There was a movie once. It starred the guy from the trench coat and slow-mo fetishist movie that would be parodied from everything and back again. It was a lower budget movie, but had far more explosions. The entirety took place on a speeding bus, where it needed to stay that speed or else, well, boom. It was fast-paced, tense, filled with half-drunken dialogue with the other half being half-stoned... and was one of Francis’s father’s favorites.
As Plank’s poor old girl tried to speed over the bridge, pushing itself at a staggering 65 miles per hour... Francis was reminded of that movie. Except the threat was changed: If that old car could pull the 70, it would more than likely destroy the entire universe with how loud its engine whined. If it wasn’t already night, Francis could imagine that they would be driving in darkness anyways from the sheer amount of smoke billowing before them.
“So,” Francis drawled at last, able to be heard as the engine wound down, reaching the merging ramp onto the interstate. It was brief, but enough to make the ringing after noticeable. “Have you considered a new car? At all?”
“On the peanuts they pay me? Not any time this fucking century,” she grumbled, and the car shrieked once more, rattling and tumbling down the highway. Her staff hissed, its blue runes pulsing down its shaft, to her foot and into the floor. “Besides, this old bug ain’t going anywhere.”
“Bug? It looks like a compact more than a Beetle.”
“Oh! Right! I keep forgetting you don’t read. That’s a reference to the series my name comes from.”
“There’s a series named after Dweiler?” Cassidy blurted.
“She means her fancrush. Husbando?” Francis said. “I’m pretty sure the author would be tickled pink to know a real life wizard loved how he illustrated your plight. I can only imagine how many pages of simmering rage he poured over. Probably during a divorce?”
“Fuck you,” Penny exclaimed.
“Oh. Sorry. You never were married, so bitter resentment?”
“Not even if you paid me.”
“But you are paying me... Traveling fees, escort fees, meal fees-”
“I didn’t realize I was taking two women out tonight. If that was the case, I would have stayed with Des and Bea.”
“W-what?” Cassidy said. “Y-y-you were with Des? Whose B-Bea?”
“Let’s just say I had a very late night at the card shop... Where are we going?”
“Nicole mentioned the Robinson Town Centre, so I thought we could start there.”
“I don’t have any other ideas... well, there is one...”
“Isn’t there a movie place open anywhere?”
“Yes, actually. It’s near the end of September, so some places are holding War movie marathons.”
“Great! Let’s do that-”
“If you wanted to watch movies, you could have just stayed home.”
“I know! But no! Nicole kicked me out for some ungodly reason, and now, here we are, bouncing on a dark highway in a screaming metal deathtrap.”
“It’s mostly plastic, actually-”
Cassidy cleared her throat, shuffling in the seat as she did.
“I might h-have a suggestion,” she said. “P-Professor Strout t-told me that her and her f-friends go to a little t-t-town in the northern p-panhandle. It has a bowling a-a-alley and a b-b-b-bar all in one-”
“Bowling!” Francis bellowed, making her squeak- squawk as he laced an arm around her. “That sounds like a plan. It’s been forever since I knocked over a few pinheads. It’s been... three weeks? But the actual pin heads sounds far more fun. Let’s do t-”
“No.” Penny stated.
“Absolutely fucking not.”
“Last I checked, you don’t have a say. You’re our chaperon tonight, Plank. Where the lady wants to go, she goes-”
“And I’m telling you I won’t be caught dead outside the Academy in the same building with those three cunts!”
“But what about the apartment?”
“You know damn well what I mean. I won’t be in the same vicinity as them. I don’t want to breathe the same air as those squalid, vapid twats.”
“Okay? Then don’t. Stay in the car. Cassidy and I will throw a few, I will toss a few back, then we’ll move on to the next act-”
“If you really think I’m going to sit and wait, you are out of your fucking mind.”
“Then don’t! Go do something fucking else, but you better be there when we get out.”
“And how will I know? You don’t have a phone.”
“I do,” Cassidy said, flipping over her right hand. In it was a crusted abomination that could be considered a phone, its light blinding Francis as it came to life. “G-give me your number and I c-c-can text you when we’re about to leave.”
