Intercalary Time

Thorin N. Tatge

Story image for Intercalary Time by Thorin N. Tatge

I t was as the sun gleamed its last that the kobold met the trash possum. At the edge of a half-vacant strip mall’s back parking lot, its west horizon blocked by a pawn shop and an out-of-business hair salon, the sunset was colorless. But there was the tiny spot of a half-burned cigarette, and the dim green of a dumpster, and the faint yellow of the label on a bottle of pear cider the trash possum had put on a chunk of broken concrete. There was the pink of her weird feet, bare before her. She had on a flannel that didn’t suit her and a T-shirt with unreadable print, yellow on green. Her black jeans were faded, but the black of her pleather jacket was still bright despite the tattered lining.

“Hey,” she said to the kobold passing by. “What are you supposed to be?”

To go with someone into the dark is different from just meeting a stranger in the dark or the light. To go into the light together, even more so.

“I’m a kobold!” said the kobold at the moment the sun disappeared. “And you’re some weird-looking thing, huh?”

Though darkness had settled, the exchange didn’t miss a beat. “Pfft. ’m’ma possum. You never saw one before?”

“I saw possums, but they were little and ran away before I could catch them. You’re all big!”

The trash possum was four-foot six. She leaned back and grinned with dozens of pointy teeth. “You think I’m big?”

“Well, you’re… me-sized! And you’re like a person.”

“Anthropomorphic. ’sthe word you’re looking for.”

The kobold, who was green, spindly, and wearing adventurer’s armor, sat down beside the dumpster. “How come you’re that way?”

The possum laugh-scoffed. “Born this way. You want some cider?”

When her long canines failed to pop the cap, the kobold applied its own collection of impressive teeth to the job. It came off, and they drank.

“This isn’t apples!” exclaimed the kobold.

“It’s pear. So. What’re you really. Some kind of lizard lady?”

The kobold explained that she was related to dragons but the possum could call her a lizard if she wanted. She’d come journeying from a long way off, but still had a long way to go. Pointing to a nearby bus stop where a bus was stopped, she asked if the big wheeled things were for carrying people.

“That’s what they’re for,” agreed the other. “You got money?”

The kobold peeked into the fanny pack she kept beside her tail. “I have some silver pieces and one gold one and some tobacco and a brass key.”

“Geesh. I’ll pay. You gotta get that changed in. What even is a silver piece?”

“It’s a piece of silver!” exclaimed the kobold. “Do you wanna come with?”

Half an hour later, the two were seated together just behind the bus’s back door, reflections faint in the plexiglass. The bus carried a drunk man who looked out the window and a little girl who stared at them while her mother wasn’t watching.

The possum’s fingers were tucked into the kobold’s leather shorts.

“You liiiike me,” teased the reptile.

“Geez, ya think?”

“You’re touching me like you like me,” said the kobold. “And you don’t even know if I’m a boy or a girl!”

“Ehh. You’re a girl. I think. Does it matter?”

“It probably matters!”

“Yeah? Well, I’m gonna go a little deeper,” said the trash possum. “Lemme know if it starts to matter.”

Orbit-sml ><

T hey ate at Barble’s, an all-night diner that specialized in pie and fried potato cakes. “Aren’t you a meat-eater?” asked the possum.

The kobold explained that her kind could digest simple carbohydrates, if not complicated ones. Basically, anything that was either meat or junk food was good for her.

“I’m jealous,” said the possum. And she paid for the burgers, the french silk pie and potato cakes, the onion rings and creamy coffee and bacon hash, most of which went down the kobold’s gullet.

The adventurer gave her name as Shardik, from Ripemarsh. “Shardik,” repeated the possum. “Isn’t that, like, a bear’s name?”

“It was a traditional kobold name before the bears started using it!” she replied.

The possum went by Trash, she explained, but her real name was Trish Mallory. She’d lived in the area pretty much all her life, but had relocated from the next county a while ago because of the job situation.

“Do you have a job?” asked Shardik.

