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Have You Eaten? Part 1: Daneka’s Birthday


Have You Eaten? Part 1: Daneka’s Birthday

Home / Have You Eaten? Part 1: Daneka’s Birthday
Original Fiction post-apocalyptic

Have You Eaten? Part 1: Daneka’s Birthday

Introducing a new serialized novella from Hugo Award-winning author Sarah Gailey...

Illustrated by Shing Yin Khor

Edited by


Published on April 2, 2024

An illustration of a recipe card on a counter surrounded by scattered ingredients.

Fen’s Mom’s Chicken Pot Pie

Crust (2 batches)
2½ cups flour
Pinch of salt
1 cup butter
6 tablespoons water

3 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, diced; or 1 can pearl onions, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tsp chopped fresh sage
1 bag mixed frozen peas & carrots
2 chicken breasts, roasted and shredded


Make the Crust

  1. Combine the flour and the salt. Add the butter and mix with your hands until small crumbs are formed.  

  2. Add in water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing with your hands to form dough. 

  3. Chill for 1 hour. 

  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. While it’s heating, divide the dough in half. Roll out each half separately. Set one aside, and place the other in a floured and buttered pie pan. Poke the bottom several times with a fork to release steam during cooking.

  5. Bake blind for 15 minutes.  

Make the Filling

  1. In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, sauté the celery and chopped onion if using. Salt to taste. When vegetables have just begun to soften, set aside.

  2. In the same skillet, heat the butter over medium heat until it stops bubbling. Add the flour and whisk thoroughly until there are no lumps. Stir until golden brown.

  3. Add the chicken broth to the pan. Whisk thoroughly until well-combined. Add the onion powder, garlic powder, sage, and plenty of black pepper. *Do not salt at this stage; since the broth will be thickened into gravy, the risk of oversalting is high.
  4. Add the cooked vegetables, the frozen vegetables, and the pearl onions if using. Stir to combine.
  5. Simmer until the sauce thickens into a gravy.
  6. Remove from the heat and stir in the shredded chicken.

  7. Pour the filling into the blind-baked crust. Top with the rolled-out unbaked crust. Cut slits in the top to vent steam. Bake until golden and flaky on top, 35–45 minutes.

Optional: Instead of pie crust, bake under a layer of biscuits. Double the filling recipe to fill a 9×13-inch pan.

It’s Daneka’s birthday, so everyone in the squat is being quiet and trying not to make eye contact with each other. The problem is that everyone’s known for weeks that Fen is worried about Daneka. At first they all rolled their eyes at Fen—people go missing all the time, and worrying over that is as useless as paper money. Then they tried to get her to snap out of it, because Fen’s the one who makes decisions and plans, and her anxiety over Daneka has been occupying her mind so thoroughly that she hasn’t been deciding or planning anything.

Now, after weeks with no Daneka and no word from her either, everyone in the squat privately shares Fen’s suspicion that something bad has probably happened to their friend. Nobody wants to be the first to say something, though, so they’re all finding reasons to be on their palmsets, reasons to look out the window, reasons to attend to their least-favorite chores.

Fen isn’t making it easy for anyone to speak up, anyway. She’s not talking about her feelings. Four months ago, she overheard Quan calling her a “neurotic clinger.” Quan didn’t know she could hear him—she had just walked into the room and was standing right behind him, like in that movie everyone in the squat makes fun of but hasn’t seen. He said it in a mean way, even though he’s not a mean person, except when he sort of is. And she wasn’t supposed to hear, but she did.

She sort of melted off into her bedroom after that. When Morrow checked in on Fen later she made all the right noises about understanding that she needs to manage her anxiety and Quan’s mastery of incisive languagebut still, damn, it must have stung to hear. Since then, Fen’s been “managing her anxiety” by quietly vibrating, crying when she thinks nobody can hear her, and saying nothing about her feelings to anyone, ever.

