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Stray Skeleton Crossing

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     The stars twinkled above you as you rode your boat down the calm river, singing and humming your merry little shanties. The air was filled with the droning chirps of crickets, filling you with a sense of peace. It was a quaint little town you lived in, nestled at the heart of Ebott Valley. The town was also relatively modern, enough to have cars, trucks, and other vehicles, so you didn't have much purpose as a transportation service. However, you knew that not everyone could afford a vehicle to drive to where they needed to go. So for those kinds of people, you happily lent a hand whenever you could--free of charge.

     The residents, you note, were mostly (if not all) monsters. You can't recall the last time you saw a human in these parts, if you ever did. Though there hadn't been any major conflicts between the two societies in spite of their differences, you still noticed the traces of segregational tension.

     Whether you, yourself, were a monster or human was hard to tell. You wore obscuring attire reminiscent of a medieval monk, in varied shades of muted purple--namely, a darker cowl that completely overshadowed your face, over lighter, loosely fitted robes that nearly touched the ground, a thin rope tied around your waist, as well as your hands and lower arms completely wrapped in faded cloth bandaging. And the way you spoke in a mildly raspy, almost androgynous-sounding voice certainly didn't help. You were almost an urban legend among the town's inhabitants, with how little else they knew about you. Nobody knew where you came from, how old you were, if you were male or female, or even your real name. You were simply a passerby through their lives, riding on your trusty wooden boat, helping those who need it.

     And thus, they dubbed you "The River Person".
     It was a relatively generic title, but you rolled with it.

     Suddenly, you sensed a disturbance in the air. It sounded like the crying of a child. Now, you rarely left your boat while you weren't at home on a "day off", but it sounded serious. You slowed down, listening for the sound until it was close to earshot, and you stopped your boat. Lifting one foot, then the other, you disembarked to search for the source of this disturbance. You pushed past the once ashen-green reeds, who were now beginning to wither as autumn drew near. Then you made your way past the woodland outskirts of one of the town's main streets. Wandering down the shoulder of said street, you eventually come to a stop.

     There was a small, distraught monster girl on the other side of the street. A skeleton, to be exact. They were a pretty rare sight to see, even in a town like this. Her features were rather “anatomically accurate” as humans say, which was an even rarer sight–often a sign of significant prowess. She wore a rather fancy pink and white short-sleeved dress with a white sash tied into a bow in the back, a large-brimmed white sunhat with a black ribbon around its base and into a bow, and what seemed to be a pair of red rainboots peeking from underneath her skirt. She was crying into her little bony hands, all alone in the darkening night. You became concerned at the sight of this, wondering where the young one’s parents were. You cross the road to approach her, leaving faint, damp footprints on the cracked asphalt.

         "Tra la la... hello, there."

         "Sniff... huh?" the girl uttered, looking up from her hands.

         You crouched down toward her eye level.
         "What's the matter, little one? Are you lost?"

         "I... I'm scared. I want to go home." she replied, wiping away her tears.

         "I see. It is pretty late. Do you know where your house is?"

         "...Yeah." the girl replied.

     She walked towards the middle of the street, and pointed to the left.

         "It's that way." she said.

         You stood back up. "I can take you home, if you'd like."

         The girl looked at the ground, seeming unsure.

         "...Don't you want to go home? Your parents must be worried sick."

         "...Okay." she conceded.

         "Alright then, follow me."

     You begin to go down the road in the appointed direction, but turned your head and stopped upon noticing that the girl wasn't following. She was twiddling her thumb bones, still looking unsure.

         "Hm? What's the matter now?"

         The girl looked at you nervously. "Wh... what if there are bad things out there? I don't want the bad things to get me."

     You thought to yourself for a moment, then you got an idea. You went back up to her, slipping your hands inside your hood to reach around your neck. You unfastened something that was hanging around your neck, and showed it to her. It was a string of beautiful, shiny, baby-blue pearls.

         "Here, you can borrow this."

         "What is it?" she asked.

         "This is a magical necklace, made of the finest blue pearls in the world. If you wear it, no evil shall harm you. It will keep you safe."