The trash possum grinned. “If I did jobs, where would this place be? Nah, I scrounge up what I need. You’re paying me back for this meal outta that silver, you know.”

The kobold lifted a big chunk of pie on her fork. “I’m going to put this pie in your pouch,” she declared, “and then I’m going to smush it.”

Trish Mallory sat up sharp. “What? Geez, lady!”

“What?” asked Shardik.

“I dunno. You’re really weird! Why do you want to smush pie in my pouch? You know that’s where babies go, right?”

“You’re a trash possum, so I want to get you messy!” said the kobold, her yellow eyes bright. “I’m gonna smush your pie baby.”

“Pffft. Well you know what. You’re gonna keep being cute like that, you can smush all the pie babies you want.”

The kobold splayed her fingers over her cuirass and looked down as if to double-check it was her. “You think I’m cute!?

After washing out her pouch in the diner’s restroom, the possum took her companion to a money-for-gold place and managed to change in most of the kobold’s silver. They listened to a guy in the parking lot playing guitar for his girlfriend. (“What the hell are you two supposed to be?” he’d asked, but they’d all settled into conversation. The diner’s waitress had said something similar.)

Then the kobold shared her tobacco with the trash possum, who tried to roll and smoke it even though it was pressed, not flaked. They wandered around all night, goaded dogs into barking at them, snoozed in the mulch beside a lumberyard, and wound up at a church’s morning worship service, sitting in the back together with their hands on each other’s tails. Whenever someone gave them a look, they sat up straight and tried to listen to the sermon for a few minutes, but inevitably drifted off, heads on each other’s shoulders.

Orbit-sml ><

“W anna see a magic trick?” asked the kobold.

They were in the church parking lot, sitting near a neighbor’s vine-covered fence. The sun was behind spring clouds, but made its presence known.

“What. You telling me you’re magic?”

“No no. I’m not magic. I just like sneaking into the parts of libraries I shouldn’t be in, and I like reading the books there. Some of them teach you how to do magic!”

“Izzat a fact. So you aren’t magic, but you know how to do magic.”

“It’s the only trick I know!” exclaimed the kobold. “I never got the rest to work. And this one doesn’t work if I tell you what it is. You have to trust me.”

The trash possum leaned back. “Yeah? Sure. I like the sound of that.”

The kobold started pacing across parking spots, back and forth. “And the other thing,” she said. “It takes a lot of days to do! So if you want to do the trick with me, I’ll have to hang around here a long time.” She looked nervously at the possum. “We should probably go steady.”

Trish Mallory laughed. “Is that a fact!”

“Yep. I know it sounds like I’m trying to trick you, but I’m not! I’m not good at tricking people.”

“I dunno, you seem pretty deft at it. I could see going steady with you, sure.”

“But is… is that a thing two girls can do with each other?” asked Shardik.

“’sfine with me. So, what do we gotta do to make this trick happen?”

The kobold resumed pacing, but slower. “So… there’s a few words we can’t say. A couple in particular. I can’t say what they are! I can give hints, though.”

Trish Mallory sat up. “Lay it on me.”

As the clouds departed the sun, the kobold cogitated. “Okay,” she said at last. “You know how sometimes people play pranks on each other, and things get turned all topsy-turvy for a while? And then… and then, you know how the bunnies lay eggs, and people hide them and find them and put them in baskets? And it gets warmer and the plants come out, and the baby animals come out, and the rain starts falling, and then everyone pays their taxes?”

“I dunno if I know what you’re talking about, Shardi, but you’re making me feel really alive,” said the possum.

“Well you’d better know!” said the kobold. “There’s the egg baskets and the baby animals and then… then we all celebrate how good the planet is and how it’s super valuable. And the moon gets pink and the grass gets green… and then everything gets all spooky for a night, and it’s scary and loud and there’s more pranks, but this time in costumes!”

“Costumes? Oh. Wait. Yeah, I think I feel you.”

“Good! Because that’s what I’m talking about! So you shouldn’t say any words about that, but you especially shouldn’t say a word that’s near the beginning of the dictionary. And you especially shouldn’t say a different word for what comes after, which is between… ‘lilypad’ and… ‘nectarine’! Don’t say the words, but do you know which words I mean?”

