put some distance between them, so they didn’t have to feel so bad just because Willow was upset. But they also wanted to be better than that.

Feste placed their hands on the kid’s shoulders. “It’s gonna be alright,” they lied. “Just stay here, ok? I’m gonna help those guys out there, and as soon as I know something, I’ll come back to tell you. Promise you’ll wait for me here.”

The kid let go of Feste, and nodded in agreement. “I promise.” They didn’t take two steps before the sad little thing stopped them again, holding their hand. “Feste?” Willow stared at them in fear. “What about my mom?”

Feste finally understood why the kid was so worried. They felt Willow’s fear running through them like it was their own. “Was she home?” The kid just nodded, too frightened to speak.

Willow stayed behind with Maria, and Feste joined Toby and the boys on their way down to the campsite, near the woods. It was the middle of the afternoon, but it was dark, and the wind seemed intent on making the way more difficult. The campsite was chaos. Most of the shacks Feste had prayed for had been reduced to a confusing pile of rubble, which many had already begun digging up. People cried and screamed saying there were people trapped under the destroyed houses. Some tried to move the fallen tree, others dug around it.

Feste wasted no time joining the diggers. They had to work fast, because the rain was washing the mud downhill, and there was a good deal of it between the woods and the campsite. A landslide, something likely to happen with so much rain, would bury those people beyond help. The only silver lining was the soldiers, who kept coming, joining the task.

Everything was covered in mud, and it was hard to see what they were touching. Feste lifted wooden planks, pieces of cardboard heavy with mud, the rusty hood of a car, where they cut their fingers, and then they touched something soft, which made their stomach turn immediately. It was too muddy to see, but there was no mistaking it. “Here!” they shouted, and three diggers came to help.

The water kept invading Feste’s eyes, and they kept ignoring it, as they ignored the painful way the wind blew into their left ear, and the stinging pain in their bleeding fingers. The sound of other trees creaking and threatening to break and fall on their heads was something else they needed to ignore. The shouts all around them were muddled and confused, and Feste’s only certainty was they had to dig.

As the person became more visible, Feste could see someone skinny, and as the rain washed some of the mud from that person’s face, they could swear it looked like theirs. As the person was placed on a makeshift stretcher, and taken downhill, Feste got on their knees and vomited.

“Come on, get up,” said Toby, giving their shoulder an encouraging hit. Feste stood up, and took a deep breath. “You did good. Now help those people get their stuff to the school. When you’re down there,” he went on, giving Feste his pocket money, which was a lot, “make sure there’s food and water. See what else they need, and tell Maria about it.”

Feste simply nodded, and did as told. They helped loading wheelbarrows with people’s belongings, and helped carrying some stuff downhill, including a small kid, who sat on their shoulders. The way down was slippery and the water ran downhill in a stream so powerful every step had to be taken carefully.

They had to focus, but couldn’t stop thinking about what it had felt like when their hand first touched the one they’d helped digging up. Trying to ground themself in the present
Feste started singing: “I am gone, sir,
And anon, sir,
I'll be with you again, in a trice,
Like to the old vice,
Your need to sustain.” It was the weirdest song they could think of, and they sang It at the top of their lungs. Feste could hardly see the people looking at them funny, they had to squint just so they could see their next step, and the storm drowned most of Feste’s singing. However, they could still hear some people laugh in reaction, especially the kid on their shoulders.

“Who with dagger of lath
In his rage and his wrath,
Cries, aha, to the devil:
Like a mad lad,
Pare thy nails, dad.
Adieu, good man devil.”

The group made it to the school building, where the local people took shelter in such events as the one they were going through. Feste stopped with the singing, dropped the kid more or less carefully, and put down the bag they had carried. They took a look around. People kept coming, wet, muddy people, and they all shared that frightened look.

Feste saw some of the guys bring stuff in and leave immediately, and figured they should do the same. They left the building, and started making the way back, trying to think of anything that would keep the image of the dug up person out of their mind. That’s when they were reminded of the mission Toby had given them.

“Food and water,” they said, out loud, to no one.

Snout’s bar was closer than the closest grocery store, so they walked in, and ordered gin. “What’s going on?” the man asked, eyeing Feste in a way that made them wonder what they looked like. “Hell’s going on,” they said before drinking. “Another,” they asked, unable to feel anything in the first shot. They told Snout what had happened at the campsite, and what they’d seen, shocking the bartender, who was only now being informed about that.

They had another drink, before carrying on with the mission. It wasn’t like usual grocery shopping. Feste told the manager what they wanted, and had to keep level headed enough to discuss what exactly they were buying and how much. Thinking was hard, and they delegated that part of the job to the man, who took it with surprise, and no small amount of doubt, but did the job anyway.

