A friend gave us a prompt, and this was my response:
Missy Chambers kicked at the red and orange leaves as she waited for the bus back to her dorm. Soon enough they’d be raked and burned, but right now they smelled of autumn, and crunched under her sneakers. She loved Hyde Park in the fall.
I can’t believe this is my last fall in Pittsburgh. I really need to get that paper done for Dr. Boesgar if I want to graduate in June though.
A little whine caught her attention. Off to her right stood a dog. She couldn’t tell if it was a shepard or husky. It seemed to be a bit of both. A black mask circled it’s gold eyes, and it’s sharply pointed ears were pricked up towards her. It seemed to be smiling at her, too.
She held out a hand, and the dog bounded over to sniff her, tail wagging furiously. It butted it’s head against her arm, so Missy took the chance and rubbed at it’s soft neck. There was no collar under the shaggy cream and black fur.
“Hey there boy, you have a name?”
Missy startled at the man’s voice and blood rushed to her face. Not only was she alone in the park, talking to a stranger, but the tall man was seriously good looking in a comic book superhero kind of way. Square jaw, spiky blond hair, and beautiful gray eyes.
And he has at least a decade on me.
The tall man just smiled at her as he pushed a leather collar over the dog’s head. “Little brat slipped his collar. I’ve been looking for him for awhile.”
Missy would have sworn the dog rolled his eyes at this statement. “Well, I just found him.”
The man nodded. “How long have you been sitting here?”
She paused, nervous fear and her mother’s warnings running through her.
Don’t talk to strangers, especially men you don’t know. Don’t tell them were you live or what your schedule is.
“A little bit. My bus is on it’s way.”
The man smiled at her again. “Sorry, where are my manners? My name is Rick.” He held out a hand.
Missy hesitated. Rick was big. Not just tall, but heavy with muscle.
A flicker of movement caught her eye. Matty nodded to her.
Don’t be silly. Dogs can’t nod.
Still she took Rick’s hand against her mother’s better judgment. “Missy.”
He smiled down at her and Missy’s heart beat a little faster. Who cared that he was older than her? Smiles like that were timeless.
“Well, Missy, thanks for stopping my terrible dog.” He half turned to walk away, then casually spun back to her. “Do you want me to wait with you, until your bus gets here?”
She was tempted, but the mother in her brain was having a complete meltdown. “Nah, it’ll just be a few more minutes. Thanks though.”
“Not a problem.” He smiled at her again. “This might be out of line, but if you want a ride home, Matty and I will be walking the trail over there.”
“Thanks for the offer.” Missy almost wished she’d said yes, but this time she agreed with mom. Getting into a strange man’s car was just asking for trouble.
The sun sank lower as her bus ran late. Eventually, Missy stood and stretched, wondering if she should call the Port Authority and double check that her bus ran this late on the weekends.
Maybe I should take Rick up on that ride. I can have him drop me off at The O and catch a bus from there.
A cold shiver ran down her back, though she couldn’t say why. The brisk wind off the river hadn’t gotten any colder.
“Hello, there, pretty.” This man’s voice definitely wasn’t Rick’s. He stood in the shadows, where his pale skin practically glowed.
Missy backed away, putting her hand in her pocket. The kitty keyring looked cute, but the ears were sharp and made a formidable weapon.
Before she could pull her hand out of her pocket, the man was in front of her. His hand lashed out and pain ran up her arm.
Another fist slammed into her head, and she collapsed into the leaves. The man’s pale, handsome face loomed over her. “So young, and so sweet.”
He lifted her up, and there was a pain in her neck, but it was fuzzy and happening somewhere else.
As the world dimmed a long, low growl rumbled over her. Missy’s vision was once again filled with leaves. The growl became louder and louder, and she saw paws stepping over her.
“Better run, nightling.”
As darkness fell over Missy, she thought she saw the nice man from before… what was his name? Nick?
Elizabeth Chambers walked through Hyde Park, the orange and brown leaves blowing across her boots. She’d finally gotten custody of her daughter’s body, but she had to see the place where she died one last time.
The compulsion to come to this sad place washed over her two and three times a day the week she’d been in Pittsburgh. Thankfully, she was leaving in a few hours, and never wanted to set foot in this city again. This would be her last chance.
As she approached the bench, two men sat there, red roses in hand. One was large and blonde, the other short and dark.
The short man stood, placed his rose on the bench, and sighed. “C’mon, man, you did your best.”
The blond man shook his head. “My best wasn’t enough.”
She waited impatiently for them to leave, but the big man lowered his head. “She seemed like a nice kid. She certainly didn’t deserve that death.”
Could it be?
The paramedics had described a large, blond man who had fought off Missy’s attacker and sat with her until they came.
Elizabeth pulled in a sharp breath. “Excuse me, did you know the girl who died here last week? She was my daughter.”
The short dark man shook his head, but the large one shrank against the bench, horror etched into every line on his face. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t know her. I offered her a ride home because her bus was late, but… I didn’t know her. She seemed…”
Elizabeth nodded. “You stayed with her until the paramedics came?”
“Thank you.” Her voice shook, and the tears came as they had all week. Loud and unstoppable. “Thank you for sitting with my little girl. I’m so glad she wasn’t alone.”
The big man finally stood. As he put his arms around her, Elizabeth let herself sink into him and sob. He held her and rubbed at her back, murmuring apologies.
Eventually, Elizabeth got herself under control. “Thank you again, so much.”
The man shook his head. “I only wish I could have done more to help her.”
Elizabeth felt a smile grace her face. The first since she’d gotten the phone call. “Young man, you did more than anybody else. Be proud of that.”
He lowered his head and took a deep breath. When he looked up again, tears shined on his face. He handed her the red rose in his hand. “Give this to Missy for me.”
“I will. Thank you.”
They stood there for a few uncomfortable moments, before he flashed her an awkward smile. “Goodbye.”
He waved to his friend. “C’mon Matty.” They walked over to a green SUV.
Elizabeth sat on the park bench, rose in hand, and called to mind her daughter’s first steps.
If you want to read more about Rick and Matty, check the Uncommon Animals: Omnibus Edition, or start Monsters of Pittsburgh. The second story, Sheepsquatch, comes out on October 8, and is available for pre-order.