         The girl's eyesockets widened in interest.
         "C... can you help me put it on?"

         "Of course."

         You went behind the girl and looped the string around her neck, fastening it.
         "There we are... Oh drat, it's all tangled up."

         "It's okay. It wasn't your fault." she said.

     It wasn't your fault.
     For some reason, those words echoed in your mind.

         You adjusted the necklace.
         "There. All fixed."

         "Pretty!" the girl said, seeming to cheer up a bit.

         "Glad you like them."

         You walked back in front of her.
         "By-the-by, what's your name?"

         "...Arial." she replied.

         "Arial? That's... a lovely name."

         "Thanks." she muttered, looking away shyly.

         "Well, it's very nice to meet you, Arial. Now let's get you home. We can walk there, though it may be faster if we take my boat."

         "We can take your boat." she said.

         "Alright. It's right this way."

     As mysterious as you were, you had a good enough reputation to be entrusted with children. In fact, on your "days off", you'd sometimes find work as a babysitter for a few hours while somebody's parents went to work or on a date together. It was one of the ways that you made actual money, since your boat rides were always free and out of goodwill. There were the occasional tips, of course, but you never imposed upon the idea.

     You began to walk away again, with Arial following you this time. You felt her draw nearer, her bony fingers clinging to your sleeve as you two walked along the street and back to the river, where your empty boat resided.

         As you go to step on your boat, Arial gasped.
         "Hey, your boots are red, too!"

         You stretch out a foot, glancing down at the boot it was wearing.
         "Ah, so they are. What are the odds?"

     It was true, as much as they stuck out like a sore thumb alongside your other attire. But they were comparably more weathered than hers, and mostly stayed out of sight under your robes.

         With one foot, then the other, you boarded your boat.
         "Watch your step, little one."

         "Okay." said Arial, carefully boarding after you.

         "Off we go. Tra la la..."

     The boat started moving, briskly floating along the river. The wind softly breezed around you, carrying a few fallen leaves of various autumnal tints. You and Arial watched a car pass by on the road behind the trees, glad that you were nowhere near any danger such as that.

         After a while, Arial tugged at your sleeve.
         "Oh! Stop here, please."

     You stopped the boat, turning your head to see that you were docked in front of a house across the street, seeing it through a clearing in the reeds and trees. The stone path was illuminated by rows of streetlamps on either side, leading up to the front door of the house. The house itself appeared to be two storeys tall, with brown wood panelling. There was also a small shed off to the left, seeming to be made of the same material. There were trimmed bushes surrounding the house, giving it even more of a quaint and cozy look.

         "Is that your house, Arial?"

         "...Yes. Here is fine." she replied.

         "Are you sure?"

         "...Yes." she affirmed.

         "Ah. Well then, take care, little one."

         "...Goodbye!" she said, before disembarking from your boat.

     Taking a few steps up the stone path, she stopped and turned back for  a moment.

         "Um... and thank you!" she added, before heading inside.

         "Wait! My pearls!" you called after her, but she was already gone.

         I can't lose those pearls, you thought.

     As if you suddenly went on autopilot, you disembarked from your boat and headed up the stone path. You went up the wooden steps of the small arched porch framing the front door. The porch’s two arches were illuminated with mounted lamps similar to those on the lampposts, so it wasn't that hard to see. The front door was dark brown with a weathered brass knob, and had an arched glass pane adorned with a simple pine wreath entwined with soft yellow lights hanging in front of it.

     Upon reaching the door, you noticed that it was ajar.

         "Hello?" you called, peeking inside.

         No answer.

     You stood there for a moment, wondering what to do. Should you go in? Wouldn't it be trespassing? Shouldn't Arial's parents be home? Shouldn't any other adult relative, custodian, or babysitter be there, at least? Who would leave a child alone and unsupervised at this time of night?

     Eventually, you decided. You were going in to find Arial, and get your pearls back. You didn't have much of a choice, really. Losing those pearls was not an option. You had to get them back. You had to.

     Taking a deep breath, you pushed the door open and went inside.