Her silence isn’t keeping her secret, though. The housemates know each other even better than they know hunger, and they all recognize the signs of Fen’s worry. Her lips are ragged from chewing. She keeps asking thinly anonymized questions like, Do you think people have responsibility to each other? and, How would you handle it if a friend suddenly grew really distant? Every time anyone catches a glimpse of her palmset, she’s looking at Daneka’s profile, refreshing over and over again, her eyes locked on the location status that hasn’t updated in a month.

At first, Harper told her that some people thrive on independence in relationships. At first, Morrow told her that it probably had nothing to do with her. At first, Quan told her that she could talk to him if she was freaking out about something, but she responded with a patently forced smile and said that she was fine, and then Quan spent the rest of the day asking Harper and Morrow if he’d done anything to upset her because he still didn’t know she’d heard the thing he’d said about her in the first place.

And now it’s Daneka’s birthday, and Daneka still hasn’t come home or answered anyone’s private messages, and everyone is just as worried as Fen’s been for weeks but nobody wants to say so because that would mean admitting that Fen was right all along, and then they’d have to try to figure out what to do.

Fen is usually the one who figures out what to do.

Around noon, a patrol car passes the squat. Quan watches it through a gap in the boards that cover the windows. Once the car has passed out of sight, he lets out a short sharp sigh, slaps his thighs with both palms, and shoots to his feet. His square jaw is set, his thick brows furrowed, his slim fingers balled into fists. “Okay,” he says. “Where the fuck’s Fen?”

“Kitchen,” Harper answers from the floor, where they’re using their fingers to fill a gouge in the laminate with a mixture of sawdust and wood glue. Their dark scalp-stubble grows in continent-like patches around old burn scars on their scalp. The scars are from their life in Old Chicago, which no one in the squat makes the mistake of asking about. Harper isn’t a leader in the same way Fen is, but they could be if they were less irritable about other people needing things and making noises about it. “Step careful. Glue’s drying.”

Quan obeys, tiptoeing past the collection of cushions and camp chairs that Harper’s stacked against the wall to make room for this needlessly intense project. He makes his way to the kitchen and finds that Harper was right: there’s Fen, red-eyed and purse-mouthed, clutching a potato and staring into the nearly bare cupboard.

“You freaking out or what?” Quan asks, looking into the cupboard too so Fen won’t feel like her tears are being noticed.

“No,” she answers, her voice too wobbly to stick the landing. She twists her neck to wipe her nose on the shoulder of her cardigan. The movement makes one tight-coiled curl fall across her forehead. “A little worried that they might finally turn off the electricity this month.”

“Any reason to think that might happen, or are you getting upset over nothing?”

“Probably the second one,” Fen answers, not too defensively. “It’s just. You know. At some point the developers that own this block are gonna remember that this house exists, and we should have a plan for what to do when that happens.” She closes her eyes, takes a long slow breath. “But we’ll deal with it when we get there. What about you? How’s your day so far?”

Quan lets out a dry laugh. “Not great. I’m worried about Daneka.”

Those last four words strike Fen like a match. She explodes with relief. “Oh my god, me too. Where the hell is she? Wait, I mean—no,” she stammers, her face crumpling as she tries and fails to reel her words back, to reconfigure herself into whatever well-managed anxiety is supposed to look like. “It’s fine that she’s gone. I’ve just been wondering why she hasn’t come home, I guess? But it’s fine that she hasn’t.”

Quan opens the refrigerator and pulls out a celery bunch that’s as limp as yarn. “No, like, I’m worried too. She’s been gone for a month, that’s not normal. And she hasn’t messaged you at all?”

“Not at all,” Fen replies. “I haven’t been messaging her that much or anything, just a couple of ‘thinking of you’ taps. She did a thumbs-up react but I don’t know what that means, and—”

“That doesn’t mean anything.” Quan whacks the listless celery against the quartz counter, which is still marked at the edges with wax crayon where the flippers who abandoned this house had planned to cut it. “I think we should call a house meeting.”

Morrow comes thudding down the hall, their heavy boots loud on the gray laminate. Morrow’s body takes up space—they’re built like a fridge, if a fridge could work out—but their voice hides in the back of their throat. “Are, um. Are you guys talking about Daneka?”