“Well. Look at that,” Francis said. “You have no more reason to bitch-”
“Fine! I’ll come in with you guys,” Plank shrieked, growling. The engine whirred louder, as if crying out, begging them to stop antagonizing her. The staff was almost brighter than the phone- was brighter than the phone as the screen actually dimmed for it. If one looked at the car, they would have mistaken it for the dawn with how hot that staff burned, smoking through the newly added sunroof. Plastic and metal hissed as it dribbled onto the tarnished seats and rotten floor, and they were silent as they roared into the dead town at the tip of the northern panhandle. If the name was to be believed, Francis expected a ton of weird... but was disappointed to see it was only a ghost town. There was evidence that it used to be more, locations with grand signs that boasted good times... but they dated back to the 70′s. Easily. All that was left of the small town, its downtown, were bars, a pool hall, bars, a bowling alley, bars, strip clubs, and, that’s right, a park. It was cradled in the shadow of the “football stadium”, but it looked far more enticing than those decade-old bleachers and rotten wooden stands.
They didn’t need to go far off the interstate before they reached the bowling alley. It was pretty much at the four-way trident that was the entrance to the town, as if people wanted more options to leave the place, if any option at all... Francis... was a little jealous. And angry. If he had gone another hour or so passed where he resided those three years, he would have had a FAR larger hunting ground. He caught signs of “gang” markings, but, even at just a glance, he could tell they were a joke. No real gang signs their work, and they were so soulless, such a mockery of others, that they were but children trying to act tough. He would have been like a kid in a candy store, locked in at night, with no cameras or security. And this was only downtown; he could have sat comfortably on a throne down here, then worked his influence higher. What could have been... oh, what could have been.
He sighed, turned to a chortle as the car shuddered to a stop, dying in the parking lot of the bowling alley. It didn’t look like much on the outside; little more than a walkway with three stairs to a pair of glass doors than lead to another pair of doors... However, with how dead the town, with how quiet it was, he could hear the music inside, clear as day.
“What is it? The 90′s?” He grumbled. “Who listens to that stuff anymore?”
“Watch your tongue,” Penny barked. “That shit’s classic. Better than the last few years, easily.”
“If you say so, grandma.”
“I, sort of, like that m-music, t-t-t-too,” Cassidy uttered.
“Good on you. I’m just saying that shit’s old.” Then again, compared to the rest of the town, it was ahead of its time... West Virginia truly is the state lost in time, isn’t it?
He snorted... but felt a bit warm and tingly inside. For some reason, the thought of a place not thrust forward, forced to stay ahead, to be the best of everything and ahead of everyone... it was rather... refreshing. It was... calming to know that one didn’t need to push so hard to live well, even as the rest of the world goes to shit... But he didn’t want to forget himself. He was from Pennsylvania; this state was their zoo, and all its splendors and natural beauty were theirs to admire and enjoy.
He opened the door, and stepped out into the-
“Good God! What’s wrong with the air?” he exclaimed, coughing as he covered his nose. “It fucking reeks.”
“This was an old steel town,” Penny explained. “It was shut down a while back, but the smell has been sown into the area forever. You’ll get used to it.”
“Easy for you to s- oh- oh G-” He rushed to the back of the car and had to say così lungo to his ravioli. Every. Single. Bowl. Those poor pasta pillows. They were too pure for this world, too good for the town they were being soiled upon... but, in a sick, twisted way, they offered one final boon. Their pungent aroma overtook the muck of that town, and helped him to recover. He took a deep, deep breath, and turned, hurrying to the doors. “Get inside. Now.”
He heard them scampering behind, but they might as well have been crawling for his sprint. He only slowed for those doors, far heavier than he expected, and he exhaled inside mini waiting room, taking in the fresh, fresh, fresh fresh smell of mold and bleach. It beat that swamp outside- no. Even a swamp would have been more inviting. A mire would have been incredibly enticing... A corpse would have been more aromatic.
The music stopped a moment, only to be replaced with the next hit straight from the 90′s, and the door squeaked as Cassidy and Penny joined him. As well as a fresh wave of that gunk. Thankfully, the mold and bleach beat it back to but a funk on the back of his tongue, but it was enough to make him gag. He held up a finger as he doubled over, wheezing... but held it back. That time.
“Okay,” he mumbled, and whistled as he stood. “For the record, drachen’s noses are incredibly sensitive.”
“What I’m hearing is drachen’s are pussies,” Plank said, and scoffed as she waltzed to the next set of doors. She held it open for Francis, gesturing to it. “Ladies first, and I don’t mean you, Cass.”
