Red Dragon

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All American Diner

Francis actually did have his head in the game that day. Beatrice made sure of that. She brought a new tool down to the table with her: a plastic pot. It was one’s basic gardening plant, but it turned into quite the prison for his phone.

The cell pleaded for him. It cried out to him, buzzing like crazy on the table it was forced to sit upon, unwanted, unable to corrupt his plays. Or Beatrice’s probing. She asked how the date went with the Fang, if she caused any trouble or if he made it awkward. Him, making things awkward? Weird, maybe. Tawdry? More than likely, but awkward?

The drachan took offense to that, and, for fourteen straight hands, showed no remorse. He was using black-white vampires and he was tearing her a new one, for even thinking he would ruin or embarrass a date. Everything that did accentuated an outing, and the only way it could be awkward was if he couldn’t get his poor prey to blossom off the wall. What was bugging him was that he still hadn’t had the chance to cut the stems. At all.

“Seriously?” Beatrice exclaimed, and dared to laugh in his face about it. Not only did he lose that game, but now he was being emasculated by this harpy in her very own sex dungeon. “The way you come off, I expected you to be a fuck machine. Hit it with one girl then move on to the next.”

“Normally I am! That’s what’s pissing me off,” he grumbled, growled as he shuffled his deck- no. He was done with that. He would seek refuge in the pirates. At least they understood him, always after that booty. “My luck has gone to shit ever since I met that one lanky motherfucker and the black bitch with him. I get arrested out of the fucking blue, meet Eve, get taught that I am the reason my life went to shit -don’t even bother asking I’m not telling right now- forced back into school AFTER months of use by a very evil goblin –though, to be fair, I did kill a few of them.”

“You killed a few goblins? Under Eve’s care?”

“Fucked them to death.”

“I kind of figured.”

“Yet now... now that I am here in this fucking place, in this fucking school... all I can do is attract fucking clinger level seven VIRGINS.” He slapped his deck down, sending a ripple through the table. The bucket to the right stirred, and he caught a glimpse of it light up before the pot settled back over. “This is meant to be school, for Fuck’s sake. College! The time when most work their wild streak out... but no! Every single damn one wants a fucking relationship instead of, well, a fucking relationship.”

“Then you count me among them.”

“You. Really? You’re a virgin, too?” He chortled, a derisive thing, and rested his head in his palm. “Oh my God... You would think, with dick such a rare commodity, all of you women would be trying your damnedest to get it. Or, you know, learn to enjoy the taste of puss.”

“Ew. No.”

“Hey, I’m not judging. What you do with another is between you and them behind closed doors-”

“Never. Not in a million years... You don’t know harpies well, do you?”

“No, I know. Your whole shtick is you prey on men, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want two thighs and two breasts every so often.”

“Few may, but the vast majority don’t. There’s... I’m not sure how to really explain it... When I came of age and started to ovulate, I felt this... craving.” She drew her hand, hummed, and shook her head, shuffling to mulligan. “I’m going to assume you jack off?”

“A little personal, but yes. A lot. Like, an unbelievable amount.”

“You could have just stopped at y-” She tried to say but he kept going.

“It’s just not possible for a man to jack off as much as I do. I can pump it, and pump it out, for hours. Not once have I ever had a ghost load. In fact, that scares me above all else. I just let out jets of the stuff. After a few rounds, my room looks like that one episode of that faggy show with the kids and the one kid that always die. I can assure you, though, it’s not a spooky ghost. It’s all me and only the be-”

“You know how that feeling, that need wells up?” She yelled over.

“Ow. Yes. Loud.”

“Well, imagine that but no amount of jacking off can satisfy it.”

“So like right now. I do not feel fully satisfied from doing it anymore. I need to get laid so fucking bad!”

“Yes. Now, imagine that feeling burned into your DNA, into your every living moment.” She drew for turn, played a land... and chuckled. “I have to thank my childhood for that, at least.”

“What?”

