One moment, Nancy Higgens had been throwing herself into traffic out of despair. The next, the asphalt beneath opened and swallowed her into a pitch-black chute. She could only tell that she was falling from the wind whistling past her ears and the occasional bit of cold earth that tore at her clothes.
She fell into a pit of gooey mud. It chilled her to the bone and the mud poured into her screaming mouth. A firm hand grasped her around the midsection and hauled her out.
The chute had ended in a earthen chamber deep underground. A ring of glowing moss grew around the ceiling like decorative cording. It illuminated a man made from earth and her...dead sister, Missy.
"Missy!" Nancy yelled, leaping away from Missy.
"Nancy! It's okay! Relax!"
"But you're, you're dead!" Nancy yelled.
"No, I'm not, because otherwise how could I and Erdrem have saved you from making a huge mistake?" Missy said. "Besides, look at me. If I was dead, would I have aged so poorly?"
Nancy squinted through the mosslight. "Actually, you look great. You would be..."
"Fifty-eight," Missy said. "But I only had sun damage for the first seven years. After that, I've been living in a moist, shaded environment. I barely have to use the moisturizer that the earth demons provide for me."
"Yeah," Missy said. "Great folks. After I was buried alive - yep, I was in a coma - they heard me screaming and rescued me and raised me. Erdrem means "dad" in the Demonic tongue that they use."
"You have a dad," Nancy said, somewhat huffily. She'd been very close with their father.
"My old dad buried me alive. My new one rescued me so that I could stay alive. I have pretty strict criteria for the mark of respect it is to call someone 'dad.'"
"So that lump of earth is alive?"
Missy nodded. "Erdrem, this is my sister from above, Nancy."
"Thrruuummmmmmm," Erdrem said, punching the ground gently.
"He says, nice to meet you. Punching the ground like that means that they don't mean to fight. If they punch it hard enough to make you seasick, then you're in trouble. Their vocal cords are made of a type of vibrating quartz, so they can't speak English, but they can understand it perfectly well," Missy said. "What they can't understand, however, is suicide. And neither can I."
"It isn't for you to understand," Nancy said, sniffing at Missy.
"So you stayed haughty through your whole life, then?" Missy said.
"You didn't know me then, and how dare you presume to know me now!"
Missy rolled her eyes. "How do you think that Erdrem saved you? Just because I live underground doesn't mean that I stopped paying attention to my sisters. I'm only happy that I came along at just the right time. So that fire demon had a beau trapped in a lamp. Of course he wouldn't love you. These demons can be companions, best friends, even family. But they can never be lovers."
Despite the lack of wrinkles on her little sister's face, for a moment Missy appeared many years older than she was. It was all in the eyes, and then it vanished.
"Have you heard from Eustace? I've kept an eye on Betsy and you, but I haven't seen Eustace in decades."
"Eustace runs an oil rig and has for years. With her husband Hydram."
Erdrem thrummed loudly and smashed the ground so hard that Nancy became dizzy.
"Dad! Careful! She's not used to your shouting. Sorry. The Earth Demons despise drilling for oil."
"I gathered," Nancy said. She put her finger in her ear to test if the ringing was coming from within her head. It was.
"Yeah," Nancy continued, "she's kinda fallen off of the face of the earth. Sorry, is that an insult?"
Missy shook her head.
"Wasn't sure with Mr. Mountain there. I haven't talked to Eustace in years. Betsy has kept in touch a little better, she was always the glue among us all. Do you remember that row over the softball tournament or were you too young?"
Missy smiled. "Only a little, but I recall that it was funny."
"After the windows were repaired. You'll have to make sure to see Betsy, she'll love to talk your ear off. To think, half a century of news. Bring lemon drops for her throat. Anyway, last I heard, Eustace was working in the South Angle Sea," Nancy said.
Missy and Erdrem stared at each other for a moment.
"Surely you're mistaken," Missy said, turning back to Nancy. "She's gotta be working in one of the gulfs, that's where drilling takes place, right? Or in the, uh, Indian Ocean? Off the shore of...some other country?"
"No, I'm sure it was South Angle Sea," Nancy said.
Missy made a face at Erdrem. He rumbled, softly.
"But she's my sister!"
He rumbled again, a long, low bass roll.
"I know those are the laws of the Earth Demons that you've taught me. Haven't I taught you in return?"
Erdrem, an Earth Demon, a pile of rock that wasn't alive but wasn't dead either, looked at his human daughter, sighed, and nodded.
Missy grabbed hold of her sister's wrist.
"We have to go save our sister!" Missy announced.
The Moral: sometimes when you try to commit suicide, you fail and still end up underground and then your sister that you thought was dead tries to make a heroine out of you.