The possum’s ears went up. “I’m pretty sure I do.”

“Okay great! Then. Then!” The kobold’s eyes flitted from the church’s rear door to the nearby residential neighborhood. “Do you guys have any ice cream parlors around here?”

They found one, and Shardik declared it was the right kind. Inside, she counted off flavors from the left end of the display case until she reached the eighteenth: Orange Capstone Dream, made from orange and vanilla with crumbled Capstone cookies. She ordered one for them each, and they ate together at a table for two.

“So what’s this all about?” asked Trish Mallory.

The kobold raised a cautioning finger to her snout. “It’s just that today’s the eighteenth, and so I got us the eighteenth flavor! We’re gonna come back tomorrow, and we’ll get the nineteenth flavor, and so on.”

“And so on, huh?” The possum raised her brows and examined the display case. There were thirty-one flavors, as was traditional. It was April. She didn’t say anything else.

“I think I might want to find some more treasure,” said the kobold as they finished. “You know of any dungeons around here?”

“Not the kind you’re prob’ly thinking of,” said the trash possum. “Maybe you should get a job?”

“I guess that’s an idea. What kind of job should I get?”

“Geez, I dunno. You’re asking me? Try the grocery store maybe, see if they need a bagger?”

The kobold stood up and offered her hand. “Okay. I’ll see you here tomorrow? At noon?”

Trish Mallory looked at the hand with amusement and shook it. “Noon’s not exactly my time of day, but for you? I’ll be here.”

Orbit-sml ><

T he two met at the ice cream parlor every day for two weeks. Each day, the kobold ordered the next flavor on display. One scoop for them each, no toppings. Sometimes the possum talked about her out-of-luck friends and their questionable antics. Sometimes they played cribbage with the parlor’s set. The kobold got a job at the grocery store, though she didn’t bag food there―she shelved and faced the products and ran the carts back from the lot. Aside from a bit of ribbing, her coworkers didn’t mind her being a diminutive reptile from out of a monster manual.

“So the work suits you?” asked the possum, taking a bite of malted milk ice cream.

“Yeah! Sometimes I leap onto the carts running all in a line and I ride them back to the store. And sometimes the customers ask me to find stuff for them, and then it’s like a treasure hunt!”

“You like hunting treasure, huh?”

“I love finding loot! I was never any good at trap class, but looting was one of my best subjects at school.”

“Oh god. Kobold school. We’re gonna get a coffee and you’re gonna tell me all about that now, you realize.”

The kobold was all too glad to acquiesce.

Orbit-sml ><

“I t’s been really nice getting to know you,” said Shardik (from Ripemarsh), who was dressed today in her tidy red work uniform instead of her adventurer’s gear. “And I hope we can get to know each other even better! Yesterday we had malted milk ball ice cream because that’s the thirtieth flavor and yesterday was the thirtieth, and today we’re having amaretto, because that’s the thirty-first flavor, and today is the thirty-first!”

Trish Mallory nodded with a little smile on her muzzle. She’d been wondering for a while what would happen today.

“I think ice cream is nice. Do you think so too?”

“You goofball. Obviously I do or I wouldn’t have eaten it with you every day.”

“Yeah! It’s really tasty. Do you want to play cribbage?”

They played. The possum noticed they were scoring ‘go’s on exactly 31 more often than usual. After a few hands, she stood up. “You mind if I run over to the newsstand and pick up a paper?”

“I don’t mind at all! You should do that.”

As she walked back, the possum glanced at the dateline. April 31, it said.

“Anything interesting in the news?” asked the kobold.

“Nah, not really. One more game?”

When they’d finished their last game and had licked their bowls of amaretto ice cream clean, the two stood up. “Well, that’s all the ice cream flavors they have here,” said the kobold. “Want to go on an adventure?”

“Hm? An adventure? Well, sure. Where are we going?”

“Dunno, but it’s nice out. Wanna get some bugles or something and march through town and see if we can fool anyone into thinking we’re a parade?”

