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Stalker

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Darkness…

That’s all you could see. Pitch black, abyssal night that yawned endlessly into the distance, threatening to swallow you whole.

Where were you…? Were you lost…?

You couldn’t fail now… you couldn’t give up now.

You had to get away.  

You trudged through the night, acutely aware of any sound that echoed around you… the crack of a branch… the whistle of the wind… the skittering in the distance… the shrieking of howling coyotes…

Any sign that he was coming to look for you.

You couldn’t get caught… you couldn’t go back…

The chill winter breeze bit unforgivingly at your skin, leaving prickles of goosebumps along your arms. The branches and rocks beneath your bare feet jabbed into your calloused soles, creating trickles of blood in their wake. It hurt.

But you persevered on.

You’d get away, no matter what it took.

 

Four months earlier…

“Here you are Aaron. Can I get you anything else? Any food?”

You slid the freshly uncapped bottle of beer towards the large, horse-faced monster that was perched atop the bar stool, tail wrapped around the length of its metal legs and one muscular arm slouched across the wooden counter as he leaned over it. He grabbed the beer, bicep twitching slightly. “No thanks babe, this is perfect for now,” he said, flashing you a wink, tail swishing, before sliding a twenty-dollar bill towards you. “Keep the change, lovely.”

You grinned, murmuring an appreciative “thank you” and ignoring the light blush that tickled your cheeks. Aaron turned away and resumed boisterously conversing with the two human males that sat next to him.

This wasn’t anything new. In fact, you quite enjoyed the company of the horse monster despite his somewhat creepy flirting. Ever since the restaurant you worked at opened its doors to monster customers, Aaron became a regular and often sat at the bar that you tended.

It took time for you to get used to him, no doubt. His appearance was not one you were accustomed to... but eventually, you realized that he was harmless. 

Monsters in general were a new thing in your life after they unexpectedly re-emerged from the Underground five years prior. Before then, they were only fairy tales to someone of your age.

But instead of starting a war like many humans feared monsters would the moment they escaped the Underground, they threw down any weapons they had and begged for mercy. You had heard that they looked desperate – hungry, starving even. Fortunately for them, many countries were sympathetic to the plight of the monsters and with some wariness, allowed them to remain living on the surface with humankind. Your home country was one of the few that allowed asylum to the monsters.

This, of course, didn’t mean that the monsters were granted basic human rights immediately. In fact, the last few years were rife with rallies and protests, pro-monster groups fighting for legislation to be passed to give monsters the same rights that humans enjoyed. After a few years, they were successful – mostly, much to the disdain of the many anti-monster humans that still existed in the world. Monsters were now allowed IDs, to drive, their children allowed to attend school, and the government even honored monster currency. 

However, expecting all humans to accept monsters with open arms proved to be an idle fantasy. Many businesses closed their doors to them, leaving countless monsters struggling to find a place to live, shop, and eat. Those businesses included the restaurant you worked at up until eight months ago, where after a change of ownership, the establishment became staunchly monster friendly. The logo outside the building now even had big fat letters below its name that advertised ‘MONSTERS WELCOME’.

This change resulted in the loss of almost half of the regular human customers and a few employees as well. But… the establishment was surviving, barely. Gradually, word was getting around that the restaurant welcomed all species and slowly, new monster customers were beginning to trickle in.

“Later’ hun.”

You were jolted out of your thoughts by the suave voice of Aaron, him calling you one of the many nicknames he had concocted for you as he unseated himself from the stool, shooting you a sultry wink before exiting the restaurant with a flamboyant sashay of his tail.

You smiled at him and waved goodbye before moving to discard his empty beer bottle and wiping down the wooden counter of the bar. The two men that were previously socializing with Aaron made conversation with you as you cleaned – just small talk, asking how your day was, commenting on the weather. Those two men were regulars, Steve and Carlos were their names. They came nearly every day for Happy Hour after work, and were very friendly with the other patrons, human or monster alike. Nice guys.

