Night swooped and preyed upon the town. It was so quick, so sinister in how it stole the warmth and glow from the valley. The moment the sun sank below the mountain to the west, it reached out with its gnarled, jagged claws and stole all into its umbral embrace.
The streetlights flickered, one by one. Each one took fifteen minutes to warm, and even then it was to a hazy, yellow glory. By the time the last reached its hue, sparkling upon the stone walls of Vereor Nox Academy, it was time for Francis to welcome the “day” anew. He managed to get a nap in, though involuntary. Reading was not his thing, and there were only so many times he could skim the fine print before his eyes simply completely shut. The strongest of snares for a weakened mind already pushed to its limits.
It was a nice nap, too. He was back home, with his father. The front door was flung open, with the neighborhood only kept at bay by the screen door. Flies buzzed through the house; no matter how hard one tried to avoid them in the summer they were always there, buzzing ever so close until it just touches one’s ear and one screams as though they were assaulted by a hornet only to miss their target entirely when they finally did swing. It was an extra balmy day, a storm brewing. Thunder rumbled and shook the modest two-story abode, rattled the knives and blades on the top shelves of the bookshelf in the far right corner of the living room. The bottom, filled with the classic cliches, didn’t bother to let their presence known; the last time they were cracked open was when Francis was but six and he had a nightmare... no. Not a nightmare. Not at the time. It was... surreal.
He dreamed his mother came back.
She was holding him in her arms, whispering sweet nothings into his ear, stroking his short, black hair. He could feel her warmth, smell her scent, an alien, unknowable scent that sent his mind into overdrive. He knew it. He knew it all too well: the sharp sting of cherry wood with clover. He had no idea why he knew it so distinct, known its palette so succinct, but he did, and that it was her.
But, when he opened his eyes, he didn’t see her. He saw something else, something far more sinister. The psychologist called it a night terror or even a by-product of sleep paralysis, but he knew better. That... thing was very real, and he could still envision its bright, amber eyes to this day, set into a gristly, blue, reptilian visage.
But this wasn’t about the tomes. It wasn’t about the bookshelf but the room it set in, that Francis and his father sat in. Aside the bookshelf, made of the finest plywood one ever saw, there was a couch and a love seat. They were both a tacky yellow, made of a coarse fabric, almost like flannel but enough of a difference to make one go mad if they sat upon it too long. In between them was a steel coffee table, with a glass inlay. It suffered much under the two, smirched in paints of days gone, in modeling clay, which, for Francis, was play... for his father, though, it was work. Not his true work; that was downstairs in the basement.
“Never try to sculpt without a model,” he told Francis one day, working on his newest piece. It was little more than a blob of blue in his hands, but it was soon shaped into a winged beast, a wyvern, with a long, slender tail with a forked end. Watching him do it so effortlessly, still watching Francis piddle around with his bit of modeling clay, making little more than a thumb print on the glass; Francis loved watching his dad warp the clay. The wyvern was soon gone, turned into a spider- then into a bear, all so effortlessly, simply weaving between them on a whim.
“What are you making today, dad?” Francis said.
“I don’t know. I’m sort of getting tired of dragons... Maybe a hydra? Or a roc bird.”
Francis snickered. As did his father. He will never forget that sculpture, of a brown-feathered bird with a bandanna and an electric guitar. And how much the collector paid... Francis, to this day, wondered how his old man stomached to live in that cess pit of a neighborhood, knowing he made thousands-fold more than his neighbors.
“Money won’t make you happy.” Well, it’ll get your ass out of dodge.
Sadly, but necessarily, he was woken before he spent too much time with his father. He spluttered, shooting up- wincing... as the coffee table shattered. Stars danced before his eyes, but he was more worried about the folder that was sent flying, the papers within it (and the ones that sneaked out) scattering. But he also needed to deal wtih the cacophony insisting at his door. They were always six quick, solid, wooden raps followed by three long scratches, as if they were to claw their way in.
“Give me a damn minute!” He bellowed, hissing at his own voice, as if it aided the pages to leap out of his reach. The raps didn’t stop, though, the scratches continue to grate.
It seemed some problems solved themselves.
