“Honey, I’m home!” Garth called as he turned the knob of his treehouse and pushed. Garth’s forehead slammed into the wooden panel when the door didn’t budge. Was there furniture barricading the other side of the door or was he just crazy?
“Who is it?” Came an unfamiliar voice, and a panel he hadn’t noticed before slid open with a clack. Behind it was the scarred cheekbones of a thrask woman. Ah, it was Sandi’s bodyguard. Apparently she hadn’t been necessary, and now he was being denied entry to his house and his girlfriend.
“The guy who hired you, remember?”
The thrask’s eyes narrowed for a moment, then the panel closed, and the door opened, revealing the heavily muscled, stone-faced woman.
“Arms up.” She gestured at him, other hand near her shortblade.
Garth sighed and held his arms out while the thrask woman, one Benta Enbrook, efficiently patted him down and confiscated all his hidden weapons, including a book he thought Sandi would like, his bandolier of seeds, a piece of candy in his paocket, and an uncomfortable grope to make sure he wasn’t smuggling anything under his nutsack.
“You take your job pretty seriously,” Garth said when they were at their most intimate. “Since I’m back already, can I let you off the hook?”
“I’m booked for one month,” Benta said, standing. “It’s been one week. After payment is made, it’s against my code to let anybody take me off the job. Not the person who hired me, and not the person I’m guarding. You’d be surprised at how often people die right after a familiar face tells you you can go home.”
“Never. Because I don’t quit.”
“As annoying as it is,” Garth said, turning around for the back pat-down “I’m gonna have to give you a glowing recommendation.”
“I know.” She said. “You’re clear, but don’t cause any trouble.” She gave Wilson a once-over. “Same goes for you.”
“Garth, is that you?” Sandi shouted from deeper inside the veritable tree fort, complete with an ogre at the gate.
“Yeah,” Garth said, shooting Benta one last glare as she took his Status Band before heading in.
When Garth turned the corner into the kitchen, he was greeted with the sight of Samantha teaching Sandi how to make fried rice. Sandi was stirring an industrial amount of seasoned rice around in a person sized pan while the older woman stirred a dog-sized batch of eggs.
The thing that most attracted his eye though was the lovely curved, bare bottom wiggling and bouncing as she danced and hummed while cooking, the front of her Lure protected from the hot grease by an old, battle-stained apron that only just covered her generous assets. Is Samantha seeing this? Probably not.
“Good afternoon, Garth.” Sandi’s mom called from around the corner deeper in the house, pulling his attention away from Sandi’s wiggling bottom and bouncing side-boob.
“You go on ahead,” Wilson said, “I’ll stay here and…help out.”
Grumbling, Garth went around the corner to the living room. Ma’ta and her tentacle monster husband were sitting at the table. He could faintly make out Ma’ta’s real body curled up in the corner, as out of the way as possible. It couldn’t have been comfortable.
“Looks like it’s a whole family shindig,” Garth said. “What gives?”
“We were talking to Sandi about coming up here to stay,” Oopal said, “Earth is a booming economy, and if I don’t miss my guess, you’re gonna need farmers when everything settles down.”
“What about your farm,” Garth asked, then glanced at where Ma’ta was curled up. “Would you like more space?”
“I’m fine,” she said with a dismissive wave.
“It’s no trouble.” Garth said, melting the living wooden wall away with a wave of his hand and creating a cushion out of pliable cork beneath her.
“Oh, my Goddess above,” Ma’ta said, stretching out her scythe-like limbs on the floor. “Your husband is going to spoil me.”
“We’re not married!” Sandi shouted from the kitchen, her face reddening as she glared from around the corner.
“Then there’s still a chance for me.” Ma’ta said, her lure grasping Garth’s hand. “How do you feel about experienced women?”
“Our daughter Polaa and her husband are going to take over the family farm.” Oopal said, ignoring his family’s shenanigans.
“I’m flattered but my heart’s set on Sandi.” Garth gave the most appropriate answer he could using all of his well-learned In-Law-Fu before he turned back to Oopal. “That’s good to hear. The number of humans who farmed for a living before was very small, and they used human technology to do so. We could use all the know-how we can.”
