###

"I already started," explains Maya. Her head directs me to a dumpster-worth of strawberries rivalling the ceiling for height, and a container of assorted substance I thought was reserved for industrial applications. "You crush the strawberries with this masher and deliver the bowlfuls to me and I'll finish cutting and mixing the other ingredients."

"Masher? I thought that was some kind of ancient Samurai torture device on display…"

"We gotta dual purpose stuff since the Fall of Kurain. It works great! Do you need to be shown how?"

"N..no. I think I can figure it out myself." If I just direct it toward the strawberries, and away from ME, it'll be fine, right?

I soothe myself it was designed not to kill the Samurai, and fall methodically into strawberry execution. It's actually quite soothing, as is relaying the giant stone bowls of the stuff, because that white mud-dust is slowly tingeing red.

But then I'm steadily more distracted by a gathering swipe of metals. THAT isn't soothing.

I turn.

"Hey, hey, watch this, Nick! SAMURAI SUSHI SLICE!"

"AGGGHH! W-Watch where you throw that knife!" Oh good, I *didn't* wet myself.

"Aww, Nick, don't be a baby. I'm a professional, remember?"

No.

"PINK PRINCESS…. DECAPITATION THROW!"

I wince into a corner. The harsh bruising wall hits me with inspiration.

"Hey Maya – hey, how about I finish mixing that while you pre-heat the oven?"

"Oh, thanks Nick! I thought you'd want to do that part, it's so fun. Aren't you a lovely guy?"

I don't get it.

I carefully chop the remaining ingredients, then delicately swirl the vat of puffy mixture. It smells utterly fabulous, I guess there's method to her madness. ...Um, some of it. I can sense Maya consumed with some activity behind my turned back. Man, she's taking a long time just to turn on an oven…

I turn my head… and retract in horror. That kinda pit thing I thought was for bonfires back in 1300 is roaring to life in a fatal accident scene dwarfing little Maya.

I somehow suppress a scream and my snatch-reflex. Maya's flushed face is aglow in utter rapture.

"I t-think the mixture is ready," I croak, trying to steady myself. "Should I put it," my eyes flounder for likely appliances, "in here?"

"Ni-ick! That's a burger maker! Geez, have you really not learned to cook?"

She has a state of the art electronic burger appliance, AND still uses a wood fired stove?

"Isn't it exciting," Maya prods pyromaniacally, "to burn stuff!"

"H-hey, I bet you could make an even better strawberry dessert by using the burger maker," I suggest.

Maya's excitement leaps from the flames onto me. "That's the best idea you've ever had!"

Guess I just have to work harder on not expressing that irony-sarcasm thing.

"But isn't something called 'Jaw Droppingly Large' a lot larger than a burger," I rebut.

"Of course, wise guy! That's why we'll make thousands and stick them all together!"

Pearls beatifically pops her head in. "Are you having fun, Mr Nick?" Oh, don't tell me she's spying on us!

"Pearly!" Maya's eyes seize her. "Do you want to help? Nick's more cooking-disabled than I thought."

"N-no thank you, Mystic Maya," Pearls dismisses prudently. "I am not hungry." She retreats.

To my relief, Maya's attention is now consumed with the burger machine, ramming in the mixture with fascinated eyes. It really does seem to work, sizzling into red burger sized clumps with a fake grill pattern. There's not much to do except routinely pass her the mixture, so we fall into conversation.

"Man," I observe, "you must be smart to have figured out how to do anything with all the archaic equipment here. It took me forever just to learn how to make toast!"

Maya starts laughing uproariously. "Nick, you're so funny! What a great joke! I didn't know you had it in you!"

"B…but..."

"Hey, I was thinking. What do you think about the Nashi pear?"

"Oh." I mentally drool from yesterday's memory. "Which one?"

"Yeah, that's an important topic," agrees Maya. "There's green and brown ones. Which is better?"

"Oh, that's tough," I muse. "The brown one's sweeter, sure, but the tart crispiness and the aesthetic of the green one, well.."