The rain stopped for a little while, as Feste and two of the store’s employees pushed shopping carts through the flooded street. As they finally got to the school building again, they saw Big Titania, and went to her immediately. “Toby told me to get food and water.” They pointed at their own cart, and the two boys in uniform that followed. She thanked the heavens, and pointed the three of them to the kitchen, where they unloaded the goods, and Feste recognized the volunteers as members of Big Titania’s “family” (people who saw her as the leader of their marginalized religion).

They welcomed Feste as usual, making high praises of their help, even after Feste explained the donation came from Toby. They also gave them a job opening cans, which they did until told to stop. When they left the kitchen sitting on a corner for a little while felt like a great idea. They leaned back against the wall, and closed their eyes.

Someone touched their shoulder, but Feste didn’t feel like reacting. “Poor darling!” They could recognize Big Titania’s voice anywhere. “We’re not done yet, snap out of it,” she commanded, all seriousness, no anger. Feste looked at her. The old lady smiled at them. She brought Feste back to the kitchen, and told one of her girls to give them some food.

Feste wasn’t about to argue with Big Titania, so they sat down and ate. She sat next to them when they were finished, and said: “Tell Maria I’ve called my children, they’re bringing whatever help they can, but she will be of great help right now. Will you let her know I’m here?”

“I will,” Feste said, getting up, overcome by the irresistible desire of making that old witch proud.

Before leaving, however, they were reminded of the one who would be waiting for them. Feste took Big Titania’s hand, staring at her intently. “Have you seen Willow’s mom?” She looked at the others questioningly but no one knew who they were talking about. “If anyone asks, Willow’s with Maria.”

As they went uphill, under the merciless rain that had picked up again, trying not to think about the many dumb ways they could die from the foul water streaming down the alleyways, making their path all the more difficult, Feste realized Big Titania didn’t need them to give Maria any messages, she was just sending them home. Well, they weren’t going to complain. There wasn’t much else they could help with. All they wanted was to sleep.

“Where’s my mom?” Willow asked, as soon as they entered the house. “I don’t know,” they admitted, hating themself for it. The kid cried loudly, making their head ache. It was too much. Feste dropped to the floor, and stayed there, feeling a kind of exhaustion they couldn’t handle.
Maria, who told them she had already talked to Big Titania and sent help, tried in vain to comfort Willow, who refused to be comforted. It was a while before Feste was bothered enough by the wet clothes to get up and walk to the shower. They set the water as hot as they could stand, and stayed there for a long time.

They found Willow and Maria drinking hot chocolate, and joined the two. It wasn’t chocolate they needed, but what would make things better wasn’t clear. They recited a rhyming story to Willow, but it was actually an attempt to calm down. The kid fell asleep, using Feste’s lap as a pillow, so they decided to stay still for a while, as hard as the task became whenever they focused on it.

Maria had her phone and radio with her, so she kept them informed of all developments outside. People had successfully evacuated the campsite before the very foreseeable landslide happened. “Did they dig up everyone?” Feste asked her, unable to shake off the memory of the nauseating dread of not knowing if the person they’d found was dead or alive.

Feste woke up when Toby and some soldiers came home, making a lot of noise. Willow sat up, startled, but after looking around and deciding nothing out of the ordinary was happening, went back to sleep.

“Get that kid to bed, Feste, we need to confer,” Toby commanded.

They couldn’t think of anything to say to that, tired as they were, so they just carried Willow upstairs, and went back to the conference. Toby and the guys had no patience for self care, they each had a liquor bottle in hand, and snorted from the coffee table without bothering with lines.

“A song, Feste!” Toby ordered when they were back.

They nodded, got the guitar, and settled down next to Beast, who offered them his bottle. So Feste took a generous swig, and sang one of Toby’s favorites: a mashup of Let a Soldier Drink and Wild Rover. When the song was over, Toby stood up with his bottle raised in his hand. “Gentlemen,” he made a pause for dramatic effect, “you guys did great.” They cheered him for that. Toby, however, became less loud. “Today was fucked up, huh?” He took a drink, and lowered his hand, but he wasn’t finished. “I know you didn’t become soldiers for that, but you all know some days are worse than others. So let’s be grateful we made it, and drink to it.” And so they did.

Feste sang a few more songs about drinking, and the guys laughed, but between laughs their exhaustion was visible. Soon everyone was just sitting there, drinking silently, snorting coke loudly, and staring at nothing. One by one, they left, and Feste fell asleep on the couch, still sitting.