“Whatever.” He lumbered through it and was met with even more sensual violations. The lights, the smells, the noise; all of it was pure and utter chaos. There were actual lights on further in, around a bend away from the twenty-four alleys, but those ways and their seats were covered by black and neon lights. It wasn’t packed that night... or, more than likely, any night. Only five of the lanes were currently in use, four of them filled with what you would expect from this town.
The other, though...
A redhead walked up to that lane. She was looking pretty and curvy tonight, wearing that black leather dress. It looked to be a bit baggy, at least three sizes too big, but even then it had no mercy on her chest or ass. He could make out her bright white thong thirteen lanes away as she leaned over to grab her ball from the return, a brilliant blue in the dark light, and it did nothing to hide those voluptuous cheeks. Her breasts had even less cover, no bra or strap to be seen, completely held up by that dress, which had to be zipped down a touch less it broke through. Each one almost put Lilith’s set to shame... and, a look at her friends showed she was the second place winner in that regard. First place was a blond with her hair up in a tightly curled bun. She had a pair of bottle-rim glasses, but they did not detract from her brilliant amber eyes- but no one was looking at her eyes. All gazes were upon those planets on her chest, and how little she cared how they were covered. That sweet, poor black wrap; even as he watched, he could see the tears forming in the middle, showing off the glistening, bronzed skin under. The third was only worth mentioning or Francis noting because she looked like a normal goth chick looking for dick; her long, black hair was tied back into two tails, each long enough to be wings in their own right, while she had a backless, fluffy red dress on, separating into two lines as it reached her toes, where it was tucked into a pair of spiked boots.
Pins were struck, and those pigtails seemed to flap as those ladies cheered for their friend... only to groan, all of them seeing two pins still up.
“Why is it always me?” The redhead said, waiting for her ball- before all yelped. The building shook. Dust billowed down on all... and those two pins were down. And out. The three’s gazes turned, looking at Francis as he rose his foot. His ankle cracked; he could feel a lovely bruise forming on his heel, but at least he didn’t break anything. The redhead rushed over, her blue eyes shining, pouting at him. “Hey-”
“What are you talking about? Nice strike,” he said, chortling. “One helluva vision to walk into... I’m Francis.”
“Bridget. Bridget Deckard. And you really shouldn’t interfere with other’s games.”
“What are you talking about? You know these old buildings. They don’t have the best... foundation... And who are you lovely la-”
“Can it!” The blonde said. “What are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here? Last I checked, this is a f-”
“Not you. I told you to can it...” She eased Francis aside, and jabbed a finger at Penny. “You.”
“Oh my,” Bridget said. “I didn’t even realize Dweiler was here.”
“I did. She wears the same awful perfume as always. Stands out like a sore thumb. So what are you doing here, Dwight?”
Penny scoffed. “I was assigned by Eve to act as these two’s driver for the night. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“I did give her the option to stay in the car,” Francis added.
“A-and I s-s-said I could g-give her my cell if s-s-s-she wanted to go do s-something e-” Cassidy began. Cut off by the goth.
“Casey! What are you doing here?” She said... then smirked as she shot a glance at Francis. “Oh-ho ho ho... Is this the guy you’ve been gushing on about?” Cassidy nodded, and it only made the goth laugh harder... before slapping Francis’ shoulder. “Oh man... I almost feel sorry for you. If you play your cards right, she is going to rock your... what are you, 6′9”? 7′2”?”
“6′5” last I checked, but that was years ago.”
“Yeah, honey. You’re no 6′5” now... You’re just a pillar of manmeat. Mmm!”
“Damn right,” the blond said. “I’m a bit jealous of you, girl, but at the same time not. Just think; the taller they are, the smaller their dick is.”
“Trust me. It’s not small,” Penny said... wincing. “Why did I say that?”
“Because you always want fucking attention!” The blond barked. “What shit are you dressed like now?”
“Uh-oh. I think she’s using an early costume from the week,” the goth said, pulling out her phone and waggling it towards Penny. “I’m gonna have to call the fashion police!”
“Oh, shut up, Lola!”
“Are you going to make me, small fry?”
“Only if you were actually black, but give me a moment and you will be.”
“You really think you can take us on, little wizard,” the blond said, but there was something different that time, something that stood the hairs on his neck... and his fins on end. Maybe it was the glint of ice in those eyes, or how her mouth seemed to widen too much for the words. “Do you really think you can take on a coven?”
“Please. None of you hold a candle to Sam. Without her, you’re nothing.”
