TW: mention of cancer, allusion to domestic abuse
The Hellmouths had been open for nearly a decade now, and overall they had been pretty good for the economy. Trade between worlds was booming, arts & culture were in the midst of a mini-renaissance, and people seemed more optimistic in general about the future. All governmental publications referred to the ‘mouths as “portals” or “interdimensional checkpoints” (depending on the level of pedantry required), and the denizens that lived beyond them not as demons or fairies, but rather, “aliens,” “otherworlders,” “othersiders,” or the one that Rosie tried to avoid, “Hellians.”
I mean, she thought, their nation is called Hell. Can't really get around that.But I don’t have to be rude about it.
Rosie was slumped into the squishy, heavy sofa, her sore arms flopped next to her. One hand clicked at the TV remote, roaming through channels lazily. It had been a long day. Well, a long week.
Heck, she thought. It’s been a long 5 years.
That’s how long it had been, from her mom’s cancer diagnosis to now. It felt weird to realize it had only been 5 years. It felt like a hundred years ago. Rosie shifted so that she could turn and watch her mother out of the corner of her eye as the gray-haired woman puttered in her new kitchen. She smiled, watching her, trying not to think about the times when her mother had been too tired and too pained to even stand. Rosie sighed contentedly, thanking whatever God or gods that the cancer was in remission and her mother was still here. Rosie had just moved her into this new, tiny apartment today. She was out of rehab and ready to live life again on her own terms. It was only a couple blocks from Rosie’s equally tiny apartment, so she was only a couple minutes away if her mom needed her.
Rosie’s phone chimed, and she glanced at her texts. Her contented smile vanished. It was a number she didn’t know, but she knew exactly who it was from, and she blocked his new number without responding. The message rang in her head, and she tried to shut it out. “Ro I’m so sorry, I love you. Please can we talk?”
No. She was done with Mike, for good this time. He’d hurt her enough, terrified her enough; she was done. No apology was going to fix things.
Shaking off the thought of him, she pursed her lips in irritation and checked her school email. She had already walked at graduation, but she was still waiting on final grades to be sure everything was okay. She didn’t think she was going to fail any classes, but working 3 part time jobs while taking care of her mother and finishing her Masters in Library Science had definitely affected her time management, and her grades suffered a bit. There was no update from her school, but an automated job alert sat unopened. She shook her head and opened the email to see what lovely jobs were open that she did not have enough experience to get.
Reference Librarian, 3 years library experience required, instruction experience required, $45,000/yr.
Teen Services Librarian, 5 years professional experience required, $48,000/yr.
Liaison Librarian, 4 years experience with medical databases required, secondary Masters in Biology required, $58,000/yr.
Part-time Library Specialist, no experience or degree required, $8/hr.
Rosie deleted the email. She nestled into the sofa and pouted for a bit, going back to channel surfing. The TV was obsessed with Hell lately. Documentaries had sprouted up like weeds, comparing the Earth stories of Hell to the real place. Some were more exploitative than others and went for shock value, but many seemed to present an authentic, realistic portrait of the world beyond the Hellmouths. The people there – no matter what they looked like – were leading lives just like humans on Earth. Raising families, working for their livelihoods, going to school, dreaming of the future. Just, against a very different backdrop, and with very different body types.
Rosie left the TV on a channel showing one of those documentaries for a few minutes, but quickly changed it when they started discussing the Lake of Fire. Her mouth went dry and she took a deep, calming breath. She didn’t need a panic attack today. She’d had enough fire to last her a lifetime.
“Rosemund have you seen the toaster?” her mother called from the kitchen.
“It’s under the mixer,” Rosie yelled back.
“Ach! It’ll get crushed,” her mother complained, and started moving boxes around. Rosie groaned and pulled herself up to her feet. She put her arms in the air and stretched, her back crackling and her shoulders popping.
Ugh. She hated moving. But, she thought, dragging herself into the kitchen to help her mother unpack, anything for mom. She had maxed out every student loan, every credit card, every personal favor and sympathetic donation she could. She had begged the universe and put everything on the line, and in the end, her mother was here; it was all worth it.
But the bills kept coming.
She had applied for financial aid at the hospital, written out lengthy applications to charities, churches, and companies that sponsored community outreach, but… nothing. Always turned down. They were either not pitiful enough or not poor enough, or something. She could never get a good reason from anyone. There was no help coming. She hadn’t told her mom the whole story – beating cancer was all she needed to worry about, the money could be Rosie’s problem. She was going to have to figure it out herself.
She walked up to her mother and grabbed her from the side while she was pawing through a box. Rosie hugged her tight and gave her an exaggerated kiss on the cheek, and her mom giggled.
“Silly girl,” she said, smiling at her beautiful brown-eyed girl.
“Love you too,” Rosie said.
Rosie listened as her mother described how she was going to lay out the kitchen, and started to help her move things around. Before long, they were both tripping over empty boxes and packing paper, so Rosie gathered up as much as she could carry and made a trip down to the apartment dumpster. It was down some stairs and in a narrow alley, and she was pretty sure she dropped some paper along the way that she’d have to pick up on the way back. She looked for a recycling dumpster, but it was well after sunset, and the streetlights were all aimed at the street, not the alley. She could make out the outlines of other dumpsters, but no colors or signage. With a guilty sigh, she pushed the boxes and paper into the trash dumpster, promising herself to look harder in the morning.
As she turned to walk back to the side entrance, a loud clang made her jump out of her skin, and the feral animal screech that followed made her stumble. It was just a stupid cat, she told herself. She looked back into the alley but couldn’t make out any detail beyond the dim dumpster. She speed-walked back to the apartment, shaking off the uneasy startled feeling. Next to a wall of mailboxes, she knelt down awkwardly to pick up some packing paper she’d dropped. Her back would hurt worse in the morning, she knew. Standing up slowly, her eyes drifted over the corkboard next to the mailboxes.
Lost cat poster, guitar lessons $20/hr, babysitter wanted….
Rosie stopped, staring at a flyer. There’s no way it says…
She blinked at the plain white paper, and blinked even harder at the black print.
“Consulting Librarian Needed for 12-month contract. Must have MLS or MLIS from ALA-accredited school. No experience required. Room and board provided.”
She stepped in closer to read the small print.
“$5,000 per month for 11 months, $65,000 bonus at term completion.”
Rosie reached out to touch the paper, not sure if it was real. She laughed to herself.
There was no way. This had to be a joke.
She looked at the contact information, and froze when she saw the international prefix on the phone number.
It was +666.
The job was in Hell.
Rosie stood, staring at the flyer, for over two entire minutes. She reached out and pulled the thumbtack away, taking the paper down and folding it neatly. She tucked it into her pocket and stuck the thumbtack back into the cork, leaving her hand there for a moment and leaning on the wall to steady herself. She swallowed thickly and took a deep breath. There would be a lot of competition, she was sure. With that salary at stake. But she had to try. She had to. Even if she was scared.
Anything for mom.