“Because I had no contact with anybody, I had to learn to quell that feeling. I was all alone... and thought I had no hope of ever getting out. Of finding anyone. So, instead, I focused on my future prospects, what I could do to make a living and sustain myself after my parents... you know.”

“So you focused your sexual frustration into profiteering... You’re starting to make sense to me. No wonder you treat every money drop as a true money shot.” His firecracker monkey swung in again, which she tried to block. Playing right into his hand. His lands might have been all tapped, but pirates are known for treasure. He might have needed to burn a few, but her blocker stood no chance after a pump and giving it priority in damage. At the end of the trade, she took four damage from the other creatures, and was down one hefty blocker.

She tittered, untapping then drawing.

“That was slick... You know, I always wanted someone to do SOMETHING with the pirates. Aside the hostage taker one -which received one helluvan errata after- and good old Minotaur Daddy, none of the rest of the pirates saw some use –well, except for old on-board card steal and that monkey of yours. Still, four out of forty-plus is just... sad.”

“Yes, well, when it’s pirates against fucking dinosaurs and vampires-”

“And merfolk. Can’t forget them.”

“How can I? That deck is evil! I plan to play that next –if I have time, that is.”

She frowned, cocking her head. “‘Time’? I thought you were suspended this week, as well.”

“I am, but Bridget asked me to join her for a meal after she gets off of work.”

“Professor Deckard? How are you doing?”

“I’m doing well, thank you,” Bridget said, making Francis jump- twice. He settled under her hands as she pressed against his shoulders, soothing them down. “And how about you, Beatrice? Is The Chalice holding up?”

“Could be better,” Wesley said, once again reading his novel. At least the girl on its cover looked almost legal. He was sitting to the left of Francis, sprawled across two chairs. “It’s nice to see you again as well, Professor Deckard.”

“Wes! Sorry. I didn’t see you there.”

“That’s the point.”

The witch tittered, smiling at the naga. “You were always the pragmatic one. Always to the point. How long are you going to work here?”

“Until I get an acceptance letter back from one of the many agents I contacted.”

“I’m certain it will be soon. You always had a gift.” She tittered again, and her hands slid up Francis’s neck, over his ears, and into his hair. “I’m sorry to break up the fun, Beatrice, but I sort of conscripted him for the evening. I hope that’s okay.”

“It’s fine by me, Professor Deckard,” she chuckled and winked at Francis. “I was losing anyways, but now that he has to call it, that’s a win for me.”

“I thought you only cared if it was a challenge,” Francis mumbled, finding it hard to be coy while his hair was being played with... while his head was... being... patt- He whined as Bridget pulled away- gasping, turning to a growl as he shot to his feet. He put his deck away, stashed it and the others in the metal suitcase, then pointed at the harpy, whose black tongue looked so garish against her pink-colored lips. “This isn’t over.”

“I would hope not,” she said, and waved them off. Francis might have fell in line behind Bridget, but his head was still turned back at the harpy. The door clicked, and Beatrice broke eye contact... and her smile faded, showing the aging woman at last-

He smacked his forehead.

“I’m an idiot,” he said, and hurried back over to the table, fighting back his chuckle as the harpy jumped. She didn’t, though, tittering as he overturned that pot, retrieving his phone, then ran back to Bridget.

The witch sighed, but was still beaming at him as she poked his head.

“You would have lost this a long time ago if it wasn’t attached, you know,” she said.

“You never know? I lost my arms and legs before; maybe this is my spare.”

“Wouldn’t that mean there’s another you running around?”

“Please! Do you think this world can handle two of me?”

“Hell no!” Wesley boomed from the table, and the naga returned the middle finger before that basement was lost to the door and stairs. They stepped out into the coming dawn, and Francis forgot how busy the parking lot was right after the Academy closed. Because he needed to wait for Penny, he was often the last to leave, so seeing it bustling with so much life, seeing traffic actually come in instead of acting as a barricade; it made him thankful they walked, instead. Yes. Walked. An idea so foreign that Plank still didn’t understand it a month later.