“Shoes, asshole,” Harper yells from the living room.

Morrow sits down on the floor immediately and starts undoing their laces. “Sorry. Did someone hear from her?”

“I can’t hear you,” Quan says. “Nobody can fuckin’ hear you.”

“Quan’s worried,” Fen adds. “About Daneka.”

Morrow exchanges a significant glance with Quan. “Okay, well, I mean. It’s just that. You know. I think Quan’s right to be worried. It’s weird that we haven’t heard from Daneka, and—”

“I’ve heard from her,” Harper calls, looking up from their work on the floor. “Thumbs-up react on my last message.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Fen says, earning raised eyebrows from Harper. “You know what? I’m just gonna call her.” She pulls her palmset out of her back pocket and unfolds it, hesitates briefly, looks up, realizes everyone is watching her and she can’t change her mind now—and dials.

The tritone sound of the call going through cycles twelve times before the call drops.

“That’s fine,” Fen says weakly. “I’ll message. She’s probably away from her palmset, she’ll see when she gets back to it.” She swipes out a message, saying the words as she traces them across one quadrant of the screen. “Should . . . we . . . expect . . . you . . . for . . . dinner. There.” She folds her palmset back up before tossing it onto the counter and turning to her housemates. “I’m making chicken pot pie. It’s her favorite. If she shows up, we can have a birthday party. If not, we’ll just eat it without her.”

Morrow grabs the counter and uses it to pull themself upright. They stare at Fen, their dark eyes wide with disbelief. “Wait, for real? You know how to make chicken pot pie?”

“No she doesn’t,” Quan snaps. “When’s the last time you think Fen got her hands on meat? Be serious.”

Fen ignores him, pulling a scratched wooden box off the top of the fridge and answering Morrow without acknowledging Quan at all. “I stole my mom’s recipe box when my folks kicked me out. I know how to make all her recipes.”

“Nice,” Harper says. They jog to the kitchen and dip a rag into the washwater basin, then start scrubbing gluey sawdust off their thumb. “Where d’you think Daneka is?”

“That’s not any of our business,” Fen answers, reaching deeper into the cupboard than she probably needs to.

“Is too,” Harper replies, scowling.

Fen goes still, her head between the shelves. “Really?”

“Course.” Harper runs a hand over their scalp. They sigh. “She’s part of our family. Fuck’s sake, she lives here. And yeah, she drops off the map from time to time. But that’s a few days at a stretch. She’s usually sending videos and posting stuff. And messaging us. Anyone gotten any actual messages?” They wait for everyone else’s headshakes to confirm before continuing. “So.”

And then Morrow whispers the thing nobody’s wanted to say, the thing Fen’s been thinking for twenty-eight days. “What if . . . she got picked up?”

“We’d know,” Quan says immediately.

“How?” Harper’s bony shoulders snap up around their ears. “How would we know, Quan? You think they still let people make phone calls?”

“What about the thumbs-up reacts?”

“Those don’t mean anything,” Harper snaps. “When’s the last time you saw Daneka go quiet on socials?”

Everyone stops to think. “Last time she got picked up,” Quan finally admits. “She was waiting at a drop-off point for a delivery for the three of us—me and her and Fen, I mean.” He nods to Fen, who finally extracts herself from the cupboard, her face drawn. Back before Fen and Quan and Daneka met Harper and Morrow, the three of them had been their own little trio. Moving from place to place, following rumors about reliable, affordable hormones and welcoming communities. “The seller was an undercover. He snatched Daneka for like a week. She didn’t post or message the whole time.”

“Did she send reacts?”

“Hearts,” Fen whispers, remembering. “She told us later that the cop took her phone so he could go through her messages and contacts and stuff.”

“So. Thumbs-up reacts don’t mean shit,” Harper confirms.

Morrow steps on the loose toe of one sock, his eyes fixed on the floor. “Okay, but also, she came home after she got picked up that time, right? So she’ll probably come home this time, too.”

It’s Fen and Quan’s turn to exchange a loaded glance. “That was in Santa Cruz,” Quan says slowly.