Garth sobered. “Just tell me you won’t be moving in with us.”
Oopal laughed, slapping the solid table with a blue-green tentacle.
“Of course not…If we get a nice plot of land to work and a house to live in. Ma’ta hears California has great farmland a bit further north.”
“You do huh?” Apparently the older succubus had been doing some reconnaissance while Garth was out and about. The old couple were wilier than they looked. They canvassed Earth well, saw a son-in-law who could get them a plot of land that was much better than their old one, and went for it.
It was no skin off Garth’s back though, there was plenty of land to go around.
“That all sounds fine to me…in exchange for babysitting and the occasional advice.” Garth said.
“Deal.” Garth and Oopal shook hand-to-tentacle on it.
“Now if you’ll excuse me,” Garth said, sliding out of his seat. “I’ve gotta say hi to Sandi.”
Garth went back into the kitchen where Wilson was perving on Sandi’s real body unbeknownst to Samantha, who couldn’t see her body, only that Wilson was sitting in the corner of the room, looking totally innocent. He took a page from Wilson’s book and sidled up next to the blushing succubus and slid a hand around her waist.
“Hope I’m not too distracting, How’s it going?” he asked. “That can’t be enough for you and your mom.”
“We ate this morning, took down a bison ourselves.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Well, Benta helped.” Sandi sounded more than a little irritated, giving Garth a severe look, somewhat nullified by the hammering heartbeat he could see in her neck, the blush and the naked apron outfit only he could see.
“Sorry, I thought you might…be in danger while I was gone?”
Sandi rolled her eyes and kept stirring. “I’m glad hiring a mercenary to act as my prison warden made you feel better. You know I’m a pretty dangerous girl, right?”
“And adorable.” Garth said, kissing her forehead. While it was true that she could cut people into tiny ribbons without a single weapon, after seeing her get knocked out so easily by those wizards in shiny robes, he had gotten a little…paranoid about what life was going to throw their way next.
Garth wasn’t exactly a fan of women in freezers.
“So what’s with the apron?” Garth asked, taking a moment to subtly squeeze a cheek as Samantha turned away to retrieve a can of vegetable oil.
“Samantha said I might get grease splatters, hence the apron.” She said, blushing further as his fingertips lightly brushed her womanhood before he put his hand back around her waist.
Ahh, so the apron is the only thing that’s real. Sandi’s lure could move physical objects, so it made sense that it could wear clothes. At least loose fitting pieces of cloth with a loop to slip a neck through. Since her Lure had been wearing an apron, it compensated by making the apron as sexy as possible. How the hell does that all work anyway? Garth realized it was probably better not to think about it too hard.
“Out of the way, boss,” Samantha said, turning back with the oil, scooting Garth aside as she and Sandi mixed the fried rice together with the scrambled eggs, veggies and bits of meat, frying them one last time.
Garth glided out of the way, leaning against the far wall.
“I looted some Steven King books from a local bookstore, thought you might like some of them, unfortunately, Benta confiscated them.” Garth peeked his head around the corner to where Benta was sitting in a chair beside the front door and his Status Band, thirty pages into It and moving fast.
“Looks like Benta will be done with them pretty quick, though.”
“We’re almost done here, too,” Sandi said. “Make the table bigger, and go round up Sam and Paul’s family and Clark.”
“Yes ma’am,” Garth said, snagging Wilson away from where he was petting Sandi’s real body unbeknownst to Samantha
“Oh come on, I could stay and help set up the table!” Wilson protested as Garth dragged him back out of the kitchen.
“Yeah, right.” Garth said, putting his Status Band back on and pulling the unwilling lizard-brain fragment of his personality out of the house. “Plenty of time later.”
Dinner was uneventful. Garth filled his friends and new in-laws in on what had happened while he was gone, narrating his adventures with a miniature illusion of them on the table for everyone’s benefit.
