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 September 3!
The crowded coffee shop shook as even more students crowded in. Chelsea fought the urge to push and shove a few out of her way. Her breath whistled in her ears as her panic rose.
Alex leaned over, his long hair falling over one shoulder like a waterfall of chocolate. “Chelsea—”
“I’m fine.” The snap her voice made her wince. She sucked in a deep breath and found a smile for her boyfriend. He had no clue why her anxiety had skyrocketed, and she lacked a way to tell him. “There’s just a lot of people here, and it’s hot.”
A smile that didn’t meet his eyes accompanied his nod, but he said nothing. He settled an arm across her stiff shoulders and sat back. His ex, Tiggy, was about to get on stage.
The lights dimmed, and Alex quivered beside her. He maintained the best relationship with all his exes. She’d been dragged to Marilyn’s exhibit, Steve’s house for Sunday dinner, and numerous BBQs and house parties this summer. This was the third show of Tiggy’s they’d attended. And like Tiggy, all of Alex’s exes had become a friend.
The chubby man with the afro appeared on the dark stage as if by magic. He conjured a mic out of thin air, and an incessant drum started. Words dripped from Tiggy’s full lips, but Chelsea barely heard them.
She was fighting not to check her phone. She’d promised Alex this night out.
And Amber still hasn’t texted me.
Ice settled in Chelsea’s stomach. She knew the monster hunter was still in town and would be for at least a week. If she survived the reaver hunt tonight. Which was the exact reason Chelsea couldn’t relax and enjoy Tiggy’s show. She’d texted Amber, asked to help with the hunt and still hadn’t received an answer back.
Onstage, the tempo increased, and so did Tiggy. He’d only get faster as the show wore on. Chelsea tried to relax, to get into the groove, and let Tiggy’s rhymes overtake her anxiety. She leaned into Alex. He adjusted his grip on her shoulders and pulled her closer.
He’s a good man.
The thought limped across her brain, riddled with guilt. She liked Alex. They had fun together. They fit into each other’s life with no friction.
But Chelsea knew a guilty thought when she had one. Despite her resolve, Chelsea had called Amber about monster hunting and was actively planning to head out into a danger. This wasn’t revenge for Dink’s death, this was a choosing danger over rational thought.
And I’m upset, upset, that Amber hasn’t called me back.
She leaned into Alex, craving comfort. His casual arm across her back didn’t provide it. Eyes locked on Tiggy’s intense form, she focused on the music. Slowly, the heavy drums and deep base rendered her anxiety to a dull headache. She lost herself in the various beats and the way Tiggy’s rough voice bound it all together.
When the show ended, it caught her off guard. Everybody jumped to their feet, cheering and clapping. She took the opportunity to slink away from Alex. Another summer storm glimmered overhead as she left the coffeehouse.
The lightning brought a welcoming cool breeze. She wandered towards the back of the building where a picnic table bearing years of scratched graffiti sat under a rusted overhang. Someone had placed a can of sand in the middle of the table for cigarette butts. Someone else, presumably, had left an unsmoked cigarette beside the ashtray.
Chelsea picked up the slim, white cylinder. Her mother had been a stress smoker. The scent of the tobacco brought unshed tears to Chelsea’s eyes. It had been nearly a year since her parents died…
A rich, rough voice rang out behind her. “Didn’t know you smoked.”
Chelsea tried to bury her irritation behind a smile as she turned to Tiggy. “I don’t.”
He ran an eye over her. “Funny. You look like you could use a smoke.”
She shrugged. Tiggy tossed her a lighter.
Chelsea shook her head, then put the cigarette between her lips and lit it. She pulled in the smoke, but lightly; merely tasting it before blowing it out. A pleasant buzz started in her head. “Ah. I get it now.”
Tiggy laughed before pulling out a pack of cigarettes and settling beside her at the table. “Can I have my lighter back?”
She took another drag and handed over the lighter.
Lighting his cigarette seemed nearly a religious experience to Tiggy. He breathed deep, eyes closed, and practically melted against the table. He took three more deep hits before his eye opened to slits. “What’s eating you?”
She raised her cigarette to her lips as her mind burst into high gear. Someone with a history of mental illness could not tell people that monsters were real.
Before she could find a decent way to lie, Tiggy shook his head. “I heard there were reavers in town, but Boney told me you were out of the game.”
Ice ran through Chelsea’s body. The shakes that followed couldn’t warm her. She managed to get her cigarette into her mouth. She sucked in a deep drag. The bright red cherry burned up a third of the tobacco.
A smile spread across Tiggy’s face. “I don’t hunt, but I know hunters. He was with you at Dink’s funeral last year. Jackson Hawk.”
Shock had her suck in air. The mixture of air and smoke caught in her throat, and Chelsea choked out a series of coughs that burned her throat. When she could breathe normally, she sputtered out, “You know Jackson?”
“Met him a few times.” Tiggy shrugged. “Boney’s my brother.”
She couldn’t take a deep enough breath. “Does Alex—”
A deep chuckle rolled out of Tiggy. “Alex hunting? You must be stressed.”
She tried to picture Alex wielding a demon hunters hatchet, and a laugh bubbled out of her. Alex was many things, but he wasn’t a hunter.
“So what’s your deal?”
Chelsea swallowed. “I… I don’t know. I don’t want to be a hunter. But…”
Tiggy nodded and took another drag. “Nobody wants to hunt monsters. You fall into the life. And you don’t get out.”
“You don’t hunt.”
A smile played across his round face. “But I still help out. I cover the bar for Boney. I know how to get a hold of hedge doctors. Monsters are real, and the people who do hunt them… a special breed of rare hero.”
A shiver ran down Chelsea’s back. “Really?” She had trouble considering Jackson “A note is a great way to say goodbye” Hawk a hero.
Tiggy shrugged. “You’ll live poor. Only work you get is bounties on monsters, and that’s not much. You’ll sleep in abandoned buildings, eat garbage food, and drink way too much. And every night, you’ll fight actual monsters. Literally every night might be your last.”
A flash of a memory. More physical than mental. The fog that had fallen over her vision from her concussion, and the desire to keep fighting through it. The need to kill the vampire.
I nearly died that night.
But I didn’t.
He smashed his butt into the sand, stood, and stretched his hands to the sky. “Word of advice: Break up with Alex first.”
Chelsea blinked a few times as she tried to fit Alex into the discussion they’d been having.
Tiggy leveled a round finger at her. “Hunters are hell to date. Trust me, I’ve tried. Take pity on him and let him go before he gets hurt.” With that bomb dropped, Tiggy headed back into the shop.
Chelsea swallowed a thick throat, and lifted her cigarette to lips one last time. Before she could even consider Tiggy’s speech, her phone buzzed. Chelsea opened the message from Amber.
‘Meet us in 45 mins at Boneys.’
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