The Bug In The Basement

by Skijarama

Chapter 28: The Last Day

    Three Weeks Later…

    Well, this was it. Eventide’s last day at the Ginger Mart.

    A week after Beebee had questioned him about his parents, Eventide had gotten a call from the Office for Everfree National Park letting him know that he had been hired, and would be slated to start work in just over two weeks. As such, he had gone in the following day and put in his two weeks notice with Austere. Word spread pretty quickly among his co-workers that he was on his way out, and many of them, especially Clean Sweep, were both sad and happy to know he was leaving soon.

    Eventide supposed he couldn’t blame them for feeling that way. He had been working here for years, now, and many of these people thought of him as a friend, if perhaps a somewhat aloof one. Really, though, the only one he really shared that sentiment with was Clean Sweep, and that was largely because that man just could not keep his nose out of other people’s stuff. Eventide had lost count of how many times Sweep had tried to probe him for information. It was an aggravating trait, to be sure, but in a way, Eventide found it endearing.

    “He was just trying to look out for me. And he also made me question how I was doing things,” he thought to himself on his last day behind one of the check-out counters, taking advantage of a lull in business to think back on everything that had happened in his time there. “I may not talk to him much, but I do gotta give Sweep credit where it’s due… he kept poking me, kept me thinking. I kinda owe him… I probably wouldn’t be going to this new job if he hadn’t pressed me on the issue…”

    A few lanes ahead, Clean Sweep glanced back at Eventide while bagging a customer’s groceries, a small smile on his face. Eventide smiled and nodded back, then stood upright and repeated his memorized greeting as a customer came up with bags in tow.

    Finally, the clock high on the wall ticked down, and the lunch break came. Eventide stepped away from the counter and made his way back for the very lunchroom he had used more or less since he started working here. He passed a couple of customers on the way, and even another coworker or two, but he paid them little mind. He was tired and eager to get back to work so he could go home and celebrate with Beebee and Fluttershy, who had the day off.

    His brow furrowed for a second at the thought of the timid girl, causing his pace to slow down. She’d been babysitting for Beebee as much as normal, and acted as happy and casual as normal, but there was something… off about her lately. She seemed a lot more tired than usual, and she kept zoning out during breaks in the conversation.

Now, that might have been easy enough to ignore, but not when Beebee frequently gave her worried, even sad glances. Obviously, he could sense something neither of them could, but was choosing not to say anything. Maybe Eventide should ask him about it at some point...

    That entire train of thought was brought to a crashing halt when Eventide stepped into the lunch room to find it… shockingly dark. He frowned in confusion and glanced up at the bulb on the ceiling, which was totally dark and unlit. Odd… either it had burned out or-



    Or that was about to happen.

    Eventide let out a startled yelp as the light turned on without any warning, and he was greeted to the sight of many of his coworkers, including Austere and Clean Sweep, standing there in the small lunch room. The tables had been rearranged so there was some standing room in the center of the room, and there were numerous plates of food and even a few wrapped gifts on each one. There was also some fresh confetti lying around, which Austere looked barely tolerant of.

    Quite taken aback by this unexpected sight, Eventide shook his head to clear the spots that were dancing in his eyes. “Uh… hi?” he responded awkwardly to the loud shout and odd sight.

    Austere raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Kind of a funny response to a going away potluck, don’t you think?” she asked in a flat tone.

    Eventide made an ‘o’ with his mouth as the realization crashed down on him like a falling Jenga tower. He then let out a weak chuckle and slapped a hand to his forehead in exasperation. “Oh, that’s what this is?! Ha, see, I thought you guys thought it was my birthday or something. That’s next month,” he laughed before stepping into the room and looking at it all. “But wow… all this… for me?”

    Clean Sweep strolled over and punched him light-heartedly on the shoulder. “Well, yeah! You’re our friend and one of the best workers here. We’re sad to see you go, man!”

    Another of the people in the room, a young woman with vibrant purple hair and bright pink skin named Sweetroll Burst, nodded along. “Mhmm. Sad to see you go, but happy you’re moving up to bigger, better things.”

    Austere’s face got a small smile. “For the record, none of this was my idea, but Clean Sweep and Sweetroll here conspired to make it happen, whether I like it or not,” she said in a faux overwhelmed voice. She then shook her head and nodded at one of the tables. “Anyways, lunch is only half an hour, so we’d best hop to it. What do you say?”

    Eventide looked around at it all again, his mind finally processing and registering exactly what it was he was looking at, and what exactly it meant. It finally hit him. This was his last day working with these people. He’d known that previously, sure, but it hadn’t really hit him until just then. He was leaving, and they were seeing him off with a party.

    What else was he supposed to do?

    With a big grin forming on his face, he gave a sharp and eager nod. “Thank you all very much, that’s what I say! Let’s see what we’ve got!”