If the battle was a little more epic in the retelling, Garth’s jaw a little more chiseled than it should have been, nobody called him out on it, simply enjoying the show for its own sake. Sandi tried to distract him by shapeshifting into lingerie that only he could see and occasionally sliding her foot against him under the table, but Garth was able to keep his cool long enough to finish the story.
After dinner, Garth, Clark, Paul and his daughter cleaned up while Sandi and her folks chatted with Sam and her kids.
Once everything was squared away, Garth kicked them all out.
“Yes, goodbye, goodbye,” Garth said, shooing out Sandi’s parents last of all. “Lovely having you, get the hell out of here. There’s a place to sleep on the edge of town, big red house, two stories, not carved out of a tree, can’t miss it.”
Garth waved them off as they faded into the night, then shut the door with a sigh.
When he turned around, Sandi was watching him with her arms crossed, a scowl on her face.
“Umm…the get the hell out of here part was a joke.”
“You’ve been teasing me all night!” she said, jumping on him and tearing his shirt open. “I think it’s about time I returned the favor!”
Sandi began smothering Garth with kisses, making it difficult to breath at times as her clothes began to flicker out of existence. She’d long since hung up the apron and was pressing herself against him and moaning as his arousal was fed back into her, arching her back as Garth returned the kisses in time.
They were interrupted by the sound of a crisp page sliding against a finger, drawing their attention to where Benta had just turned a page in her stolen book. Benta was still sitting by the door, reading a different book from Garth’s Status band, and not paying them any attention.
“You might be more comfortable in the bedroom.” She said without looking away from the page.
“Bedroom?” Sandi asked.
“Sounds good to me,” Garth said, pushing her ahead of him, enjoying the way her hips rolled as she raced him. When they got there, Garth pushed her onto the bed, causing her to let out a little squeal before he pounced on her bottom.
After a minute of wrestling around, Sandi began to remove Garth’s clothes.
The shirt blocked his vision of the door for a moment as she slid it over his head. The door through which an angry mercenary could stomp through if she didn’t like the sounds Sandi was making. That could be a problem.
“You think we should-“
“Don’t you dare lock the door!” Benta’s stern voice emanated from the hallway. Just three weeks until we can be rid of her.
“Guess you got lucky,” Garth said. “I’m gonna have to take it easy on you.”
Sandi gave him a devious grin. “I can probably convince you otherwise.”
Afterward, they lay in bed, sweaty and satisfied. Garth fixed up the claw marks in the walls and the bites in the wooden gag on the floor. He dismissed the impromptu restraints growing out of the corners of the bed, got them both some water, and they spent the rest of the night reading.
Benta had cleared the books for Sandi’s use, so she lay beside him, reading It by the light of a glowing fruit and asking him questions, like what was a car, and what was a bicycle, or a balloon. All told though, she said it was delightfully horrifying, even with all the words she didn’t know.
“That’s because horror is universal.” Garth said, nodding sagely, and shortly afterward, they fell asleep, lying together on the massive bed fit for a nine-foot long man-eating creature.
Moments after Garth’s eyes slid shut, he found himself face to face with Beladia in a picturesque tropical mountain forest, wet and warm. The dusky skinned goddess was naked again, her vibrant green hair flowing down her brown breasts, stopping just short of concealing anything.
“Welcome back!” she shouted with glee, engulfing him in a goddess hug. Today has been a good day.
“To what do I owe the privilege?” Garth asked, his voice muffled by the enormous mammaries surrounding his face.
“Coming back to me, being okay. Being a daddy already, all of the above! I’m so happy that you’ve come so far! She said, clasping her hands together as she backed away again.
“Thanks, I guess.” Garth said, still kind of stunned.
“All I want is for you to live a long time and prosper. That’s my favorite thing to see.”
“So, what happened, with the fire and all?” Garth asked, it being the first time he was alone with Beladia since the connection had been cut.
“I’m not sure.” She said with a shrug. “The interference was coming from your side, from Earth. I tried looking into it, but my Apostles…”
“Aren’t very tough.” Garth finished for her.
“No problem,” Garth waved it off. “Just glad to be back. Got any advice for me?”
