Boney’s haunt felt the same as ever when Chelsea wandered in. Heavy with smoke, rank with dirty hunters, with a whiff of stale beer and spilled booze to round the whole thing out.
For a moment familiarity was sweet. But then memories of Amber and Jackson intruded. Fighting a snarl, she stalked to the bar, keys in hand. “Hey, Boney.”
The tall, skinny man turned to her, surprise on his face. She slapped the keys on the bar. “I’m taking off. I wanted to return your keys. What do I know owe? Rent, bills, whatever.”
Boney shook his head, his surprisingly high and soft voice nearly lost in the bar. “I don’t understand.”
There was no making her reply anything but harsh, so she didn’t bother to try. “I’m leaving. What do I owe you for the apartment?”
He shrugged skeletal shoulders. “Nothing. You and Amber saved my brother. I was letting you stay there for free.”
Her throat closed for a minute and tears threatened. Chelsea fought past it, slamming her hand on the bar. “Cool. Here’s the keys.” The metal dug into her palms before she buried her hand in her pocket.
Boney stared at the bar for a moment, before taking the keys. Then he grabbed her shoulders. “Take care of yourself. And don’t ever forget that Tiggy’s life will always be worth free room and board.”
She nodded, unable to say more. There were no good memories here. Not even saving Tiggy. Alex had died that night because Tiggy had acted stupid.
Her car waited for her in the gravel lot. A few clothes lay scattered in the trunk, and the few art supplies she couldn’t bear to part with covered the backseat. She had no plans, no idea where to go. For a moment, she considered asking Boney where the nearest haunt was, but she really didn’t give a damn. Monsters were monsters, and they were everywhere. Monsters hunters were assholes, and less she had to do with them the better.
She wiped a tear at the thought of her friend, dead all these months while she figured out her life. The very reason she had started hunting monsters in the first place, and she hardly ever thought of him anymore.
She wandered back to that night, icy and sharp. She stopped the memory short. She didn’t want to see Dink taken. She just wanted to remember his humor and his smile. His kindness.
She hadn’t even known his real name until he died.
I swear Dink, never again. I won’t forget you.
No, going further North did not sound good.
South had a visceral appeal. A certain sense of homecoming she couldn’t deny. But the South had taken her parents, leaving her an orphan.
East? There wasn’t much more “east” to go. The coast sat a mere day trip away.
But West had no baggage. With no more thought than that, she turned west, leaving Boney’s haunt behind her.
She almost smiled as she drove along. A year ago, she’d been contemplating a tour of Europe, yet she’d never been past the Mississippi River.
The city gave way to country all of a sudden. One minute there were warehouses, streetlights, and sidewalks, and then they vanished.
The only signs of civilization were the blue ones on the side of the highway. They told of food and shelter, but Chelsea wanted neither.
When she grew tired, she found a parking lot to nap in. When hunger finally reared its head, a dive bar or restaurant popped up.
The monsters stayed away though. She didn’t look for haunts, or nightlings, or anything else. She knew a monster would pop up eventually.
Then in a small, dirty city in Indiana, on the cusp of a Great Lake, she cut the head off something green and slimy that trawled the docks. In the rolling hills of Iowa, she scared a hell hound away from a herd of cows.
When hunting a random wight in St. Louis she met a hunter who got her hooked up with the website that paid hunters for killing demons. She kept to smaller jobs, the ones she could do alone, scraping up enough to feed herself and shower at truck stops.
The days blurred together as she meandered, following the sun. Eventually, she found herself in South Dakota. She had pulled over to snap some pictures. The buttes and black hills made such dramatic landscapes. She understood the Americana movement so much better now.
And leather and fringe does have a certain appeal.
The wind hadn’t stopped in two days. She watched the grasses rippling with the wind. Light and dark chased each other as the clouds raced overhead.
Buffeted by the wind, Chelsea inched backward. For the first time in weeks, she wished she had someone to talk to.
Like who? Who could I trust?
At first, the rustling grass hid in the constant wind, but her senses, more attuned these days, eventually caught the difference. Something was moving towards her, hidden by the grass.
She spun around, pulling her ax off her belt. What crawled out of the ever moving prairie was no monster. Dirty, and ribs visible under the matted fur, the dog’s bright blue eyes peered out of a dark face as he crouched, afraid of her, yet plainly wanting to come over.
Chelsea’s breath caught at the contrast. Before she quite knew it, she sat on her heels, one hand held out. “Come here, buddy. Let’s get a look at you.”
The dog crept forward, belly never leaving the ground, but tail thumping furiously. Chelsea cooed and whistled, her hand out and steady, reaching for a pet.
Eventually, the dog inched its way to her feet. A cold nose delicately traveled over her hand.
“Hey there.” Chelsea found her fingers buried in heavy fur. The dog gave a shudder, whined, and sat up. A paw rested on her shoulder, as bright blue eyes stared into hers.
Her breath came in gasps. The dog whined again, then nuzzled at her hand. Chelsea wrapped her arms around a filthy neck, tears flowing. The dog leaned into her, head resting on her shoulder.
When the tears stopped, Chelsea leaned back and scratched at the dog’s ears. “Okay, let’s get you cleaned up and find some food. I hope you can handle monsters.”
She headed back to her car, the dog on her heels.
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