Morrow, who lived their whole life just up the freeway in Redding, hoists themself up to sit on the counter. The quartz creaks under their weight. “Is it bad there?”

“Nah,” Quan says. “They’ll pick you up for indecency or gender impersonation or whatever, but they don’t process you most of the time. They just take your money if you have any. It’s . . . it’s not like here,” he finishes, his eyes on his hands, his voice uncharacteristically soft.

Everyone startles when Fen drops the entire potato bin onto the counter. Her eyes are dry, her scar-notched brows set. “Daneka will be here,” she announces.

This is the Fen they’ve all been missing. This is her determined face, the one she wears when she’s deciding to create reality from scratch. It’s the face she wore when she and Quan and Daneka first met Morrow—Fen decided they’d all live together, even though Morrow had just tried to mug them. It’s the face she wore when they broke into this squat through the front door and found Harper breaking into it through the back door. And it’s the face she wears as she informs the other three housemates present that she will be making a birthday dinner, that Daneka will show up to eat it, and that they’re all going to help in the meantime.

“You,” she says, pointing at a startled Morrow. “Sort these potatoes.”

Morrow eyes the potato bin dubiously. “By . . . size?”

“By sprouts. We can probably eat all of these since none of them are green, but the ones with really long sprouts might not be good. Look into my eyes, Morrow,” she says, and she waits for their big dark eyes to meet hers. “We aren’t risking it with any rotten food today. Okay? I mean it. Not for Daneka’s birthday.”

Morrow nods and picks up a potato with one huge, gentle hand.

“And you,” Fen says, wheeling on Quan and brandishing the sagging celery stalks he’d idly removed from the refrigerator a few minutes before. “Figure this out.”

Harper stands on the other side of the kitchen counter, their arms folded. “Guess the boss is back.”

Fen regards them with bristling determination. “You’re coming shopping with me.”

The two of them go out through the back door and cross the crunchy brown grass of the back lawn. Harper boosts Fen over the gate in the back fence, which is white vinyl stamped to look like wood and doesn’t open from the inside. Once Fen is on the other side, she thumbs the code into the keypad and eases the gate open.

“Should fix that thing,” Harper says as they pass through the gate onto the community path, their eyes flicking down to the busted keypad on the inside of the fence. It looks like someone took a hammer to it.

“Good luck,” Fen replies. “Sorry, that sounded bitchy. I really mean it. You’re good with electronics.”

Harper snorts. “Sure. Hey, do you think—”

“I don’t want to talk about Daneka,” Fen interrupts.

“I wasn’t going to ask about Daneka. I was going to ask if you think that’s fennel or dill,” Harper says, pointing at a frondy green that’s growing a couple of feet off the path. This trail was a jackpot find they discovered a couple of weeks after settling into the squat: a poorly maintained ribbon of asphalt that stretches behind two miles of houses, terrible for jogging or riding a bicycle but perfect for foraging, especially when it comes to plants that like to jump fences from hobby gardens out into the world.

Fen rubs a frond, then lifts her fingers to her nose. “Fennel,” she says, grinning. “What do you think, take the bulb or just cut a couple stalks?”

“Stalks,” Harper answers, pulling a box cutter out of their back pocket. They trim off a couple of stalks of fennel. The licorice smell perfumes the air around them. “And you’re lying.”


“You’re lying. You want to talk about Daneka.” Harper waits while Fen pulls a crumpled plastic grocery bag out of one pocket, then drops the fennel stalks into it.

Fen starts walking. Her strides are long, her pace quick—Harper has to move fast to keep up. “I’m just worried about her, is all.”

“Pissed at her, more like. Hang on. Mint.” They stoop to rip up a few fistfuls of the mint that grows in patches all along the trail, then use the blade of their box cutter to dig out a hank of it with the roots intact. “I read that if you plant this stuff in your yard, it’ll grow everywhere. We can replace that crusty lawn.”

“You think we’re going to stay in the squat long enough for it to matter?”

“Been six months already,” Harper says. “Might stay.”