    “Gifts first!” Sweetroll insisted, shoving a box at Eventide with a happy grin. “I wrapped them myself.”

    “She’s not lying,” Clean Sweep added with a smile. “I tried to wrap mine, but it came out looking like, uh…”

    “Like you mangled a gerbil and tried to hide the body in wrapping paper,” Austere suggested with a predatory look at Sweep, making him chuckle nervously and look away.

    Eventide just laughed at their banter, took the package and looked it over. The tag said that it was from Clean Sweep, coincidentally. It wasn’t a very big box, but it was surprisingly heavy. Curious as to what could be inside, Eventide tore away the packaging paper, revealing the gift piece by piece. His eyes flew wide, and his jaw fell open once all the paper was removed and the box was fully unveiled.

    It was a camera. Not a professional photographer camera by any means, but as far as family cameras go, it was about as high quality and expensive as one could get. It came with a few extra lenses, a rotating preview screen, a hand strap, a wide range of settings and filters, and a built-in photo printer. Eventide looked it over for a moment, taken aback. “Woah…”

    Clean Sweep came up behind Eventide and glanced over his shoulder at the camera with a big grin. “I remember you buying a lot of kids books and a bunch of toys a few months back. Kinda made me think of my own childhood, and how much I miss it. So, I figured that maybe you’d like to have some way to save your favorite memories without having to use your phone,” he explained happily.

    Eventide turned to look at Clean Sweep with wide eyes, then back down at the camera box. “Wow… uh…” he mumbled, trying to get his thoughts in order. He hadn’t really thought about taking pictures much, before. He only had a few photos on his phone, and they were from long before Beebee sprang into his life. But now that he thought about it… now that he held a dedicated, high-quality camera in his hands… a big smile appeared on his face, and he looked over at Clean Sweep. “Thank you very much, Sweep. I really, really appreciate it.”

    Sweep just nodded and stepped back. “I thought you might.”

    Eventide looked back down at the camera, his thoughts wandering back to his home, and to his son. He traced a thumb over the image of the camera on the box, his smile turning a touch more sentimental. “And I already know what my first picture is gonna be…”

    “Mine next,” Sweetroll suddenly chimed in, knocking Eventide back into the here and now. She grinned and picked up another package, this one more flat and square-shaped before handing it to Eventide. As before, he took it, looked it over, and tore away the paper. Again, his eyes widened when he saw what it was.

It was a photo album, and a pretty thick one at that. It had a very nice, rich brown cover that was made of a material to emulate leather, with an intricate and abstract repeating pattern forming a circle in the center, where there was an empty slot for a cover photo, just waiting to be filled.

“I got it to go with Sweep’s gift,” Sweetroll stated before Eventide could ask, leaning over and smiling at him. “A camera with a printer doesn’t do much good if you don’t have anywhere to put the prints, right?”

Eventide gave a laugh and nod. “I guess you’ve got a point. Thank you, Sweetroll,” he said cheerfully. He let out a grunt of surprise when she suddenly lunged at him and hugged him, but didn’t object to the contact. He stood there for a moment before awkwardly returning the gesture. It was short-lived, and she quickly backed off to let a few of the other coworkers bring their stuff forward.

The remaining presents were all great in their own right, but none of them really seemed to stick in Eventide’s memory like the camera and photo album did. It didn’t take long for all of them to be passed into Eventide’s possession and loaded into bags for his trip home. After that, it was on to the food. Everyone had brought some pretty good food, and they all insisted that Eventide take the leftovers home with him. As aware of his financial situation as they were, they said it was the least they could do to help him along.

However, sadly, the lunch break had to end eventually, even if it took a solid twenty minutes longer than normal. Everyone soon scattered back out into the building, many of them saying preemptive goodbyes then in case they weren’t able to be there when he walked out the door. Eventide returned to his shift, but he found it hard to really feel the weight of his work anymore. There was a very clear spring in his step and a happy energy in his movements as he worked, and it went unnoticed by nobody.

It was as clear as day.

Eventide was happy. Happier than any of them had ever seen before. He was moving up in the world, on to a better job, and he was walking away from this one with a very fond farewell, with tools to aid him and remind him of where he started. They could all sense there was more to it than that, of course. But none of them knew what it was, and none of them were willing to pry. As far as they were concerned, it made Eventide happy and gave him the drive he needed to move on.

The end of the day couldn’t come soon enough, but it almost came too quickly. Before Eventide knew it, he was clocking out and heading out the door, presents and boxed leftovers swinging in bags at his sides.

To his surprise, he found Austere and Clean Sweep waiting for him just outside the store, talking quietly amongst themselves. Confused, Eventide approached, and they both raised their eyes to look up at him. Austere nodded slowly and spoke first. “So, you’re heading out?” she asked slowly.

“Yeah, just ended my shift,” Eventide replied, glancing down at his bags.