This type of small talk wasn’t abnormal, you frequently socialized with your customers even if it was a bit forced on your part. Good customer service mattered… that’s how you got such good tips.

You didn’t hate your job… it was preferable to working in retail, but it was a job nonetheless. And often, it was emotionally exhausting - you had to make sure you were always ‘on’ and smiling in order to net enough tips to keep you financially afloat.

Small talk, smiling, remembering names… all of those things were vital to keeping customers happy.

Despite the constant temptation to remain antisocial, you considered yourself quite good at this type of customer satisfaction.

You were talented at sensing what customers might want. As such, you faced away from the two male patrons, taking a moment to tug your shirt down so that it exposed your cleavage before resuming the conversation.

This tactic was nearly failproof when it came to human male customers. And based on the wandering eyes of the two older men, it worked.

After some time though, Steve and Carlos also bid you farewell, leaving you with a generous tip.

Perfect, that will help pay for groceries this week.

Smart customer service strikes yet again.

You were alone at the bar now. You sighed and absentmindedly resumed wiping down the bar top. It was a slow day. Typically, the restaurant was bustling with people at this time of night, and while you did not often have many patrons at the bar on weekday nights, you were usually swamped with the drink orders that were requested by customers sitting in the general restaurant area.

The occasional slow day and break from chaos was nice but… you were here to make money, and fewer customers meant less money. Tips were the crutch of your paycheck.

You huffed, leaning against the counter and pulling out your phone. It was frowned upon to use your cellphone at work, but you often did anyway. Only when it’s slow of course.  No one cared enough to report you to management or reprimand you for it. You scrolled through it, checking your texts, Facebook, Instagram, snickering when you came across a funny meme.  One minute turned into five…

You nearly jumped out of your skin when you heard someone shift and breathe behind you. God, who breathes that loud? Whipping around, you realized that someone new was sitting at your bar.

Shit, it was a customer. You didn’t even hear him come in.

The customer was a monster, and an intimidating looking one at that. His gaze was cast down at the table, but darted up to rest on you the moment you turned towards him. The eerie blood-red glow that encompassed his left eye flickered as it settled on you, bouncing in its socket like a caged predator. His right eye was constituted of a nearly empty socket, a single, dim, white pupil sitting in a sea of abyssal black. What was perhaps even more unnerving though was the sizeable fracture in his head, which seemed to gape open into an endlessly dark void.

Your body stiffened as your nerves gripped you. You had never seen a monster that looked like this one before. God, they could be so scary looking sometimes.... However, you pushed that sudden bout of discomfort aside and steeled yourself, approaching the new customer.

Being visibly scared certainly isn’t going to net you a good tip.

It’s just a monster… just a monster… you’ve seen monsters before. Just like Aaron…

But this monster was far, far scarier looking than Aaron.

“Welcome sir! I’m so sorry for the wait. Can I get you anything?” you greeted with feigned exuberance, flashing him a smile.

The enigmatic monster failed to answer, instead, his dim pupils constricted and wandered southward to rest on your lips. An intense stare that made you wonder if you had insulted him somehow. You swallowed thickly, shoving your rising discomfort to the back of your mind. What’s wrong with this guy?! “If you don’t know what you’d like yet, I can come back later,” you offered, hanging onto your smile. “I can also get you a menu if you need…”

You swore that you saw his pupils dart down to rest on your barely exposed chest. You tried to ignore this – he’s a monster, right? You doubted that such things would be of interest to him… maybe you just imagined it. Nonetheless, you found yourself grabbing the collar of your shirt and tugging it up to cover your what was visible of your cleavage.

Typically, you didn’t mind being checked out… but for whatever reason, this monster staring at you like that made your skin crawl.

The monster exhaled, that blood-red eye of his pulsating and then… his mouth curved into a wide smile, elbow moving to rest on the table and hand cradling his chin, skeletal fingers winding around his jawbone and dipping inside his empty eye socket. “hehe, sorry pal, was just thinking. no i don’t need a menu, i’m good. thanks though, real sweet of you to offer,’” he finally spoke, his voice and posture surprisingly friendly in contrast to his creepy visage. “i’m sans by the way. sans the skeleton.”