“Good thing she’s here, then,” Bridget said. “She’s just in the bathroom right now-”
“Getting fucking lucky,” the goth, Lola, grumbled. “Why did she get her claws into that minotaur?”
“She’s had her eye on him since he left the Academy. She always did have a thing for bulls... Anyways, Penny, Tanya, let’s not fight tonight. It’s our only day off. Besides, do we really want to ruin this couple’s first date.”
“It was technically already ruined when I was forced to leave the house,” Francis said. “I simply wanted to watch TV and chill.”
“Sounds like my kind of plan,” Lola said, and shot Penny a dirty look. “Was it this bitch that did it?”
“Don’t look at me. I’m just the driver,” Plank stated. “It was his keeper, Nicky, that said a night in wasn’t good enough for a first date.”
“I can’t really argue with that,” Bridget said... and clapped. “Let’s go talk to the owner. We’ll have you set up in the lane beside ours.”
“Why?” Tanya and Penny both bellowed.
“Don’t be like that, Tanya... Besides, this will give us some time to learn about Francis. I won’t lie: I’ve been interested in you since you arrived, but never had the chance to talk to you.”
“Same, actually,” Tanya said.
“Make it three,” Lola said, and smacked his arm again. “You’re a rare sight, even in the himan world. Dragons tend to stay to themselves, to the point of inbreeding, but the fact your mom fucked your dad and stayed long enough for you to be born-”
“Is nothing special,” he finished, and sighed. “Look. You can ask your questions, but it’s not going to be anything euphoric. If anything, you’re just beating Cassidy to the punch of asking.”
“Great,” Bridget said. “So let’s get settled in-”
“There you are!” A black woman said. And she was, indeed, a black woman. If it wasn’t for the bit of smear on her lips and chin that shown from the black lights above, she would have been invisible in that darkened alley. She had an arm wrapped around a tall man, who was almost as dark but only because he was tanned. His horns shimmered in the neon lights bouncing around above, his black hair cut short in between those curved monstrosities, ending right at his brow. It was thick, with even thicker eyebrows, but they did nothing to hide the splendor of his bright blue eyes, boring into Francis’s gaze. Even more as the black woman cooed. When she spoke, her voice had a thick accent; Creole if Francis had to assume. “Whose this fine hunk?”
“The drachan that shown up this year? Damn! They make ’em big. I take it you already met the other fine bitches, but I’m Samantha. Samantha Coffey-”
“Like that one character from The Green Mile.”
“NO NOT LIKE THE DR- oh. Yeah. Exactly like that.” She groaned. “So sorry, but do you know how many people immediately make that reference?”
“I bet. It was my favorite movie when chilling with the homies in PA.”
“You see, I didn’t want to say anything, but I sort of assumed you came from a gang background. Big, broody, temperamental; all trademarks of those that lived a dirty past.”
“Who did you know?”
“My Uncle. He ran for North County for a while, then they caught him double-dipping with the Six Owe. Right nasty shit to him. What about you? Where are your marks?”
“Long gone. I used to have them on my left arm, but then I think a shark ate it.”
“You think?” Lola exclaimed, guffawing. “No reason to act hard now. How can’t you remember a damn shark eating a part of you?”
“Well, let’s look at this scientifically,” Bridget said, pointing at the line between his shoulder and the mentioned limb. “Dragons are mostly reptilian, which some have shown the capacity to regenerate parts of their body. Using that, it is rather simple to deduct that he could regrow his arm.”
“Damn. I can?” Francis said, looking at it. “I never gave it much thought, but- yeah. I knew.”
“Damn!” Samantha said, slapping his shoulder. “Just how durable are y- wait... whose that slinking behind you?”
“O-oh. It’s just m-me,” Cassidy said, and squeaked as Samantha waved her aside, seeing Penny.
“Oh, this bitch, huh?” Samantha said. “What’s this waste doing here?”
“He’s their driver,” Bridget answered, groaning. “Can we please ust go back to the tables? I just want to chill and get a little tipsy.”
“As I said. Lead the way,” Francis said. The witches and the minotaur turned... but that bull man didn’t break his gaze until after Samantha forced him several steps ahead. He snorted, narrowing his eyes, but looked forward, heading to the table with her... Francis smacked Cassidy’s rump, making her jump and squawk. “So! You ready?”
She settled, and sighed. “Y-yes. Let’s have fun.”
“At least you will,” Penny grumbled, and followed after.