"I agree!" enthuses Maya. "Nick, you're turning into such an interesting guy! …Any more?"

"That's the lot." I observe the pile.

Maya clasps her red-smeared hands. "Now we'll glue it together with icing and singe it dry." She immediately sets to work. "Hold this part together will you?"

"Hey, what the hell are you doing? That's a strange sha.."

My eyes don't deceive me. It's a giant, misshapen 'N'.

Why, what could this be? She's spelling my name, um, nick-name, in burger shaped strawberry desserts?

Maya concocts a stack of 'I'. "I said I invented it just for you!"

"Thank you." I steady a stack of precursor-to-C doom. By the time she's rammed a giant 'K' in place, my eyes are misting up for some reason..
..H-hey! I swear. It's only the SMOKE that's doing it, that's it!

Maya gives a strangled yelp and starts dragging me by my hoodie. "IT'S OUT OF CONTROL!"

'W..what..."

"FIRE!"

FIRE!

That forgotten hellfire's outbroken its unbounding cage! Maya's hauled my scalded toes from the blazing floorspace just in time.

"The pond!" hisses Maya.

I don't need to be told. We drain the contents of the pond into a receptacle evidently for this purpose, haul it doggedly to the disaster and hurl. A hiss of the floor charring out into black silence and my relief.

Maya, eyes trapped in delayed shock, absently pulls a barbequed fish from the wreckage, takes an experimental nibble, then ditches it with a grimace.

Her face freaks out again. "OUR DESSERT!"

The evil beast, still alive, has leapt out and seized her masterpiece in Hadean claws. In fury, my body charges forward and snatches it from the jaws of Hell.

"You SAVED it!" Tears fill her eyes.

"Just a little 'crispy'" (burned) "around the edges!"

I hold it out to her.

"You're alive! I was so worried!" Maya looks like she'll hug it.

But I'm still not feeling so good about the destitution I've helped create.

"Oh man, Maya, I'm sorry. Look how messed up the kitchen is. Half the floor's all gone to charcoal...And that wall there, all charred up and covered in soot.."

"Oh, naww, Nick, it's not that bad. That wall was from last week, don't worry."

"Last wee…" I didn't need that kind of information.

"You didn't get… get HURT, did you?" That pulsing in my brain… got to be so loud even she can hear it, dammit!

"Huh? Oh, I just got this little tiny burn here, nothing much.."

Consciousness… outgoing…

"H- Hey, Maya, how'd you like to come and stay at my place for a while? You really need a break after you've been so nice waiting on me here. I can cook you some nice instant noodles in my ultra safe electric jug."

"That one which had an electrical fault and blew up the fuse box last time I came?"

"Oh. I think they still work with tap water too…"

"Or we can go for burgers."

"That sounds like a good idea."

###

I'm kinda confused when the door to my apartment seems to be unlocked.

I wouldn't really have forgotten, no way? Luckily, it looks to Maya like I'm incompetently messing with the keys. She's far off anyway, chatting about something not at all mundane or Earth-ly. (This is often advantageous.)

"Oh man, don't you ever clean up?" (Damn, back from the aliens.) "And you forgot to shut the window!"

"Oh. Oh, that.."

"Don't worry, I'll teach you the old Fey Clan technique of speed cle.. Nick, why is the fridge open?"

"Um, you see…"

"Oh, cute! You got Trucy a pet? Is it a magic pigeon? What's her name? Can she do tricks? She doesn't seem to be housetrained yet, tell Trucy to work on that."

"Huh? We're not allowed pets in this apar… Oh god." It flew in the window.

"And she has a nest on your BED! You're so cute, Nick, taking in poor starving homeless pregnant animals…. But that doesn't get you out of answering my question. WHY IS THE FRIDGE DOOR OPEN?"

She's already levitating toward the kitchen (which in this size apartment takes all of one second.) I can only follow, failing to be able to step around the white decorations on my carpet.

"Because the fridge wasn't worki…" A hideous stream of air knocks my head flat.