Clean Sweep nodded slowly, a somewhat solemn look on his face. “We’re gonna miss you here, buddy. Pop in and say hi sometimes, would ya?”

Eventide chuckled and hefted his bags a bit. “I mean, I gotta get my food somewhere. This place seems as good a spot as any to go,” he stated before glancing up at the sky. The sun was going down, and there were storm clouds starting to roll in. His brow furrowed somewhat in concern. They looked like they would be putting down some heavy rain later...

Clean Sweep’s voice cut through the quiet. “Want a lift? It’s gonna rain in a while, and we don’t want any of your stuff to get drenched or anything.”

Eventide blinked and looked back down at Sweep. “Uh, sure, if it isn’t too much trouble,” he said hesitantly, not quite meeting Sweep’s gaze.

“Too much trouble? Pfah!” Sweep dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. “It’s no big deal. It’ll be my last gift to you, how’s that sound?”

That sentiment struck a chord, and Eventide gave a large smile and a nod. “Well, if you insist… I won’t say no,” he said happily before looking over at Austere. She was being rather quiet, watching the two interact with an odd look on her face. It was as if she was uncomfortable with the entire situation, and the way she was shifting back and forth on her heels only added to that impression. Eventide frowned and cleared his throat. “Uh… boss?”

“I’m not your boss anymore,” Austere quickly replied with a flat look. “I’m just Austere to you, now.”

“Right, sorry,” Eventide apologized before his expression softened. “You just seem kinda… distant.”

Austere shrugged and looked away, finding a nearby lamp post to be very interesting. “Look, Clean Sweep made me come out here, alright? I figured it’s the least I could do. I’m just not good at all of this sentimental garbage. It makes me feel weird.”

Clean Sweep laughed out loud, walked over and gave his boss a playful punch on the shoulder. She shot him a hard glare, and he immediately regretted his decision.

Eventide gave one more laugh before shaking his head at their antics and nodding. “Well, I think it’s time to go…”

Austere turned her venomous glare from Sweep and gave Eventide a more even expression. She nodded and smiled softly. “Right. Take care of yourself, Eventide. And take good care of your pets.”

“I plan to,” Eventide acknowledged before stepping past Austere to fall into step next to Clean Sweep. “I’ll see you around, Austere.”

“See you,” Austere called after him as he walked away, leaving the Ginger Mart behind as he moved on to the next part of his life.

    It was surprisingly dark when Eventide walked back into his house a short time later. The clouds had now blotted out the sun, plunging the world into a rapidly worsening darkness, and he had felt one or two drops on his cheek as he had crossed his yard. There was only the hallway light on, while everything else was off. Buddha could be seen ahead, lifting her head from the floor where she had apparently been taking a nap. Her expression brightened upon seeing him, and she slowly rose to her paws to shuffle over.

    Eventide would have greeted her vocally, but the sight to his immediate left made him be quiet as he gave Buddha scritches behind the ears. Sitting in his chair with a sleepy smile on her face was Fluttershy, looking back at him. The thing that drew Eventide’s attention more than her was the small bug that was curled up in her lap, sound asleep, his chest rising and falling with each rhythmic breath he took.

    Eventide finished greeting Buddha and set down his bags by the door before quietly walking over to the chair. “Hey,” he said in a quiet whisper. “How have things been here?”

    “Good,” Fluttershy replied in a similarly hushed tone, lightly patting the back of Beebee’s head with one hand as she spoke. “Beebee fell asleep a little while ago after playing with Buddha. I’ve been trying to let him sleep, and...” an adorable yawn slipped out of her, interrupting her sentence and putting a small red tint on her cheeks. “Um… I might have fallen asleep, too.”

    “That explains the lights being out,” Eventide mused before getting down onto one knee and adding his hand to Beebee as well. His face lit up with a subdued smile. “Hey, Bee… I get to go to my new job, soon. It won’t be a whole lot longer before we can move somewhere you can be safe…” he whispered, careful to not disturb the slumbering bug.

    Beebee stirred and made a few incomprehensible murmurs before his little hooves reached out and groggily grabbed onto Fluttershy’s hand. He tugged it down against his belly and held it there, a quiet chitter of content coming out of him before he fell still again.

    “And what about you?” Fluttershy asked quietly, tearing her attention away from Beebee to look at Eventide. “How was your last day?”

    “It was good,” Eventide said while standing and heading back over to his bags. “They threw a big potluck party for me. There’s a bunch of leftover food and some gifts in here,” he said while withdrawing the camera and photo album specifically. As quietly as he could, he opened the camera box and pulled out the device itself.

    Fluttershy smiled and held as still as possible as Eventide walked over, already knowing what was about to happen. He knelt down and, after fiddling with the camera for a few moments, figured out how it worked.

With a happy look on his face, he pointed it at his son, sleeping soundly in his best friend’s lap, and took the first picture.