The wizard let herself in. It wasn’t like there was a door to stop her. No, only charred timbers remained, sizzling and crackling on their red-hot steel hinges, stemming to the blue flames still roiling off of her staff and through her eyes. His “chauffeur” was there... Why? He wasn’t going anywhere that d-
Before he continued that train of thought, however... he dropped the folder. He managed to snag all the papers and put them in, which, when it dropped, it was straight down... but it had to deal with his jaw on it. She was there, but not how he expected. Not in a bad way; in fact, her appearance brightened his morning more than any $5-whore ever could. She wasn’t wearing the long black duster, nor did she have on a simple pair of jeans or her boots. Instead, she swapped to a more... feminine apparel. She looked like a different person in that bright yellow sundress. Her legs were still concealed in a pair of black stockings, ending with a pair of white heels. Now that he could see her, she had a very curvy body, though lacked any in front. They were little more than two dime bags, given some lift by her white bra just peeking under the yellow straps on her well-toned shoulders.
Penny huffed, righting at last, and the fire on her staff cooled... sparking as she finally noticed him staring at her.
“What?” She said, bluntly.
“Nothing. Nothing at all,” he said, but couldn’t help but smirk as she leered at him. She wheeled about, clacked her staff on the concrete thrice. It sparked with each, growing brighter, wilder as she wheeled about with them. She started trotting towards the steps, slow... stopping. She slapped her staff into the ground again, both ends starting to burn. By the ninth set she turned around again, glaring at him. “Well? What are you waiting for? Need an invitation!”
“I mean... sure. If you’re that antsy to get me back to your place-”
“Hell no! I said I would take you to school, so let’s get a move on.”
“Oh, wow. Eve really knows how to pick them-”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I know you got her message. She even told me-”
She growled, stomping back to him, but her staff met him before she did, singeing at his brow.
“I was ordered to take you to Vereor Nox Academy. No matter what. Dead or alive, you’re coming with me... Which one is it going to be, hotshot?”
He couldn’t help but laugh at that, even if it did cost him his left eyebrow.
“‘Hotshot’! Who uses that term anymore?” He sighed, wiping the burnt hair -and flesh- off while his pinkie hooked down to wipe the single tear away. “Anyways, I’m not going today.”
“Like Hell you aren’t-”
“Settle down, Wicked Bitch of the West. If you check your texts, you’ll see that I’m off the entire week because of what happened yesterday. him follow after. If you want to run to the school for me, though, I have the forms done.”
She scoffed, and slammed the end of her staff into the concrete. All of its flames extinguished.
“Do I look like an errand boy- what was that sound for?”
“Spit it out already. By the Great Mothers, you are trying.”
“I know. It’s my best trait.”
“Trying to get yourself killed!”
“That’s not very ladylike.”
“I don’t try to be- what did you just mutter?”
“Well, it’s quite obvious! God, you have ‘uber mega dyke’ written all over you. Even in that dress- especially in that dress. In fact, I have a feeling that femboys would wear your outfit better. Every place but the-”
The staff roared to life. Its fire was “thicker”, condensed into almost a solid, blue skin. It swirled out of the basin and around his end, widening into a very snake-like head as it rounded back to look into his eyes. Its “eyes” were bright red, but the very depths were black as coal.
“Finish. That. Statement.” Penny said, the flames growing hotter, brighter, whiter with each word. “I dare you... No? Cat got your tongue?”
“Not tod-” He exclaimed, but refused to move a muscle, even as his left eye screamed out for him. It would simply have to toughen up; we all had a severe burn before. Everyone gets them. “As I was trying to say, before we ventured into this gender-identity shit-”
“You mean when you did! I am a woman, and I love boys –especially the little ones-”
“Did I say that out loud?”
“Yeah. You did, and, because I am not a therapist nor do I give a single fuck... I was going to use this week to find a job.”
She blinked, her natural bitchiness caught off-guard. Even her flames faltered, dulling to a cobalt blue.
“I must have had something crazy in my ear... Did you say you were actually going to go look for a job?”
“You... are actually... really... going to look?”
“Yes. Why are you so surprised?”
“Not surprised... Scared. I fear for any employer who hires you-”
“Here’s the thing, Plank: If I’m being paid, I’ll do whatever the fuck is necessary.” Because Eve said so. “I’ve done far worse jobs. In fact, being paid to flip burgers or bag groceries sounds like a fucking dream.” Because Eve said so.
“Huh... In that case-”
“You’ll drop off my packet?”
“No! Well, yes, but only because it’s on the way. Let me get in contact with Eve first; if she agrees, I’ll drive you around town. That way, when we do make it to our destination, you aren’t all sweaty when you walk in-” Penny groaned, slapping her forehead. “No. wait. We can’t.”
“You need a student worker’s permit from the employment assistance office.”
“This... is the first I’m hearing of it.”
“I’m not surprised. Something tells me Eve was going to show you where it was when you returned on Monday.”
