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Chapter 3

After leaving the heroe’s underground hideout, I found myself lost in a labyrinth of tunnels. I knew I was somewhere in the sewers. The walkway was brick until I took a sudden step through mush and murky water. There had to be a way to avoid walking in sewage. I couldn’t imagine Scarlett or Hatch tracking through filth every time they wanted to regroup. Unfortunately, a lack of light made it near impossible to find a better way out. I couldn’t say for sure where I stood underground. The heroes didn’t need to be secretive about their hideout when it was impossible to find again. Worse was my inability to navigate to an exit at all. My only option was to keep walking until I saw the light, and that took hours. After trudging through sewer water, I prayed that my shoes weren’t ruined when I finally stepped out into daylight.

At that point, I looked just as bad as I felt on the inside. I lost to a super villain, got someone killed, and my heroes turned me away. As far as bad days went, I was having one of the worst. All I could do was go home and hope that the next day would treat me better.

The world of Mock City had ten territories called “Sections.” Despite being unified in most aspects, each Section was unique in its own way. Section 1 had the most natural land with enough trees and wildlife to warrant a person referring to it as a jungle. Section 8 had an arctic climate. Section 3 was almost entirely underground. I lived in Section 5, one of the more tame territories of Mock City. It was near the center of everything. That included traffic, sound pollution, and crime. Still, it was better than Section 2, which was infamous for housing most of the city’s monsters.

No matter how lousy Section 5 was, I had my reasons for living there. When Mock City first took me from my home world, the portal I came through was in Section 5. Call me crazy, but I always imagined one day the portal might open again. That’s why I stayed in building 7; it was the closest I could get to home.

When I made it back to my rundown studio apartment, I almost collapsed after walking through the front door. “Home sweet home,” I said to myself sarcastically. Cracked windows, loose floorboards, and old paint, that was my apartment in a nutshell. Throw in the furniture I salvaged from around town, and it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t anything special. It was mine.

I was happy to take a breath after the day I had. Each step I took on my way over to my bed felt more cumbersome than the last. By the time I got there, I heard a familiar sound approaching from outside my apartment walls. Those heavy steps that made everything tremble only came from one person, Duke, my landlord.

He swung my front door open hard enough to put a hole through the wall, and I froze in place at the shockwave he sent through me and the room. Duke was from a planet of highly developed elephant people. On top of being too big to take an elevator, he never forgot anything, including rent payments, bad jokes, or where he left his wallet.

“You’re late,” he shouted as if I weren’t a few feet away.

Just what I needed, nagging, and bill collection.

“I just made it home,” I complained.

“This is becoming a pattern,” he continued on his way further into the room.

His feet were so heavy they threatened to go through the floor. I had to wonder how he managed to go further than the first floor without more accidents.

“I’ll have your money by tomorrow,” I said, but he continued to approach.

He towered over me, snarling as if he were preparing to kick me out. Still, I was too exhausted to be afraid or responsive like usual.

“This is the third month you’ve been late,” he argued.

“The third month out of 20 years of living here,” I replied.

He held his hands out, threatening to strangle me with them. Without fingers, the motion was more awkward than threatening. Mock City was a community of people taken from their home worlds, but things were civilized enough. There were commonalities and understandings most people had. We had police, but there were never specific laws that a person could cite. Everyone agreed stealing, killing, and causing trouble was wrong, but without laws, there was plenty of wiggle room for those same people to get away with being assholes. A prime example was my landlord and his murderous attitude. He never laid a finger on me or anyone else, but he always walked a thin line of going too far.

“I should toss you and your garbage out on the street,” he said.

I never noticed it before, but Duke was a ridiculous sight. Usually, his stature and ownership of my apartment kept me from acknowledging his appearance. Dressed like a tax man, he was worse than a pig wearing makeup. His oversized tie and button-down shirt flailed around wrinkled and uncouth with the elephant’s every motion.

“It’s two days. You know I get paid every Friday. I’ll have your money by then,” I answered before turning my back to take off my headband and gloves.

I could feel his eyes searing through the back of my head. It wasn’t every day someone had the audacity to turn their back to Duke. I was so tired I couldn’t play his game. It might have been a moment of relevance. It might have been a moment of pride. I refused to take his shit, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t trying to stand up for myself; I was exhausted.

“You’ll have my money and the late fee by then,” the elephant added while he followed me around the room like a shadow.

“Whatever,” I commented under my breath.

After setting my stuff on my nightstand, which was an old dingy filing cabinet, I turned back around. There was less than a few inches of space between us. He stared me down and stuttered, trying to find more threats to throw at me, but I was seconds away from passing out.

“I want my money, Twig,” he said before giving up and finally leaving me.

He slammed my door on his way out, likely breaking it or the hinges again, but I was relieved.

I fell into my bed and kicked off my shoes. I hadn’t slept in forever, and I needed to separate my days. With a yawn, I shut my eyes to try and let everything fade away. It was peaceful. Even with the sound of trains, dogs, and cars outside my window, I was at peace. Everything melted away. I couldn’t tell my body from my mattress.

And then my alarm went off.

It was time for my day job.

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