It was then that you realized that he was, in fact, skeletal. It was not initially apparent just by his face, as his head was not quite the same shape as the human skulls you had become familiar with in your anatomy classes. He appeared to have a bony, almost cartilaginous skin-like layer that surrounded his mouth and eyes. You presumed this was how he was able to blink or even have facial expressions at all. However, what really gave away his skeletal nature was his propped-up arm, his ivory radius and ulna mildly visible under the sleeve of his blue jacket, connecting into his exposed bony carpals and phalanges.

You had met many different monsters of all shapes and sizes, but never one that didn’t seem to have skin or internal organs. How is he going to eat? How was he breathing? How was he even speaking at all?

You shook those thoughts from your head. How he did those things didn’t matter and were quite frankly none of your business. It didn’t matter. He was just a customer. Most likely you’d never see him again after this. “No problem,” you said, mustering your most cheerful voice and flashing him another smile. Just smile and be nice. “I’m sorry for not noticing you earlier. Welcome, Sans. I’m (y/n). If you decide you want to order anything just shout and I’ll get it right away for you.”

Maybe he just wanted to be left alone? He seemed… uninterested in conversation.

Regardless, you hoped he ordered something. The customers that just sat there, taking up a seat, never ordering anything or tipping were the worst.

Sans’ smile faltered, his ruby hue flashing and engorging to fill its socket. You would be lying if you tried to tell yourself that it didn’t make you feel uncomfortable. However, just as quickly as it disappeared, his mouth once again stretched into a grin. It almost reminded you of the Cheshire Cat… wide and tense and always… smiling…

This is awkward.

Maybe you weren’t as good at reading customers as you thought.

Opting to leave him be until he was ready to order, you returned to your previous task of wiping down the countertop.

“lookin’ a little green in the gills there, pal,” the customer, Sans, spoke after what felt like an eternity of uncomfortable silence, a playful lilt to his tone, “something the matter?”

You twitched, smiling falling as you flashed him a confused look, “Huh? No, I’m fine. Do I look weird? Is there something on my face?”

But Sans merely chuckled, a baritone rumble that vibrated the table.

“hey you don’t have to hide it, i know my appearance scared ya. don’t worry, i’m used to it,” Sans quipped, seemingly unoffended. His claws clicked gently against the table… tap…tap…tap...

You stiffened – was it that obvious?

Sans continued, gentle sarcasm dripping from his tone, “i bet you want to hear my bone jokes too, but tibia honest, i don’t really feel like it right now.”

You paused, and then let out the breath you were holding in, snorting out a chuckle that Sans seemed to appreciate if his ever-widening smile was any indication. “That’s terrible.”

Sans shrugged. “you liked it,” he remarked smoothly. “so, you’re offering to treat me tonight? how nice of you. i’ll take a burger and a beer, oh and extra ketchup.”

More jokes. He really is harmless. You felt like slapping yourself for feeling uncomfortable in the first place and judging this monster based on his appearance. You were no better than those anti-monster activists.

“You got it. Coors okay?” At his nod you turned to grab a beer from the fridge, setting it next to him before punching his food order into the computer to send to the cook.

“thanks.”

You watched Sans, with mild curiosity, as he tilted the beverage to his mouth and drank. He doesn’t have a throat, so where does it go? His neck was composed solely of the cervical vertebrae that columnated up to his skull. However, the liquid seemed to just… disappear in his mouth. How?

It was then that you noticed the delicate, ethereal blue tinge that snaked ever so subtly around his ivory bones, appearing to connect them like tendons. It was barely noticeable and had you not been studying him like some kind of creep, you would not have seen it. You knew that monsters used magic – an ability that humans lacked entirely. Did Sans use magic simply to exist and function like a normal being?

Your mind was swimming with gnawing curiosity and questions that were entirely too inappropriate to ask, but...

“Uh, I’m sorry – and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to! But I’m curious, how do you…?” You gestured to the drink he was clutching.