“Well, that seems like a fucking waste! I could be getting a job right now, dammit!” BECAUSE EVE SAID SO.
“Doesn’t matter, anyways. Miss Strip is out. Sick. She won’t be back until next week. At the earliest.”
“Well that’s just fucking great. What am I supposed to do for a whole fucking week by myself! There’s no one else here, no one to hang out with, nothing to do-” No one to do.
“Are you that dumb? There are shops below. Hell, there’s a cafe in town. Go hang out... and it might not be all week. Let me get in contact with Eve. Give me, like, a few hours-”
“Shut up... I’ll come find you when she does.”
“So... you want me to just wait here or-”
The flames turned cold. As ice. The coils around his neck shattered, cutting into him, drawing blood –which Penny was quick in taking a few drops on the frosted tip of her staff. The runes on it flashed, stained a sickly green color... but then a it congealed, rose out of it, and molded into a bright, neon strand. Connected to him.
“I’ll find you,” she stated, then turned and stormed off.
“Hey!” He barked. “I’m not done with you.”
“I am. Things to do.”
“What about my packet?”
“Worry about it later. It’s not going anywhere.”
“At least give me some idea what I can do right now.”
“I don’t care! Jack off if you want.”
“I already planned to do that! It doesn’t kill enough time.”
Penny didn’t say anything else. She disappeared down the steps, leaving Francis alone. He stepped back through the remains of his door and into the kitchen, taking care of the- second most pressing need. The kitchen and its double-door chrome fridge would have to wait, and he prayed the poor throne could handle his offering. He was never very gentle with them; after all, he didn’t even need a lighter to shoot flames- but he wasn’t ready to dive back into regret. Though that conversation with Penny, loaded to the brim with so many kegs of worms, desired so much to drive him to it. No... he wanted to explore his quarters a bit more.
The toilet grumbled, as if crying out from the mound Francis offered. It threatened to give it all up –five times, in fact. But, with a bit of help from his “scepter”, it held and swallowed his tithe. If a bit indignant. Francis scrubbed his hands in the sink, little more than a steel pipe with round basin at its top. As crude as it looked, Francis appreciated its... simplicity; it was a U-bend with a long, straight shaft. Above it was an oval mirror, held in with jet-speckled copper, and, aside those items, that was it for the quaint room. The only other item inside was a closet with a towel bar on it. Inside, the middle two shelves were filled with soft, yellow towels. The top had dozens of rolls of toilet paper THANK GOD, while the bottom had plenty of soap and cleaners. The sink had a built-in soap dispenser, which was as easy as reaching under, twisting to the right, popping out, and popping a new one in. Again, beautiful in its simplicity.
He stepped out of the water closet and entered the kitchen again. The first word that came to Francis’ mind... and head as he hit it on the top of the stove was CRAMPED. It was a good thing he was expected to live there alone; he couldn’t imagine sharing it with how it already bit and snagged at him. He was a big guy, that was true, but he doubted he could have the fridge and oven open at the same time without hitting into one another and they were basically on opposite ends. Who thought it was a good idea to put a double-door fridge in such a tight space!
What was lacking in space, though, was made up for with... space. Counter space. On the right, where the oven was, there was at least four people’s worth (his size) of space to actually use. On the left, with that abhorrent chill chest, three, not counting the space the sink took up. It wasn’t as simple as the bathrooms, built into the faux pink-swirled marble counter top, but it had a spray faucet that could detach so it had that going for it. Above that, surrounding the fridge, were cabinets, filled with copper plating –and, wouldn’t you know, there wasn’t a microwave in sight. There was a toaster, a toaster oven, a coffee pot, a single-serving coffee dispenser, a can opener, and a food processor, though.
New first order of business: New plates, and microwave, he thought, grimacing as he checked the fridge. He came out mostly unscathed; his shoulder only popped once as it cracked into the stove. As he suspected, as he dreaded... there was no quick meals, no ready-made dinners. There was a single, sad pack of hot dogs, a mercy, while the rest was cut sections of beef, pork, and... chicken. That was in the freezer part, though; in the actual fridge, there were two dozen eggs, a carton of milk, a tub of butter, sticks of butter, and coffee creamer. There were fruits on the counter beside, oranges, pears, and apples mingling so merrily much to his disdain.
Francis turned around, scanned the stove, and saw there was a rolling drawer off to the left of it, hidden quite well. He found the lip, and pulled it out, slow, gentle, made even more nervous as glass phials jingled away, revealing a smorgasbord of spices. At the very top, though, in special, grinder apparatuses, were salt and pepper.