The diner was a further jaunt than the fast food restaurant, but it was still a shorter trek than most routes he needed to run during his gang days. Not only that, the company he kept was far... far nicer. He couldn’t help but look at that witch, humming and smiling and practically shining with the morning sun. Her dress definitely did, and her skin, her cleavage, glistened and glittered with a thousand stars, rippling with each step.

They didn’t say a word, though. Not for the entire trip to the diner. And it was a diner. An honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned, all Americana diner. It looked straight from the 1960′s-to-1970′s, with the only sign of modernity being the flat-screens along the walls. The booths, the bar, the stools, the tile; all authentic... Hopefully, without the asbestos insulation.

The place was packed, wings buzzing, hooves clomping, growls and snarls and laughter droning on, overshadowing the news on the TVs. Each one was a different network, all reporting for a world that seemed so... distant anymore. The people here didn’t need to worry about the trifles of humanity. Only when it turned to war and devastation did it truly hold a candle to them, and that candle flickered, showing to be little more than a match in the grand scheme of it all.

Thankfully, there was exactly one booth left. All the way in the back. At first, at least. When Francis entered, all noise, all buzzing; all but the voices on the TVs and the serenades from the kitchen vanished. All eyes were upon him.

“Come on. This way!” Bridget said, taking him by the hand, and seemed so dainty as she guided him to that back booth. She originally tried to weave around people, but, after the first two, realized they were more than happy to part for them. For him. Under normal circumstances, in wider places, it meant nothing. They could shiver, they could whisper, they could leer and skitter all they liked... but... in a place like this, with how cramped it was, he could smell their fear. It was a bitter thing, a rotten thing that sunk into everything around it, leaving a cold, clammy, almost slimy ichor on the back of the throat, and it only grew as she pulled him to that seat. She sat against the wall, facing the rest of the restaurant, which meant his back would be to it... Probably for the best. Even the poor booth was frightened, crying out as he sunk onto the cushion, sinking it in further than it ever had to before. His shirt tore a touch, letting his fins through, twitching with his brow as the whispers finally made their presence known.

“Isn’t that Professor Deckard?”

“What is she doing with that... thing?”

“Is she out of her mind? She’s no Belle.”

“There’s no taming that monster! Never took her for a thrill-seeker.”

“If he hurts her, I swear I’ll-”

“That monster should not be near her.”

“She’s far braver than me.”

“I mean... if Professor Deckard is okay with him, is he really that bad?”

“So what are you getting?” Bridget said.

“Huh?” He uttered, finally broken out of his (stewing) stupor. He blinked, and looked down to see that somebody had dropped off a few menus. “Oh... I don’t know, to be-”

“I recommend the burger. Mom makes the best burgers.”

“Mom?”

She giggled, lacing her hands on top of her menu.

“It’s a nickname we gave the owner... Us witches, I mean.”

“Is there some reason or-”

“No. Not really. She’s just always nice to us. Always looking out for us- speaking of. Hi, mom!”

“Yeah yeah,” an old, weathered woman said. She seemed to be like any other human... but... the more Francis looked at her, the more things seemed... off. It was hard to pin, and even harder on a heavy stomach with the smells of the kitchen overpowering the (fading) scent of fear. The old woman had a notebook in hand, a worn-down pencil ready in the other. “So what can I get you two?”

“I’m feeling a grilled chicken breast, cut in half and tenderized, with a brush of butter and buffalo sauce on each side. Pair it with... broccoli and steak fries.”

The old-woman wrote it down, humming... then turned her hooked nose to Francis.

“What about you, trouble? What can I get you?”

“Trouble?”

“You ran out my business, so yes. Trouble.”

“I guess I’ll have a burger-”

“Double, triple, quadruple? One pound, two pound? You’re a bigger guy, so I assume at minimum a pounder.”

“How big can you go?”

“Honey, I cater to carcaero. I can go as high as fifty-pounders for those of carcharias.”

“I don’t think I need that much... We’ll go a quad, two-pounder.”