All that dead food has not neatly decomposed. It's instead inflated into a pyramid of mould and hideousity.

"Wot's dat thay," chokes Maya, "Em-Poun-ded?"

"Oh by gob…" A yellowish tape chokes the festering fridge corpse. Violation of Health and By Laws Act, Strata Title, 2021

There's a rap at the door. My hand goes and opens it. A fat beefy guy in a muck-brown uniform charges in officially.

"You live here?" He snarls officiously. "This site has been investigated from a lodged complaint under the Health Act (Strata Title) 2013. The findings mean it will be quarantined by law 'until acceptable restitution is achieved'."

"Huh?"

"In plain English?" His condescending smirk observes my cheap fashion outfit and dope-smoke eyes. "This place is a filthy, illegal health risk, and you live like a dirty, stinking hobo."

Damn it. I'm hit below the belt, flailing for appropriate legal strategy. But Maya's already on fire with the pointer finger thing.

"I object. Nick is a VERY clean individual!"

"Y..yeah!" I give my best grin, cut short by being yanked out the side door.

Maya wrenches off my hat. "GAH! You're still covered in SOOT! How can you NOT have showered yesterday?

"I dunno. I guess I forgot. I was so excited I was inviting you home.."

"And how long have you been wearing those same clothes anyway?"

"About 5 years."

"WHAAAAAA…"

Speak for yourself?

My thought drowns as a bucket of water upends on me.

"HEYYY! You ruined my HAIR!"

"And the hat didn't?"

A rebuttal snaps in my tongue. But she's darted inside. I follow, trying not to drip too obviously.

"Nick is a model citizen," Maya is explaining politely. "He would never leave things in this state. Obviously his house was robbed while he was away. Nick is an innocent victim of a heinous crime."

"Maya," I hiss discreetly, "that won't stand in court! Do your fingerprints change when you channel?"

"No."

Damn.

"See that open window," Maya is continuing to the captive inspector. "Would anybody ever leave the window open if they went away for a week? No! So some loser criminal broke into poor innocent Nick's house and trashed it!"

"I'm sorry, Madam," the inspector sneers, "but that is a matter for the police. It's separate from our department's inspections and designations. You'd have to retract it separately with a request by the police to our department. You! Mr Phoenix Wright! You are the tenant of this apartment, yes? There will be a $1000 fine, and further impoundments and ordinances of your property until restitution is achieved." He slams the form at my face. "Sign here. 'Please'."

"OBJECTION! You ca…" Dammit, I was a criminal lawyer. I can't remember this stuff off the top of my head! My hand shakes and the pen collapses to the floor. "Oh oops. So.."

"Oh My GO..''

###

Urgh. Things are murky. Scattered.. no. That pressure round my hand is real. I open my eyes into Maya's authentic ones. "D…did I have a bad dream?"

"I don't know, Nick. What happened? When I found you you were just kinda taking a nap on the floor."

"W-well, this health inspector was here, and you told him I was robbed, and he wouldn't quit prosecuting me so then y-you channeled this c-c-c…"

"You told me to 'change my fingerprints'! Anyway, looks like the ghost scared him away regardless before you had to use your idea. What a wimp!"

I take a choke break. "I …didn't know you could do that."

"Neither did I, but you told me to pull out all the stops!"

"Oh. Um, …thanks. I guess. ….Look, it says on the notice here, 'RESOLVED'"

"Congratulations, Nick!" I teeter sideways into the embrace. "Another case solved! Let's go for those burgers right now to celebrate, right?"

I splutter. "Maya, are you s..sure…"

"Of course! What's wrong Nick, you aren't getting sick again?"

"N..no." I soothe away her pained eyes. Oh man.

"And don't forget we'll have to pick up Trucy from the station this evening."

"How'd YOU know that?"


END


Oh, Maya channelled the cow ghost they ate earlier. Perhaps I should have said so in words of one syllable. Bad deus ex machina, but that's what I felt like at that moment in time.