And that was only the top row.
Below, along the wider bottom (which showed he didn’t have to be as careful as he thought), there were gallons of different oils. Canola, Peanut, Extra Virgin Olive, Vegetable, a strange, red mix; literal, gallons of them, all lined up so daintily, wanting, needing used.
“Nah,” he uttered, and pushed it back in before he wheeled about. He reached down into the freezer, plucked out that pack of hot dogs, then slammed it shut before walking outside. He ripped that packet open, and breathed fire on them. It only took one exhale for those popping, crackling, succulent morsels of red to be turned a nice, hard orange. The plastic melted against his hand, dribbling, cooling as he returned inside, investigating passed the entry, gnawing away at the wieners as he went.
Francis was already well-acquainted with the living room, with its couches, its two chairs, its TV and lack of any windows, but he didn’t know what awaited him in the door to the left or right. He started with the right, since it would always be right, and found the guest bedroom. Simple, full-sized bed, covered in even simpler cream covers and topped with four pillows with matching, mundane slips; there was a chest at the foot of the bed and a nightstand with a silver lamp on it with a red, glass top. Other than that? What was there to say? It was a guestroom.
Which meant the other side... He chortled, gnashing into another hot dog as he crossed the way and threw open the door... to the MASTER BEDROOM! There was a KING-sized bed, the main attraction, the true attraction of the room. It was placed almost dead-center, and was only off-set by the doorway entering from the left. Two nightstands stood sentry, a pair of antique, rosewood majesties with three shelves in them. The lamps on their topped seemed to have grown out of the wood, trimmed back to be exactly center on each, which clashed with the dark wooden bar above it all. It was laden with of red drapery, spanning across the bed to four posters as it ended behind each lamp, where it had a slit, near the bases of each, to allow its cord through, leaving the rest undisturbed.
Both ran under the bed to a sixteen slot surge suppressor, which was easy enough to reach under. If he had anything to plug in -say, a phone charger or an alarm clock- it would have been considered quite good. The bed, itself, had a red covering, a crimson that glistened in the light that slowly streamed its way through the window along the left wall, reaching towards the four pillows. There were two on each side in matching shams, that waited, wanting to feel a warm body on their cold, chilled forms. There was a set of chest of drawers across from the foot of the bed, with just enough room in between to allow one to easily walk through without worrying about nudging something or stubbing their toe (for someone as bi as Francis no less). A TV sat on top of it, along with a sound bar. On its right, closed in, was the closet, currently empty but waiting to be used.
It was all quite nice... but nothing that struck Francis as “master” worthy. What about it made him the master of his domain? What was a master without servants after all –which made him wonder; where would the goblin stay? Would she be living with him? If that were the case, she better come with her own shoebox... or... was that door to the left in the room the servant’s quarters? It was quite strange; he didn’t find a shower yet in the entire apartment. Was there a communal one or-
He was being dumb. Of course there would be a master bathroom, as well. And THAT... that, alone, made it feel truly like he was the master. Unlike the little piss closet from earlier, the bathroom spanned. And it was good. He could walk ten large steps through and still have another forty to the end, all in fine, black tile. None of that checkerboard crap in their; it was all solid, as if made from one piece. It wouldn’t have surprised him, given the mirror that spanned three of the four walls. There wasn’t a seam to be seen in that wonderland of himself, cut off just above the waist, reflected back a thousand times over. In the center of the room, leading down four, large steps, was a Jacuzzi, big enough for five –or one and another. To the right was a single, standing counter with a similar sink built into it, but it had a pair of doors underneath, housing more rolls of toilet paper and cleaners. There was a medicine cabinet above it, already housing his toothbrush... and an assortment of pain and cold meds, all in a fine, silver-winged box. Along the left wall was the linen closet and the bathtub-slash-walk-in-shower... Francis was... He opened its hazed glass door... and cocked his head at the head above, pointed straight at him. The knobs were right under, three of them, all at about his groin level, and there was a set of shelves set up in the left crook, holding his effects.
What he wasn’t sure of was the shower curtain to the right.
He pulled it back... and tried to lay down in the tub... It was a tight fit, but he could see him with a woman in it. Again, tight, but that’s how he liked it. He chuckled, picked himself up, and took note of the hamper by the door before returning to the living room... Still alone.
Francis huffed, then stepped outside again, cleansing his hands of the plastic as he polished off the last hot dog... Well, he told Penny the Plank what he intended to do, so he might as well get that out of the way. He would have preferred it with his new “babysitter”, but everyone was disappointed today, aren’t they?