“Alrighty... Rare, Medium Rare, Medium, or burnt to a crisp?”

“Medium is fine. A bit under that.”

“Cheese?”

“Do you have smoked gouda?”

She chuckled, smirking. “We do indeed. We even have a pepper-infused smoked gouda.”

“Ooh! That sounds good. I’ll take that on two of them. As for the middle patty... sharp cheddar.”

“Veggies on top of it?”

“The works –with jalopenos. Not jalopeno rings; whole jalopenos. Without the stems, of course.”

“Sides?”

“Do you have sweet potato fries?”

“We do.”

“Then I’ll have those and mac and cheese.”

“Alright... So we have one scorched interstate special and ghostly biggun with a Southern touch. And to drink?”

“Water and coffee is fine,” Bridget said. Francis wanted the same, so the crone lumbered off... Again, how her legs bent, how her body swayed, it was all... unnatural. It dawned on him as he got a good look at her back and saw the clumps move under the skin, directing it like a puppet to lift, to sway, to move. To live... Thankfully, Bridget sighed, and Francis was able to turn away, seeing her frowning. “I can’t take you anywhere, can I? I never gave it much thought how much people feared you... and you live with that every day.”

“Eh. You get used to it. Only ones worth are a damn are those that can stick it out.”

“That’s a good way of looking at it... Thank you for coming with me. I know you probably would have preferred to stay there and play-”

“Don’t sweat it. I was hungry and I needed an excuse to peel my sorry ass out of that seat. What about you? How are the reviews -and test- tests?- going?”

“Ali, as usual, being a pain. I will never understand that girl... She understands the material fine, but, when it comes to applying it... her mind is just... Then, of course, the wolf pack. Good grief! I wish we could just keep them in detention.”

“That’s not a healthy.”

“But it is! They seem to learn better down there than in the classroom. I think it has something to do with space? Mandy’s agoraphobic-”

“You’re shitting me! A werewolf who can’t stand being out in the open.”

“Not in her normal form, no... She’s very self-conscious. Don’t tell her I told you, but she has a long scar down her left side. And discolored skin.”

“Okay? Why?”

“Because that’s what took the brunt of her accident. Her and the wolf pack were goofing off, driving their motorcycles down the interstate, and they had the bright idea to try to joust one another.”

“Hells yeah! Sign me up!”

“Well, it wouldn’t be a real problem for you, but they are... delicate... She hasn’t been able to touch her bike or take off her jacket ever since. Then Victoria is suffering from grief because she’s the one that caused it-”

“Are you going to spill me all their secrets? Because I don’t mind.”

“I bet you don’t... Desiree...”

“Not good?”

“Oh. No. She passed. Aced it, in fact. I didn’t have to touch on anything with her... It’s just... She found out we were talking.”

“Is that a crime?”

“What? No! But she knows... and she’s been asking for... advice.”

“On?”

“How to woo you... She thinks those billions of nudes aren’t helping in any way.”

“Smart girl. They are nice, though.”

“So I told her straight up: You need to make time for him. You need to hang out with him, talk with him, get to know him... Like what we are doing now.”

“Is that what we’re doing? I was here for food.”

She tittered, smiling again, and “Mom” was back with their food- HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! His burger was the size of a baby, cut in two and held by a 5-inch skewer. He could see into the meat, all the patties a uniform, beautiful pink, glistening with grease and a bit of blood, melding with the gooey cheese and thick mustard. There was only a hint of ketchup, seeing as each hemisphere of that sandwich had at least two tomatoes of its own. In fact, there was a garden of vegetables on top, all pressed down by a thick, buttery, sesame seed bun. Between the patty was a good serving of sweet potato fries, kept in place by a small bow of white cheddar macaroni shells. Sometime during she had placed a carafe of coffee, two cups of water, and two mugs... but... That burger demanded the attention. It was the star of the show... A moment of silence for that holy vigil of me-

“This might be late to ask, but did you bring your wallet?” Bridget interjected.

“... Fuck,” he said, and held up a finger. “I will be right back.”

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