The possum stared. “You are an effing riot. Okay sure, fine. I’ve got a friend who plays horn. ’bout time I introduced you, anyhow.”

Shardik was right about it being a nice day―the buds were on the trees.

Trish’s friend came through with an old horn, and they found a slightly broken djembe drum in the junkyard. No one joined the ‘parade’, but they got plenty of reactions, most of them supportive. Plenty of ‘woot’s and ‘play it’s and the like.

“What are you two, a couple of monsters?” asked one guy.

“Nah, we’re just folks,” replied the trash possum as she passed by, beating the drum.

I’m a monster!” clarified the kobold. She went back to tooting the horn she barely knew how to play.

Orbit-sml ><

T he next day, the paper said April 32. Shardik glanced happily at it but didn’t remark. “Hey Trash? I want to go find a garden with flowers and lie in it.”

“Huh? Okay, sure. I think I know a place where the cops won’t pester us.”

“Is it okay if we hold hands?”

“Heck, are we going steady or aren’t we? Sure we can hold hands. If that’s what you want to do.”

They lay in the flowers holding hands, and wrists, and maybe just a little bit more.

Orbit-sml ><

“H ow come they call you Trash?” asked the kobold as they ate chicken noodle soup, back at Barble’s.

The possum’s ear twitched. “Eh. Guess it’s just kind of a statement. I’ve been Trash most of my life. Kinda like… if most people are gonna see me as trash anyway, I might as well embrace it.”

“But you’re not trash!” objected her companion. “You’re actually really valuable. You might be the opposite of trash.”

“One of the sweetest things anyone’s ever said to me,” said Trish, planting a nibble-kiss on the kobold’s snout. “But you haven’t seen me play dead.”

“Oh wow! Well when we’re done here, I totally want to see you play dead! We’re going to go to the field across the highway and I want to watch you do that.”

So they did. The trash possum played dead so convincingly that the kobold crooned a traditional dirge for her, beating what was left of the djembe drum.

Trish sat up. “Guess who’s back.”

The kobold gasped. “Trash! You’re alive!”

“Yeah I’m alive. You knew that. God, your mouth opens a long way.”

“I can’t play dead as good as you, but I bet I can open my jaws wider,” said the kobold. She proceeded to make an angle of almost a hundred and forty degrees.

“Mother of God,” said the possum.

Orbit-sml ><

F our days later, they chased butterflies, using nets they found in the junkyard. “You’re the best trash possum!” exclaimed the kobold. “Do you know that?”

“Trash is loot,” the possum replied. It was a saying they had between the two of them.

Two weeks later, squirrels were racing up and down practically every tree. The sun was shining bright, waging war with picturesque rainclouds. Drizzle fell in the morning, then sizzled away in the afternoon. The grass was lush and green.

It was the 50th of April.

The two friends strode hand in hand up a sidewalk next to a park, hocks bouncing and tails swinging.

“You keep talking about introducing me to your friends,” said Shardik.

“Yeah, we could do that. You’ll get to see the trailer park where I live. So brace yourself.”

“Ooh! Can I sleep there? I never slept in a trailer.”

“Yeah, sure. Just? Gird your expectations.”

The kobold didn’t know how to gird expectations. She was delighted by the dinky trailer, surprisingly clean and reasonably well-appointed. There were magazines, including that kind of magazine, and hashish, and spirits, and a squeaky mattress.

The trash possum brought the kobold to meet her friends. None of them were animals or anything; they were just folks. They sat around the trailer park together watching people and birds, smoking and playing banjo and guitar. They told Shardik their favorite memories of Trash, who as far as they were concerned had always been around. Then a few of them decided to go and fish at the creek in back of the park, and the kobold and trash possum came along.

The fish didn’t bite exceptionally well, but it was a very good day.

There’d been a lot of those lately.