“Sure,” Fen says, her eyes darting to either end of the trail. “The thing is, okay, I’m not pissed at Daneka. I’m just—if she’s not missing, then yeah, I’d feel some kind of way about it. But I’m not pissed yet, because we don’t know if she’s missing or just being an inconsiderate asshole. If she’s missing, I don’t want to be pissed at her, I want to be worried. But I’d rather be pissed.”

Harper shrugs. “Could be both. Missing and an asshole.”

“Don’t. Don’t joke like that.” Fen stalks ahead for a few minutes, until they reach a spot where they’d found wild onions once. She tucks her pants into her socks before stepping off the trail to slowly pace in a circle through the grass, looking for the tall green stalks of an allium. “I don’t know what we do if she doesn’t come home. Do we go try to find her? Get her out?”

“No,” Harper says immediately. “Too dangerous.”

Fen stoops and tears out a fistful of grass, runs her hand along the dirt. “Maybe just me and Quan,” she mutters. “If you and Morrow don’t give a shit.”

“We give a shit. But you two getting yourselves snatched won’t help Daneka. There,” they say suddenly, pointing to a spot just behind Fen.

The onions are puny, their tops scraggly, but Fen still beams with triumph. “See?” she says, brandishing the onions. “It’s gonna be great. We’re already most of the way there.”

They visit the overgrown rosemary hedge, waving away half-drunk bees to snap off a few stems. They harvest a couple of handfuls of pealike seed pods from a thatch of bolted arugula, stepping over the papery white flowers that litter the path around it. Fen crows at the sight of what looks like garlic or maybe a shallot and digs it up, only to find a snotty hunk of black rot where the papery bulb should be. As she’s swearing and wiping her hands on her jeans, though, Harper spots another, and this one turns out to only be half-rotted.

“Yes yes yes,” Fen whispers, slicing the rot away with Harper’s box cutter.

Harper eyes the rot that’s falling away. “That gonna be good?”

“Not even a risky one,” Fen confirms. “We’ve eaten way worse.”

“What else do you need?”

“Um.” Fen pauses, closes her eyes. “Carrots. Flour. Butter. We have salt, right?”

Harper thinks. “Yeah, Morrow grabbed a bunch of packets last time we got burgers. How much flour? Would cornstarch work instead?”

“Maybe? Oh, and we need chicken.”

They both laugh. “I’ll grab the first one I see,” Harper says.

They walk the rest of the path and they don’t find carrots, just a lot more mint, some marjoram, and a stray cat that puffs up his tail at them. As they head home, Fen slows her pace. “Harp, are you mad at me?”

“Nah. But I should be.”

Fen nods. She trusts Harper because of answers like this one. “How come?”

Harper stops walking, waits for Fen to turn and face them. They take a deep breath and fold their arms across their chest. The sun falls in gold dapples across their freckled shoulders. They regard Fen irritably, the way they always do when they’re figuring out how to say a thing that they think should go without saying. “Because,” they say at last, “you dropped us.”


“You dropped us. You’re the one in charge. You make the decisions, you boss everyone around, you decide what the day’s gonna look like. But you got worried about Daneka, so you stopped. Where do you think Morrow went today?”

Fen shrugs. “Out?”

“They went to the coffee shop,” Harper snaps, jutting their head forward. “To see that barista they keep flirting with. Because you weren’t paying attention enough to notice that Morrow hasn’t clocked how the coffee shop is a cop joint, so you didn’t tell them not to go.”

“You could have told them not to go,” Fen mutters.

Harper narrows their eyes. “I did. But Morrow doesn’t listen to me the way they listen to you. Which you know. But you’ve been in your feelings, so you decided someone else could handle the shit you usually handle, and now we gotta figure out if Morrow got followed home by a uniform.”

 Fen shook her head. “I’m not in charge of—”

“The fuck you’re not. Take responsibility for your vibe, Fen. Either we can count on you or we can’t. Which is it?”

The two of them glare at each other. A cricket starts to sing the late afternoon down into dusk. Fen breaks first, huffing out a sigh as she looks away.