You couldn’t stop yourself. You were too curious - monster anatomy was fascinating.

“heh, don’t worry about it – doesn’t bother me. i could tell that question was burning in your mind since you’re starin’ so much… so to answer it - yes, its magic.” An amused chortle escaped him. “if ya have any other doubts, then be reassured that i can do anything a human can do with magic.”

Right, magic.

That was always the answer to everything that monsters were able to do. It almost made you jealous. You wished you could use magic.

A moment of silence passed and you heaved a sigh… even though he didn’t appear bothered, you made a mistake. “Listen, I apologize, I shouldn’t have asked that question, that was really inappropriate of me.” 

“well, i don’t mind. does it bother you?” Sans snickered, relaxing further into the table, that claw dipped into his eye socket scratching at the bony edges of it. “tell you what, how about you answer something for me about humans? then we’ll be even.”

The sound of his claws grating at his skull assaulted your ears, like nails on a chalkboard. You quirked a brow. Does it not hurt him to do that? It’s a little… odd… but you chose not to remark on it and again forced a smile, “Let’s see what you got. Ask away.”

“so…” he began, leaning over the table, tone hushed, “i heard that human females just start bleeding down there for a week once a month – is that true?”

“Uhhh,” you sputtered, unprepared for the oddly private question. Do female monsters not do that? Do male monsters not know that it's inappropriate to ask something like that? You knew that monster social norms differed from humans, but this was… strange. “Yes, yes we do. It’s natural.”

You didn’t want to answer, but you supposed you owed him for starting this string of body-related questioning.

You hid your face in your sleeve as your cheeks burned, a light blush decorating your face.

“huh…” was all Sans said in response, white pupils constricting. “the more ya know.”

Another brief moment of awkward silence passed between you and him.

You weren’t going to get a good tip from this customer, were you?

But maybe… you could salvage it…

You had your ways.

 “Well… I think your food should be just about ready, so I’m gonna go check, okay?” You flashed him a smile before rushing to the kitchen.

“don’t take too long,” Sans said your wake.

“Brian!” you hissed quietly, peaking your head over the small window into the kitchen. Due to your unfortunately shorter stature, you had to stand on your tiptoes to accomplish this. The wafting scent of grease and junk food immediately hit you. Your pupils constricted as they adjusted to the fluorescent lighting of the kitchen in contrast to the dim bar as you set your eyes on the cook, who was idly flipping a burger, hips swaying in dance as he remained distracted by the headphones jammed in his ears. “Brian!”

After a moment, Brian plucked one of the buds from his ear and turned to you. “Hey!” he greeted with a bright smile, pushing his spatula down onto the burger patty, causing it to sizzle and ooze grease. “Here for that burger order? I have it almost ready right here.”

You nodded. “Yes, and can I add an order of fries onto that too? If you have any ready that is.”

“You got it,” Brian responded cheerily, readying the burger and tossing some already prepped fries on the plate next to it before handing it to you.

 “Thanks! You’re the best!” You grinned at him, grabbing the plate of food before hurrying back to your bony customer, snatching a full bottle of ketchup from one of the empty tables on the way.

When you returned to the bar, you noticed Sans staring at his half-empty beer bottle. Although almost immediately, his attention swapped to you, pupils following you as you glided over to him.

“Okay, I have and order of burger, extra ketchup, and some bonus fries,” you said as you approached him, sliding the plate of food in towards him and smiling that fake grin of yours. “And don’t worry about paying, this ones on me. Consider it a special welcome treat for being a first-timer,” you finished with a wink.

Sans gaped at you, silent, appearing as though he had been struck by lightning. He glanced down at his food before quickly looking back up at you, his white pupils once again resting on your smiling lips.

… What’s wrong now? Did you offend him?

This is so awkward.

You hesitated, smile faltering, muscles growing stiff under his searing gaze. Beads of sweat began to slick your palms, but you wiped them off on your apron.

“Um, did I say something wrong?” you questioned after nearly a minute of his staring.

