Chelsea Gets Going

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

The day dawned cold and wet, again. Chelsea stared out at the greatest city in the country, if not the world, and felt the noose tighten around her neck. “I fucking hate New York.”

Bentley whimpered at her feet. The huge mutt roused himself and leaned against her legs.

She scratched at his ears. “Yeah, it’s time to get going.”

The salty goodness of bacon floated in from down the hall, but it roused no appetite. There was a confrontation coming, and she knew it.

The kitchen sat full today. Andy’s crew of monster hunters had just finished cleaning up after a hunt. They tore into pancakes and bacon in silence, staring at the walls in a familiar fugue.

Andy filled in for them. The man never stopped talking as he delivered fresh food and kept glasses full. His smile invited her to the table, and the crew quickly made a place.

Chelsea shook her head, but took the plate from Andy. She leaned against the door frame, nibbling on her bacon. Bentley settled himself under the table, ready to snap up any crumb that fell.

Andy never paused his talking and serving, but she caught his searching looks. He knew something was up. So she set her plate down and charged forward. “It’s been great ya’ll, but I’m heading out.”

The crew immediately took their feet. She was hugged and several of them traded phone numbers. Eventually, they finished their food, cleaned the kitchen, and left her and Andy alone.

He sipped on his coffee. “Where you off to?”

“Not sure yet, but I need wide open spaces. Might be headed back to South Dakota.”

“And Amber?”

She forced back the tears. “She has my number, and she’s hunting again. I’m more likely to find her on the road than stuck here.”

“Stuck?” A single eyebrow raised at her.

“I hate this city. Always have.”

He chuckled. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.” Rising to his feet, he grabbed a travel mug out of the cupboard. “We never got you that electrified hatchet. I’ll call you when it’s ready. And you got me hooked on this stupid west coffee, so I might as well send you off with some.”

She pressed herself into his back and squeezed as hard as she could. “I love you and I’ll miss you. And I wish you’d come with me, but I know you’d hate living out of my car.”

“At least you get the situation.” He squeezed her hands for a minute. “But you always have a place to crash, and if Amber surfaces, I’m on your side.” He prepared her coffee perfectly, as he had every time he’d made anything for her. He handed her the mug and kissed her forehead. “Now, get out before we both start crying. I have a reputation to maintain as the leader.”

It still took most of an hour to leave. She blamed it on finding the last of her things, but truly, she’d never unpacked after leaving Amber’s.

Still, the sun was high and bright before the city disappeared from her rear-view mirror. She had no direction except west, so when a car accident sent her further south into Pennsylvania to avoid to traffic and the whim to return to Pittsburgh came over her, she gave in without thought.

Dusk had come and gone when she pulled into the parking lot behind Rita’s. The cooks on break gave her a funny look as she got out, and she wondered if Rita’s permission to park there stood. Still, parking was murder in this city, so she left Bentley in her car and headed around to the front door. Rita had specified she was never to use the kitchen entrance.

She bounced on her toes as she pressed the button on the speaker. “Hey, Mike, I need a beer and a job.”

The door buzzed open before she finished talking and Mike swooped her into a bear hug as soon as it shut. “How have you been?”

She managed a laugh. “Fucking stressed out on people.”

“So you came to the bar?”

Chelsea shrugged. “This is people I know, not random weirdos in New York.”

He laughed and waved her towards the bar. “Morgan is out of town on a job, but I bet Nana can help you out.”

A wave of melancholy came with Morgan’s name. She hadn’t thought about her former partner until now, but it would have been nice. “Thanks for the head’s up.”

This early in the evening, the bar was quiet, but the few people there had a distinct studiousness to them. Given the relative lack of drinking, they were likely planning ahead for tonight or even the day after.

Mike’s grandmother stood at the giant U of the bar, lazer green eyes taking in her domain. She cracked a smile as Chelsea sat down. “What can I do fer ya, girlie?”

Chelsea shrugged. “Just looking for gas money.”

Rita studied her for a moment, smile fading. “Gas money to where?”

“Away.” She resolutely shoved all thoughts of Amber and the last few weeks to the back of her mind. “Maybe South Dakota.”

Rita stared at the ceiling as she nodded. “You ever been to the deep desert?”

Northern Nevada.”

A head shake sent Rita’s long silver braid over her shoulder and she focused her eyes onto Chelsea. “Nah, girlie, the deep desert. Route 66 and Las Vegas, Death Valley and all that, n’at.”

“No.” A spark of interest lit in her chest. “My dad was very into Route 66 and the reasons behind it. He always wanted to drive it.”

“Well, you can’t, not anymore, not really.” Rita handed Chelsea a red and black labeled bottle of local beer. “Most of it is gone. They got new roads and new attractions. Now, there’s a few places where the old road still exists and fewer spots connected to it hanging on. And those spots need help, and hunters.”

“Really?”

“Yup. While the old road is mostly gone, the basic route is still there; Chicago to Santa Monica. And thousands drive it and somma them visit those spots as they have for several generations. Mostly they are out of the way now, hard to find, and not well populated or patrolled.”

For the first time in days, Chelsea smiled. “And monsters follow their food source. Especially to out of the way places.”

Rita’s return grin felt feral in the dim light of the bar. “’Xactly. And them folks out there always need a hand. And they let dogs inside.”

Chelsea chuckled and took a sip of beer. “So where should I head to first?”

“Tell ya what.” Rita nodded to a table with no beers, but several plates of fries and wings as well as two familiar faces. “Ya help George and Bart with their fairy problem and I’ll make a few calls, get some names and leads for ya.”

Chelsea shot the old lady a look as her suspicion took over. “Why are you helping me again? I think I owe you a favor, if we’re being honest.”

“I ain’t helpin’ you.” Rita chuckled. “I’m helpin’ m’friends, Bart and George here, and them folks along the Route I know. Like I said, they always need an extra hand or two.”

“Yeah, okay.” She didn’t buy it, but it seemed the old lady wouldn’t expect anything else in exchange for her help.

Chelsea grabbed her beer and stood. “Thanks for the leads.” She wandered over the table and plopped down by Bart.

He tucked a hunk of greasy grey hair behind an ear. “Tell me yer here to help.”

“So fairies?” She sipped at her beer as Bart and George gave a high five over the table, and started asking about where’d she’d been. It was good to be back in Pittsburgh.
***

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