“I’ll think about it,” she says at last.

Harper nods. “I know.”

When they get back to the house, the potatoes are lined up on the counter, in order from one with no sprouts to one with four-inch-long ones. The celery is floating in a bowl of water, looking significantly sturdier than it had just an hour before. Morrow and Quan are hovering over the sink.

“Hey kids,” Harper says, dropping the now-full bag of produce onto the counter. “Whaddaya got there?”

Morrow turns around, grinning and holding up what looks like a wad of white gum. “Butter!”

Fen’s jaw drops. “You’re joking. Where did you get butter?!”

“They made it,” Quan says. He sounds like he doesn’t believe the words he’s saying.

“I learned how when I was a kid,” Morrow explains, dropping their tiny palmful of butter onto a plate on the counter. “It’s easy. You, um.” Their ears are going red from the combined attention of the other three. “You just put some cream in a jar and shake it a thousand times, then pull out the solid stuff and wash it in cold water. Is this gonna be enough?”

Harper picks up an old peanut butter jar that has a couple of inches of cloudy liquid in it. “Ew.”

“That’s buttermilk, save it,” Fen says quickly. “Morrow, where the fuck did you get cream?”

“The guy at the coffee shop down the road. Me and Quan ran over there after I finished sorting the potatoes. Dude only charged us a dollar for a pretty decent pour. I thought, maybe we could invite coffee shop guy over sometime and—”

“We won’t be doing that,” Quan says frankly, “but hey. How do you like that, Fen? Butter?”

Everyone turns to Fen. She’s holding the plate of butter, her eyes welling with tears. “I like it,” she whispers. “Thank you, Morrow.”

“I helped,” Quan mutters.

Fen’s palmset, still sitting where she left it on the counter an hour and a half earlier, chimes.

Everyone freezes. Morrow reaches for the palmset but Harper slaps their hand away.

Quan puts a hand on Fen’s shoulder. “Do you want to look at it?”

Fen shakes her head, then nods, then shakes her head again. “Do you still have the cornstarch in the bathroom? From when you were doing liberty spikes in your hair?”

“Uh, yeah.” Quan blinks a few times. “Do you need it?”

Fen picks up a potato, not looking at Quan at all. “Yeah. Can you grab it?”

“I guess.” He heads down the long hall to the bathroom on the other end of the house, looking over his shoulder at her every few steps.

Once he’s out of sight, she pounces on the palmset. There’s a message from Daneka.

I’ll do my best!

“What does that mean?” Fen whispers to herself.

Harper leans closer. “What’s it say?”

“Nothing.” Fen folds the palmset shut.

“Well. What do you mean, though? What’s nothing? Was it from Daneka?” Morrow wipes their buttery hands on their jeans and reaches one long arm across the counter for the palmset again.

“Yes.” Fen jams the handset into her pocket. Her eyes flick up toward the hall, where Quan is returning with a crumpled bag of cornstarch. “But it wasn’t anything. Who wants to wash all this marjoram?”

For the next hour, Fen steers the four of them through a recipe. Quan and Morrow work together to clean all the vegetables. By the time that’s done, Fen’s got water boiling on the hotplate. She boils all the usable potatoes, then uses the potato water to reconstitute some chicken powder into a cloudy broth. Harper pulls the celery out of its bowl of water to discover that it’s more or less revitalized; they chop that and the fennel stalks while Fen dices the wild onion and garlic they found.

Quan is playing lo-fi beats on his palmset, and Morrow is mumbling lyrics to go with the beats, and they’re all laughing hard enough that they almost don’t hear it when Fen’s palmset chimes again. She tosses the garlic and wild onion into a skillet on the hotplate before pulling it out of her pocket and unfolding it.

Harper looks over her shoulder. “Fuck,” they whisper.

“What’s up?” Quan looks up from the playlist he’s curating. “Fen? You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Fen says. Her voice is perfectly flat. She folds the palmset back into her pocket, then takes up the wooden spoon next to the skillet and gives the onion a stir. “Harper, can you throw the celery in here for me? Quan, Morrow, go pack your stuff and charge your palmsets. Use the rapid charger in the living room.”