Orbit-sml ><

B y the 78th of the month, the leaves were out in force, but the flower buds on the trees were huge and pendulous, refusing to open. They were almost like flowers in themselves. Trish and Shardik went to feed cookies to the squirrels, which jumped right onto their chests to get the crumbs. Fawns wandered through the municipally-tended flower garden, nibbling at shoots. It seemed like there were a million birds in the trees.

“You smell like flowers,” the trash possum told the kobold. “Like, don’t ask me what kind, but you defs smell like a flower.”

“Yeah! I usually smell like swamps and things, but I smell like flowers now.” She sniffed. “So do you!”

“Weird. Best I ever smelled.”

“Is a trash possum allowed to smell like flowers? Is that okay?”

The possum stopped walking abruptly. “You gonna stick with me if I get fired?”

“Oh sure. I mean, trash is great but you’re great too. I didn’t even know two women could make out until I met you!”

“Yeah, well. Better yell a little louder or the whole neighborhood won’t hear.”

Orbit-sml ><

T he bank display read APR 96. Around the neighborhood, cones of yellow pollen hovered spinning and occasionally touched down, coating mailboxes and windshields before rising again. Some of the squirrels had wings now and were darting after each other in the air. Skunks had appeared trotting along the sidewalks, trailed by lines of their babies. When they lifted their bodies to spray, it smelled like daisies.

The air was filled with the harmonies of woodpeckers, warblers and tree frogs. Dogs raced around the block, leashes trailing loosely from their collars with no owners to be seen. Stripes of clouds were neatly lined up in the sky, moving into a checkerboard pattern. It had rained a few hours ago. Now it was sunny. In a few hours, it would rain again.

Shardik and Trish Mallory were out walking, the former wearing her work uniform. They talked about everything but the weather. “If I ever do make it back to Ripemarsh,” said the kobold, “you think you might want to come and visit? Meet my family?”

Trish shrugged happily. “Heh. I’m not much for travel, but you know? I think I may actually want to do that.”

But at her words, the kobold winced.

The pollen tornados sucked themselves up into oblivion. The clouds started to drift randomly and the unleashed dogs and skunks ran away. The birdsong fell into obscurity, and within seconds, it was just a normal day. It felt so much less by comparison.

“Aw, maan!” shouted the kobold.

The possum looked around in shock. “What! Girl, what happened?”

“Trraaassh!” whined the kobold. “Why didn’t you say ‘I might’? You always say ‘I might’!”

“Oh my gosh. What did I say?”

“You said ‘I may want to do that.’ You said may! You screwed it all up. Aww, you popped it!”

“What―does that really count?”

The kobold nodded sadly. “It’s popped now.” She looked around. “Aww, Trish. What were we on, day ninety-six? That was the longest one I ever did! And the best one, too.”

The possum’s tail whirled about. “Ohhh. Shards, I’m sorry. That was what I think I can honestly say was the best month ever, and I messed it up for us.”

But the kobold wasn’t mad. She laughed a silly, cackly laugh and pounded the possum’s jacket. “That was so cool, though! Did you see the squirrels with wings? I did April before, but I never saw that!”

“So. It’s really over, huh? We can talk about it now?”

They walked on. “Yeah. I was hoping we might get skunks with wings. We almost made it to day one hundred!”

“So… you weren’t doing the magic yourself, huh? It was just happening?”

“Yeah! Trash, that’s just what April is really like! Only we usually just see the first thirty days. It’s not nature, though. It’s a kind of zeitgeist magic, ’cause it depends on what people think of when they think of a particular month. It’s called Intercalary Time, and it makes months or weeks or things go on for longer than they’re s’posed to.”

“It works on weeks too? No kidding?” The possum squeezed the kobold’s hand.

“Yeah, I did it on weeks a couple times. The eighth day was called Astraday and the ninth was called Heimday. The guy who wrote the book I found got different days, though. One time I made a clock with glowing numbers count a hundred minutes for every hour. So it’d say like, 8:79 o’clock. That was a long day but it was relaxing!”

“You’ve done other months too?”

“I’ve done February, June, and September. It’s easiest in months with less than thirty-one days. I tried October once, but it was scary and it fell apart fast.”