They woke up to Willow shaking and calling them. “Wake up!” the kid commanded. “What?” they asked, covering their eyes with an arm. “You have to help me find my mom.” Willow sounded about to start crying again, so Feste decided it was better to get up, and help the kid as promised.

Taking from what the sky looked like, they hadn’t got more than two hours of sleep, but it didn’t matter. They picked up one of the bottles abandoned on the floor, had a swig, and finally took a good look at the kid, who looked exactly like someone who couldn’t be bothered about personal hygiene. “Go wash your face, you wanna scare your mom?”

“Why everything is so big here? I can’t reach anything,” Willow complained, and then came up with a solution: “You have to lift me.”

Feste cursed, drank some more, and picked up the kid like a package they carried under their arm. Willow laughed, to Feste’s relief. They brought the little monster to the bathroom sink, holding it up to wash its goblin face. They proceeded to use a fork to give the kid’s hair its usual mushroom cap shape. When it was done, Feste took a step back and admired their work. “Ok, you look cared for,” they decided. “Wanna eat something?”

“Can I have cookies? Maria said you guys have cookies,” the kid said, sounding so excited about it, Feste was confused. But then again, cookies were probably a luxury in Willow’s life.

After a breakfast of chocolate cookies and coffee, they left the house to a bright day that looked nothing like the previous one. For a second, it was like the storm had been a bad dream. But everywhere its consequences were visible. The streets were muddy, covered in trash the flood had carried, and busy with people fixing the damages their houses had suffered.

The way down was slippery and Willow clung to Feste’s hand to avoid any accidents. Taking careful steps slowed them down, so the kid decided to talk to pass the time. “Why don’t you have a gun, Feste? All soldiers have guns.”

“I’m not a real soldier, I’m just Toby’s friend,” they explained. “Music is my weapon.”

“You hit people with your guitar?” the kid asked, trying to make sense of their words. Feste laughed. “No, I love my guitar. I love all guitars, I’d never do that. And the problem with hitting people is that they’re mostly bigger than me. So I have to use music. People like music, even when they don’t like me, so we don’t have to fight.”

Willow frowned, and said nothing else for the rest of the way. When they stopped in front of the school, the kid hesitated. “What if she’s not here?” the little thing worried. Feste was afraid of that too, and didn’t know how to give Willow more hope than they had. “If we can’t find her, we’ll keep looking.” It was a very vague answer, but it seemed to reassure the kid for now.

As they entered the building, Feste looked around for a familiar face who could help them find Willow’s mom. They were still unsure about where to start, when they saw Titania guiding some guys carrying boxes into the building. “This way,” she told them, and then she saw Feste. “Oh, you’re here. Can you help unloading the truck?”

“Sure.” They turned around, which Willow disapproved of. “But we have to find my mom.” Feste didn’t stop because of this argument, and Willow followed, so they explained their reasoning: “It’ll take a minute to carry a box, and it will help people.”

“How do you know a box will help people?” the kid asked, looking and sounding confused, getting in line with Feste.

“It’s not the box, it’s what’s in it. I bet it’s clothes,” they guessed. “Yes, it is,” said the cheerful man, who handed them a box, looked at Willow for a second, and gave the kid a smaller one. “There, give us a hand, you too.”

They followed the others into a classroom, where some people were already lined up, waiting for them. “Let’s ask them,” Feste suggested, when they had finished their sidequest. “What’s her name?” “Barbara.”

So they asked the people in line, who suggested they checked the cafeteria. There, they asked everyone about Barbara, and a guy who actually knew Willow told them to check at the old gas station, because she was friends with the people who lived there.

They walked a few blocks to a gas station that had been out of business for years, and taken over by squatters, who were occasionally kicked out, but always came back. The glass doors to the old convenience store had been replaced by wooden planks, one of which Feste moved to the side. “Hello? It’s Feste,” they announced to the dark room.

“Down on your luck?” asked a contemptuous voice, which Feste didn’t know where it came from exactly. They weren’t surprised the stranger thought Feste had to be going through a rough patch to be there, everyone else in that place certainly was. “Is Barbara here? Willow’s looking for her.”

A disheveled, thin woman, with eyes too big for her face suddenly appeared in front of Feste, who couldn’t hide their surprise, and took a hasty step back, accidentally pushing Willow, who stood right behind them. When she grabbed the kid in a desperate hug, Feste knew their job was done.

They started leaving, as Willow started an account of the previous day’s events. Barbara, however, caught up with them, and thanked Feste for taking care of her little girl. "No problem, Willow’s a great kid.” As they left, Feste realized they actually meant those words.