Morrow furrows their brow. “Didn’t you say the rapid charger is a fire hazard? Or is it—”

“She’s right. We gotta go. Hurry,” Harper says. “We should pack too,” they add in an urgent whisper after Quan and Morrow have gone.

“In a minute,” Fen replies. “I want to finish this.”


“In a minute,” she says again, her voice steady and certain the way it was before Daneka went missing. The way it’s always been. “Carrots?”

“We didn’t find carrots,” Harper reminds her softly. “You want the fennel, though?”

Fen closes her eyes tight, bows her head. Lets out a teakettle hiss of curses. When she looks back up and meets Harper’s eyes, her gaze is flat. “Will we stay together? Do you want to stay with us, I mean? You don’t have to.”

Harper draws her into a tight hug. “I don’t know. Let’s figure that out in the morning, yeah? Right now, I’m gonna go pack up my stuff and charge my palmset. Want me to get yours too?”

Fen nods. “I want to finish cooking this for Daneka. Just in case.”

Harper taps the recipe box on the counter as they leave the kitchen. “Don’t forget this.”

After Harper disappears into the living room with both their palmsets, Fen lets herself cry. Just for a few seconds. A couple of sobs, a spill of hot tears, that’s all.

Then she adds the chopped fennel stalks to the skillet. When the fennel is bright green, she pours the chicken broth into the pan and lets it boil for a few minutes. It’s already thickening a little thanks to the potato starch in the water, but she adds some of Quan’s cornstarch too, stirring fast until it makes a thick gravy. She adds marjoram and rosemary since she doesn’t have any sage. She smashes the potatoes, stirs in chicken powder and Morrow’s butter, adds a few salt-and-pepper combo packets from Morrow’s stash.

“Okay,” she whispers to herself as she lets the potatoes heat just a little longer, to get any last water out. “Finish it. Move on. Work to do.”

She can hear Quan and Harper trying to figure out how to fit her sweaters into her backpack. They won’t figure it out on their own, she knows, because they don’t know how to roll sweaters up tiny. She’ll go help them in a minute, but first, she scoops mashed potatoes into a paper bowl and uses the back of a spoon to spread them in an even layer. She pours vegetables and thick gravy on top, then covers those with another even layer of mashed potatoes. With the back of the spoon, she smooths the top down, then carves lines into the center of the layer to look like the slits in the top of a piecrust.

Quan comes into the kitchen, his backpack rising up over his shoulders like a turtle’s shell, and eyes the steaming bowl on the counter. “It’s smaller than I thought it’d be,” he says. “Good thing there’s only three of us. Are there clean spoons?”

Fen’s eyes snap up to him. Her face is blazing with barely restrained fury. “Don’t fucking touch it,” she says in a low, dangerous voice. “This is for Daneka.”

He frowns at her. “Chill. Daneka’s not here. Are you telling me we’re not going to eat this just because she got—”

“She’s going to be here,” Fen says. “And she’s going to be hungry when she gets home. We’ll eat on the road. Get moving.”

Quan looks like he’s about to protest, but then Morrow comes into the kitchen and smiles down at the bowl on the counter. “Daneka’s gonna love it,” they murmur. “Good job, Fen.”

“Are you serious?” Quan snaps. “You don’t want to eat it either?”

Morrow looks at him with open bewilderment. “It’s Daneka’s birthday. We’ll figure something else out.”

The four of them are out of the house five minutes later.Harper turns the lights off and locks the back door. Morrow boosts Quan over the back fence to let them out through the gate.

Fen is about to ease the back gate shut, but she hesitates, her eyes locked on the dark house. She tells herself that she’s trying to remember if she left anything behind, even as she mentally runs through the list of items that she already knows she’s carrying on her back.

“Fen?” Quan whisper-yells from the darkness down the path.

The edge of the pressed vinyl creaks in her grip. She rises up on her toes, trying to see inside.

“Hey,” Harper hisses. “We gotta move.”

A light goes on inside the house.

Fen closes the gate. “Coming.”

