Just a quick little announcement here. These next few stories are a little more… connected than normal for this series of shorts. So… for the summer… two stories a month.
See you on July 30!
The warm sun filtered through the windows of her dorm room as Chelsea contemplated the canvas in front of her. It seemed to her that something had been drawn there already. Somebody had erased it imperfectly though. She tried to trace the outline, but it was incomplete, and she couldn’t see how the pieces came together.
Her phone rang. When she answered it the other end held only static. She thought she heard her name, but the sound was too screechy and fuzzy to be sure. Shrugging, she put the phone down. She had a picture to finish.
The nearly blank canvas glowed in the bright, golden, November sun. Chelsea raised her pencil but didn’t press it down. She still saw the other picture, the one that had mostly been erased.
She followed the lines with her pencil, trying to recapture the image. It still felt like a random collection of lines and shapes to her though. She stepped back, trying to see how it all fit together. There was a picture there. She knew it…
Her phone rang again. Fear shuddered down her spine. She checked the name on the caller ID, and wondered why “Mom” would choke her up.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Hey, mama!”
“Hey, baby-girl. How have you been?”
Chelsea found herself staring at the canvas again. “Confused, mama. I don’t know what to do.”
“Wish I could help you out.”
“Me too.” Chelsea wiped at the inexplicable tears on her cheeks. “Maybe I should come see you and dad.”
“If you want, baby-girl. We miss you something fierce. I thought you were happy though, where you were.”
“I—” Chelsea traced one of the lines on the canvas… it felt familiar. “I thought so too, but lately… I don’t know anymore.”
Mama gave her rolling laugh. “You’re barely old enough to drink. Give yourself some time, and some slack. Now, do you have a young man?”
“Or a young lady. I’m not making assumptions.”
Chelsea laughed. “There is someone.” She found her eyes on the canvas again. She didn’t remember his name at the moment, but there was someone… right? “He’s nice. Sister Mary Clarence likes him.”
“Oh?” Mama’s voice turned warm. “If Mary Clarence approves, then I’m satisfied. She introduced your father and I. She’s Cupid in comfortable shoes and a cardigan.”
A shiver ran down Chelsea’s spine. Mama had said that about the nun before… when?
The night before she died.
The memory burned across Chelsea’s mind. Her parents were dead.
“Baby-girl, are you still there?”
Chelsea stared at her phone. Suddenly heavy fingers slowly hung up on her mother’s voice. She turned back to the canvas. As she stared at it, the light from her window changed. The golden honey of fall brightened to the harsh, bright white of winter. A cold wind seeped past the glass.
Chelsea shivered as she picked up her pencil. She knew what was on the canvas now. All too quickly the picture took shape. A hand holding an ax. Blood dripped from the blade and pooled along the bottom of the picture.
Her breath came faster and a blinding headache forced her eyes closed. In the darkness, she heard voices.
One was an unfamiliar woman. “It was touch and go for a while there, but she’s stabilized now.”
This voice that answered was known, male, and utterly exhausted. “What do I owe you?”
“I’ll need a favor, someday.”
The voices faded and she drifted in blackness with pounding temples. Then the known voice was back. “Fucking hedge doctors.”
“They never ask for anything crazy.” Another exhausted voice, this one deep, raspy, and female. “You should get some sleep.”
“Maybe after she wakes up.”
The new woman sighed. “Jackson, you’re about to fall over.”
From the black came a long silence before the man said, “She could have died.”
“And if she hadn’t come after us, I’d be dead, and you’d be worse than dead.”
There was pressure on her head and warmth. It took a moment for Chelsea to realize that someone stroked her hair. “She doesn’t want to fight monsters.”
“Bullshit,” the woman scoffed. “She’s coming around on that, and you damn well know it.”
“She’s got another life, Amber. She can go back to school and forget all this.”
“Dammit, Jack!” The rasp turned rough as the woman shouted. “You’re a fucking coward. Tell her that you’re in love. Ask her to leave with you. Stop this wishy-washy bullshit you two have been doing.”
“If you wake her up…” The man’s voice came out low and angry.
“Calm your tits.” The woman continued in a much quieter voice, but Chelsea faded into the black and missed the rest of it.
She woke to darkness, but a familiar one. Though recognition was a few steps behind familiarity. Finally, the room that she shared with Jackson snapped into her consciousness. She pulled herself off the low mattress and wobbled to her feet. Jelly-like legs stumbled to the bathroom.
There Chelsea started her bath water before pulling off her clothes. Stiff arms struggled with a simple t-shirt and sweatpants. Chelsea fought not to puke at the sight of her body. The pale, freckled skin sat awash in blue, purple, green, and yellow.
She shuddered into the hot bath. It took a few moments to really relax. But the water did its job, and her sore muscles unclenched. As the pain in her body eased, the throbbing in her head grew worse.
Not worse, just more noticeable.
Chelsea closed her eyes, leaned back, and tried to remember the fight. The nightling had been too strong and too fast. The vampire’s overconfidence was the only reason they weren’t dead. It hadn’t thought to tie up Chelsea, or that Jackson would fight back despite his restraints.
But the actual fight was a blur of fear, pain, and determination. The fuzzy unreal memories brought Chelsea’s heart to a frantic beat. But not a scared one. There had been something… invigorating about that fight.
I want to do it again.
The realization brought a smile to her face. She and Jackson could keep this apartment, and maybe she‘d do college part-time… Her trust fund would cover most of the expenses.
When the water turned cool, she climbed out, still stiff and awkward, but not as sore as when she woke. She threw on clean sweats before descending into the open space below. The converted warehouse stood bright and silent. On the reclaimed doors that made up the counter sat a note.
‘Hello there, my little nun. Don’t worry about rent. I paid off Boney until September. The place is yours.
But we’re done here. We killed the nightlings. You have school to finish and a life to go back to. Take care of yourself. And stay away from monsters.
The paper in her hands trembled. Chelsea read it again. After the fourth reread, she slammed the note on to the counter and pulled out her phone. Jackson’s number had been disconnected. She tried Amber next. That number was also no longer in service.
Tears flowing once more, Chelsea crumpled the note and chucked it into the garbage can. She scrubbed at her cheeks.
No more crying. Crying doesn’t help. My parents and Dink are dead. Jackson’s gone. Amber left me, too.
Fury burned in her veins. But she didn’t have time for that, either. She had a life to get back to.
Keep the adventure going!
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