It’s a Road Trip, Chelsea Childling

This is a series of short stories, detailing the adventures of Chelsea Childling. You can start with her origin story or pick any story from the index.

***

“Can you dance, Bentley? Can you dance?”

Chelsea opened her eyes to Rick’s questions, wishing she didn’t have to. Sandpaper eyelids scraped against delicate tissue. But her bladder was too full to be ignored.

When she exited the icy bathroom, the tiny cabin came into focus. Rick sat in the lone chair, eyes bright with tears as he talked to her dog, trying to get him to play. The big mutt sat with his head cocked, pale blue eyes staring back.

“He’s pretty chill, and he knows this shack is barely big enough for you.” Empty stomach churning, she plopped onto the bed. “He’s not going to get rambunctious until you open that door. Then he’ll do laps around the place.”

Rick scratched at the upright brown ear. He had to swallow twice before he could talk. Voice thick when he finally spoke, he never looked away from Bentley. “He’s a really great dog. Very smart.”

She rubbed at her hair, finding it matted and greasy. She needed food and a shower, but she wasn’t sure in what order.

Speaking of my hangover…

“Sorry for barging in on you last night.” She smiled. “And thanks for letting me.”

Rick forced out a chuckle, still studying Bentley. “Any time.”

She paused then, uncertain. Rick was a teddy bear for sure. With an emphasis on the bear. Well over six-feet-tall, and heavily built, with a square jaw and blond hair, he seemed a hero of legend. A romantic assumption backed up by a kind spirit, an inability to lie, and massive amounts of ass kicking.

Today, the legend had deflated. He stared blankly at her dog, nearly in tears, arms crossed over his chest.

“Are you okay?” She hadn’t meant to ask, but the question slipped out.

He shook himself. “Yeah. Just. Stuff. You know.”

“Oh, believe me, I know about “just stuff.” I’m comprised of about ninety percent “just stuff”.” She waved a hand and rolled her eyes. “So, if you don’t want to get into it, I more than understand.” Chelsea pushed away thoughts of Keegan’s rare smile. He’d had one last night as she’d poured him into the car behind the driver. She didn’t expect to see it or him soon. “Any word on a monster?”

“I haven’t been to the bar yet.”

She scrubbed at her nasty hair again. “Okay, I’m gonna hit up my hotel room, get a shower, and I’ll be back. Find us a hunt.”

His eyes went wide. “Us?”

She shrugged. “You got something better to do? Because I really don’t.”

He swallowed. “Actually, I’m heading out of state.”

A worm of disappointed wriggled through her. “Oh.”

“That “stuff.” It’s… I have to go take care of it.” A real smile warmed his face. “I wish I had more time to hunt with you though, and thanks for the invite.”

She nodded as a sudden, intense sense of claustrophobia came over her. “Where are you headed and do you need a ride?”

He blinked a few times, clearly shocked and unsure what to say.

Chelsea sucked in a deep breath. “It’s snowing, monsters seem to be hibernating, and being stuck in my hotel room or the bar… Any place that reminds me of Keegan… none of that is appealing. But a road trip? That sounds awesome. Repaying you for dealing with my drunk ass by getting you to the next haunt feels good too.”

Rick scratched at his head. “It’s sixteen hours to Detroit, but if you could get me as far as Sioux Falls, I can—”

“Sixteen hours? No problem.” She climbed to her feet and stretched her arms over her head. “Give me two hours. I have to shower, pack, and eat.” Chelsea didn’t wait for him to protest. She pulled on her boots and leather duster, opened the door, and headed into the cold with Bentley, who ran laps around her.

Ice slicked the path to the bar in the gray light of day, but she made it to the car without falling into the knee-high snow.

Her hotel room had never seemed so empty. Most of Keegan’s clothes lay scattered across the furniture. Chelsea swallowed tears, wondering if he had really planned on leaving last night.

I knew he hated the cold. I could have gone with him.

The ache in her chest grew, but she didn’t regret staying. So, she left his clothes where they lay, even the warm, bison-patterned sweater she had bought him last week.

Instead, she showered, packed her stuff, hit the vending machine for donuts, and paid her bill. She was sure someone in the small hotel could use those clothes. Or whatever happened to items left at hotels. It wasn’t her problem anymore.

As she headed back to the Blind Bronco and the promise of a road trip, the sky cleared. Bright blue as far as she could see. She fiddled with the radio until she found the oldies station. Bentley whined in anticipation. He crooned and howled with her to as the sweet sounds of Motown came through her speakers.

They arrived at the Bronco, still singing. Rick smiled as they pulled up, a bag at his feet.

Chelsea pushed on Bentley. “Back seat time, buddy.” Once he had vacated, she rolled down the passenger window and popped the trunk. “You looking for a good time?”

Rick leaned over to poke his head in. “Isn’t that my line?”

“Get in loser, we’re going on a road trip.”

Chuckling, he tossed his bag into the trunk. Once he had buckled his seat belt, Chelsea pointed the car east.

The flat land and big sky followed all the first day, but even as Chelsea paid for the hotel she knew it wouldn’t last.

By the next evening, they traveled up the curving, broad hills that meant the upper Mississippi. Sometime after the sun went down, they stopped in a dirty, dying, rusty suburb outside of Detroit.

Rick glanced at the haunt, a squat and bland box of concrete covered in gray snow, dirty ice, and Christmas lights. “Thanks for the ride.”

She shrugged. “I needed a distraction. Want a beer?”

He looked at the backseat. “What about Bentley?”

“He has blankets. He’ll be fine in the car for a little bit.”

A smile warmed his face. “Then I, at the very least, owe you a beer.”

“Sweet.” The rank, layered smell of a city hit her nose as soon as she opened her door, and she missed the Black Hills.

I’ll be back soon.

She wandered to the bar, ready to see the sights, and maybe find a job before heading back. The smile she found on her face felt natural and right as she adjusted her Stetson.

***

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