“Of course, and a present.” She said, producing a mote of light from behind her back. It was thrumming with energy, warping Garth’s vision around it.
“What is it?”
“it’s a secret.” She said with a wink. “And for the advice, I guess…” She tapped her lips, frowning as she concentrated. “your blessings might be a bit stronger than they were before, and you should sleep as well as you can, because tomorrow is going to be a long day.”
“Ugh,” Garth grunted, accepting the mote of light. It sank into his palm and glowed as it traced his arm back to his heart. Garth was getting used to weird things happening to his body, so it didn’t bother him as much as it might have if he weren’t in a dream.
“Don’t tell someone they’re going to have a long day tomorrow, it makes it even harder for them to relax the day before.”
“Sorry,” Beladia said, clapping her hands together and wincing.
The sky began to darken, drawing Garth’s attention upward, where clouds choked off the sunlight filtering down into the topical forest.
“Looks like Pala is eager to talk to you.”
Garth looked back down, but Beladia was gone, along with the forest. In its place was baseball stadium at night, dimly lit by floodlights. Garth stood on second base, looking out into the bleachers.
Second base on the first date? Garth thought, looking around him. Still not quite as fast as Beladia.
“Heads up!” a man’s voice shouted, and Garth glanced over to see a fastball speeding his way. Garth raised his hand to block it, and it was caught in the mitt on his left hand.
Huh, Garth took the baseball out of the mitt and turned it over in his fingers, then looked up at the man in a leather jacket and jeans, with a short haircut and a Kennedy smile, motioning him to throw the ball back. A perfect replica of the day they broke into the stadium to toss the ball back and forth.
“Don’t you think copying one of my memories is in poor taste?” Garth asked, throwing the ball back at his dad.
“Don’t be like that. I like being mysterious, and seeing my true form has been known to cause brain damage or drive me into a murderous rage,” his dad (Pala) said, catching and tossing the ball back.
“Fair enough.” Garth said, tossing the ball back with a little extra zing. When he was younger, he could throw it hard enough to make a sound and hit right where he wanted it, but now Garth’s aim was off and his arm was weak. The ball flew wildly off course and Pala only barely managed to catch it.
“Oof,” the deity said, clutching its back like an old man. “Work your way up to the fastballs, kid.”
“Don’t call me kid.” Garth said, feeling the memories in him bubbling up in response to the word.
“Now, now, take it easy. I just wanted to talk to you about your future.”
“What?” Garth asked. Pala was going to tell him about his future? Was that within the limits of what a god should do?
“You just graduated high school. I know you didn’t get the best grades, but your teachers were blown away by you, every one of ‘em’s got a glowing recommendation.
What the hell? It really is the memory, word for word.
“So I’ve got a friend, a fellow alumni who’s willing to vouch for you and Jim. With testimony from your teachers and a few greased palms, we could get you an education that really challenges you.”
“More greased palms than not,” Garth heard himself say, throwing the ball back. “I just want to get out of here and start a new life with Nat, not be your stooge in the political arena.”
Garth’s dad sighed, scratching his temple. “Look, your brother’s with us on this. He still respects his family, and he’s been aiming for this since he hit middle school.”
“Then go with him!” Garth shouted.
“What is it gonna take for you to get off your ass, Garth?” his dad said, shaking his head. “One day you’re going to wake up, and everything, every opportunity you might have had is going to be behind you.”
A rough hand seized Garth’s shoulder and shook him.
Garth’s eyes flew open, the light of dawn spilling into the bedroom window. Along with the sound of shouting and people running.
With a sharp intake of breath, Garth sat up, looking around, his ears picking up moans of pain.
“Attack?” Garth said, stumbling out of bed.
Benta stood above him, a severe expression on her face.
“Something’s wrong,” she said, pointing at Sandi.
“This feels really weird,” Sandi said, her Lure flickering in and out, her real body splayed out on the bed, completely visible and massively distended.
It was then that Clark burst through the door, sweat pooling in the neck of his shirt. “Garth, they’re all giving birth at once!”