“I wouldn’t mind doing that again with you someday. That was pretty effing incredible.”

The kobold turned to peer sadly at her. “Well yeah, but you can’t do it with people who know the trick! If we want to do it again, we’ll have to find someone else who doesn’t know about it.”

“Huh. That’s the way, I guess. The best stuff only comes along once.”

“I guess. Maybe it comes again. But…” The reptile looked around awkwardly. “I should probably go and see if I have any more paychecks from the store, and then I should get going again. I stayed here a lot longer than I thought I would, and it’s July now.”

“Well damn. Really? We skipped right over May and June?”

“Yeah… sorry. The trick doesn’t give you more time. It just changes the time you’ve got.”

“Are other people going to remember what happened?”

“Our friends probably will! They might not remember it super well. Hey―do you want to go see what your trailer looks like now? I bet it’s not overgrown with daffodils anymore.”

“Yeah?” The possum squeezed the kobold’s hand. “If you don’t have to go right away, let’s do that.”

Orbit-sml ><

T he kobold was in no hurry to leave, though. She stayed for another night of music and messing around with Trash’s gang, and it turned out they did remember the superlong April… more or less. They didn’t remember the pollen tornados or the flying squirrels, but they did talk about how it’d been a ‘helluva spring’.

In the morning, Shardik sat alone with Trish Mallory, swinging her deeply jointed legs under a folding chair. “So I think I realized something,” she said. “I think I realized why you never go on adventures.”

The trash possum took a puff from her cigarette. “Oh, this is gonna be good.”

“It’s ’cause you’re doing magic too! You’re changing what’s all around us, like my trick did… only all the time. Not by working jobs, but just… by being you.”

“Well, maybe,” admitted the trash possum. “But I don’t know why you’ve gotta call it magic. Isn’t that just more or less what anyone does?”

“…yeah, maybe. But maybe that’s why this town’s so cool and why it’s still got jobs for people! Even a monster like me. And even the poor people in the trailer parks are happy.”

Trash smiled a little on one side, showing pointy teeth. “You think?”

“You said you moved here ’cause of the job situation.” Shardik leaned close. “Is that because there were more jobs here, or because there were less jobs, and they needed you?”

“Girl.” The possum’s voice was sharp. “You know how your trick doesn’t work if you talk about it too much?”

“Oh,” said the kobold, her eyes contracting.

“Probably better to just let it go,” said Trish.

They were silent then for a while.

“Well. Anyway.” The kobold leapt up and offered her hand. “I’m glad this place has a trash possum.”

Trish shook it. “This isn’t goodbye for keeps, is it?”

“Maybe not. I might come back here someday. But hey! You know how to do the trick now. If you ever find anyone to do it with, you should write a journal about it and put it in all the secret parts of libraries and maybe I’ll find it someday and I’ll come back and we’ll talk all about it!”

Trash got up. “You are such a spaz, lady. I love it though.” She gave the kobold one last hug, lifting her off the ground. “Till we meet again?”

“Goodbye, Trash! I’ll miss you.”

Orbit-sml ><

O nce the kobold had gone, the trash possum went into her trailer and took out all the liquors and spirits and mixers. She mixed a cocktail she called April, left the rest sitting on the counter, and went out to drink it, walking through the July night as she surveyed her beautiful, broken-down domain.

Orbit-lrg

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Thorin N. Tatge

Author image of Thorin N. Tatge Thorin N. Tatge runs an afterschool library homework help program serving primary East African youth in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Brought up in science fiction fandom, he writes poems and fantasy with a focus on talking animals and philosophy. He has self-published an interactive novel, What Is Best?, and his first published short story, Begin One Way, appeared in Leading Edge in 2019. He likes to roleplay, drum, play and invent games, think about math, and take adventurous long walks, and fancies himself the greatest Lode Runner level designer in the world.

© Thorin N. Tatge 2022 All Rights Reserved

The title picture was created using Creative Commons images - many thanks to the following creators: Alexandra_Koch, videorevive, StormmillaGirl, Olya Kobruseva, and Antranias.

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