Fen’s “Chicken” Pot Pie

Crust (2 batches)
6 potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
Chicken bouillon powder
Salt and pepper packets

2 handfuls arugula seed pods, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 fennel stalks, chopped
3 wild onions, diced
2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed w/ ⅓ cup water to form a slurry
4 cups chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram/rosemary


Make the “Crust”

  1. Boil the potatoes. Drain, reserving the potato water.
  2. Smash the cooked potatoes until smooth.
  3. Add butter, chicken bouillon powder, salt, and pepper to taste.

Make the filling

  1. Add chicken powder to the potato water to make broth
  2. In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, sauté the celery, onion, and garlic. Add the fennel and sauté until bright green.
  3. Add the chicken broth to the pan. Add herbs. Simmer 3–5 minutes.
  4. Add cornstarch slurry and whisk thoroughly to thicken.


  1. Line a bowl with a thick layer of mashed potatoes. Add filling, then top with mashed potatoes and sculpt into a crust shape. Optional, if there’s time (there’s not): toast the mashed potatoes on top with a hand torch.

A recipe card, typewritten on an index card, stapled to a torn sheet of notebook paper with a typewritten recipe on it. Both are weathered, torn, stained, and annotated. The card is on top of a stained white kitchen towel, next to a couple of burned and repaired wooden cooking spoons, some onion and lemon scraps, a scattering of rosemary, and a bent fork. Visible recipe text is as follows (all is typewritten unless otherwise indicated; see story text for recipe in full):
Index card: Chicken Pot Pie (handwritten annotation reading “Mom’s”)
Crust (2 batches)
2½ cups flour    
Pinch of salt    
1 cup butter (handwritten annotation indicates these three ingredients should be mixed to form crumbs)
6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon garlic powder – handwritten annotation reading “or 1-2 cloves”
2 chicken breasts roasted and shredded
Salt and pepper – hand-drawn arrow points up to the next column 
Filling continued
1 bag mixed frozen peas and carrots
1 onion, diced; handwritten annotation reading “or 1 can pearl onions”
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon onion powder
(Several typing errors are scribbled out; handwritten annotation reading “1 tsp chopped fresh sage”)
The index card overlaps the recipe page. The recipe visible on the page is as follows:
5.	Bake blind for 15 minutes.  

Make the Filling (handwritten annotation indicates to do this while the crust is cooking.)
1.	In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, sauté the celery and onion. Handwritten note says “unless using pearl on.” Remove.
2.	In the same skillet, heat the butter over medium heat until it stops bubbling. Add the flour and whisk thoroughly until there are no lumps. Stir until golden brown.
3.	Add the chicken broth to the pan. Whisk thoroughly until well-combined. Add the onion powder, garlic powder, and plenty of black pepper. (Handwritten annotation reads “+ sage!”)
4.	Add the cooked vegetables (handwritten annotation reads “^or 1 can pearl onions”) and the frozen vegetables. Stir to combine. Simmer until the sauce thickens into a gravy. Remove from the heat and stir in the shredded chicken.

7.	Pour the filling into the blind-baked crust. Top with the rolled-out unbaked crust. Cut slits in the top to vent steam. Bake until golden and flaky on top, 35–45 minutes.

Below the recipe, a typing error is scribbled out. A handwritten note in different handwriting from the recipe annotations, in red marker, reads: “Happy birthday, D. Meet us @ the Rosemary Patch. Heart, MQFH”

About the Author

Sarah Gailey


Sarah Gailey is a Hugo Award Winning and Bestselling author of speculative fiction, short stories, and essays. They have been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for multiple years running. Their bestselling adult novel debut, Magic For Liars, was published by Tor Books in 2019. Their most recent novel, Just Like Home, and most recent original comic book series with BOOM! Studios, Know Your Station are available now. Their shorter works and essays have been published in Mashable, The Boston Globe, Vice,, and The Atlantic. Their work has been translated into seven different languages and published around the world. You can find links to their work at Photo ©Kate Dollarhyde 2023
Learn More About Sarah
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