This appeared to snap Sans out of whatever trance he was in, his eyes darting back up to rest on yours. “thanks, but uh, are ya sure? i was just joking earlier when i said you were treating me.”

Relaxing, you grinned, bringing a hand up to brush a strand of hair behind your ears, inwardly thankful that the moment of awkwardness had passed. “Of course, it’s no problem at all. You just have to promise me that you’ll come back?”

It really was no problem. In fact, you weren’t paying a dime for this meal either. Being an employee, you were allowed one free meal a day – which you never utilized for yourself. You tried not to eat this type of food – too greasy, and it was unhelpful when it came to keeping up your figure.

It was technically against restaurant policy to give unused free meals to customers, but… you did it often anyways – it was your ace in the hole for impressing customers. What your boss doesn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. And, in a moment of occasional deception from you, you decided that Sans didn’t need to know that it was free for you either. You would let him think that you paid out of the kindness of your heart – that would hopefully lead to him becoming a loyal customer, and maybe a good tipper in the future.

At your words, you noticed that what appeared to be a blue-tinged blush creep across his cheekbones. However, it was so mild and subtle, and disappeared in an instant. Did you imagine it? He nodded mutely and turned his attention to the plate of food.

“Well, I’ll leave you to your meal, but let me know if you need anything else, alright?”

You again flashed him your people-pleasing grin before turning away from him and returning to your duties. The restaurant would be shutting down for the night soon, and you wanted to get a head start on your nightly closing tasks. You did, however, take note out of the corner of your eye that Sans wasted no time in digging into his food.

Tipping the bottle of ketchup unceremoniously over his plate, Sans dumped an appalling amount onto his fries and burger, to the point where almost the entire plate was coated in the red, thick liquid. The scent of liquid tomato was so strong in the air that even you could smell it from the other side of the bar. You wondered if this was an accident, as you too had unintentionally added far too much ketchup to your burgers before. But in his case, nope, it appeared to be no mistake as he undauntedly and immediately began devouring the food with such vigor that it was like he hadn’t eaten in years.

You guessed that he liked ketchup?

You also took note that just like the beer from earlier, the food also appeared to just… disappear in his mouth after he chewed it. It made you wonder if it was getting turned into magic. Perhaps monsters like him had to eat not to sustain their bodies as humans did, but to rejuvenate and sustain their magic. It was a theory and one that you didn’t dare intrude on your skeletal customer again to confirm or deny. You had already been far too personal tonight with him.

You sighed and began humming quietly to yourself, grabbing a dirty glass out of the sink and scrubbing it. Out of the corner of your eye, you swore that you saw him watching you while he ate, his single eerie crimson eye burning like a hot laser into your back. However, every time you peaked over your shoulder to check on him, you found his gaze cast down on his food. Strange...

After some time went by, you heard the audible squeak of a stool being pushed back. You turned to see Sans, now standing and his plate cleaned of every crumb. “hey, got something for ya,” he spoke, low and gruff, eying you before outstretching his closed hand towards you. “here.”

You held out your hand to him, gasping when you saw him drop what appeared to be a crumpled fifty-dollar bill into your palm. His hand lingered there for some time before pulling away, the tips of his phalanges coursing over your fingers. This action made you shiver, pulling your hand away as goosebumps prickled at your skin. His bones felt oddly smooth yet sharp at the same time.

But you didn’t think too much on this strange action of his – you just got a massive tip!

A pang of guilt rolled around in your gut, realizing that he likely only tipped you so generously because he thought you paid for his meal. You contemplated telling him, but pushed the thought away, not willing to jeopardize ruining the good faith you had built or give up the amazing tip you had just received. “Thanks,” you mumbled.

You shoved the tip in your pocket before grabbing the empty plate and beer bottle, setting the dirty dishes into the sink and discarding the glass bottle. You heard Sans shift behind you.

“i’ll seeya around,” was all he said, and you felt the atmosphere in the room change.

You turned to say your goodbyes, but he was gone. Like he had just vanished into thin air. Huh. Creepy. But you chalked it up to more magic in the end.

You wondered if you actually would be seeing more of him.