“The reports aren't necessary, Mr. Davis,” a voice on the phone said.
“I understand, Sir, but I intend to make sure my work is up to standard.”
“Mr. Davis.” There was a sigh. “Leo. I'd find it hard to believe your work was ever not up to qualifications.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Leo replied.
A pause halted the conversation. “Have a good night, Leo,” the voice said in resignation.
“Likewise, Sir. Goodbye.” Leo placed his phone in the cupholder next to his seat and slumped back. Another day finished, exactly on time. He continued on his silent drive home. The sunset cascaded through the forested trees, providing comfortable cruising light. It wouldn't be long before he'd be back in the comfort of bed.
The winding road lead him past more trees, by a couple of homes, over a short bridge, and finally into his extended driveway. The path veered off into more clustered trees, with only a small opening for his car to get through. The road went up before dipping back down, stopping right next to his home. Leo set the car in park and rubbed his eyes, then went through a mental list to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. Satisfied with himself, he picked up the leather case from the passenger seat and his phone, and stepped out of the car.
Instantly the entirety of the forest hit Leo's senses. It was a familiar sensation. The birds chirping in the distance, joined by a cacophony of insects as the wind blew through the trees. It was a comforting sense of life. He took a deep breath before setting off for his front door. Leo looked down to wipe his feet on the door mat, noticing it was off center. He pushed it back into place as he cleaned himself off, then stepped inside.
The front door closed, sending an echo all throughout the house. Maybe carpet flooring would have been better, Leo thought to himself. Carefully, he set aside his business shoes along with his case on the table. He moved from the foyer and looked over at the kitchen. All six of the dining chairs were neatly tucked away under the table, untouched. Leo's attention shifted over to the fridge. He shook his head. Not hungry at the moment.
Leo continued to his bedroom, undoing and neatly folding up his tie as he moved. He tossed the garment into a hamper as he entered his bedroom. There was a stuffy, stale feeling to the air, as if he hadn't been there in years. He switched off the fan and pulled his shirt off. It too was folded neatly and tossed into the hamper. Leo sat down on the bed, folding his hands.
What was on tomorrow's agenda? There had been any new calls about the merger. All filing on excess stock had been finished. His daily report was already filed out. Ah... Tomorrow was Saturday. Leo looked at the wall, noting the spackling on its surface. Then there was nothing to do. He stared for a moment longer before he shifted onto his back, settling on his bed. His hand automatically hovered over the night stand, where the remote was, as he had always done. Might as well, he figured. Leo picked up the remote and turned on the television.
Maybe it was time to retire for the night? Leo glanced out the window. The sun had set, but its lingering glow was still present, peeking through the trees. Not yet, that might throw off his entire schedule. Leo continued to stare at the television, occasionally flicking the channel. He silently hoped for his phone to make some sort of noise, giving him something to do, but it didn't come. Nothing around the house required his attention either. Everything was as presentable as it could be. For absolutely nobody. He looked around his room for any distractions before settling on the empty space next to him.
He didn't really need a queen sized bed, did he?
After a premade dinner and a shower, Leo was back in his bed waiting for ten P.M. on the dot. The light outside had all but disappeared, leaving only the blue hue of moonlight to flitter through the leaves. A faint scratching coming from the walls interrupted his waiting. He perked up and listened for the sound. There it was again. A damned animal better not have gotten stuck in the walls again. Leo stood up and walked out into the living room, hunting down the source of the noise.
The scratches became prolonged, dragging each one out. Then a wave of them. Leo shook his head. Now it was a whole infestation. He knelt down near the front door, and gently knocked on the wall. The scratching immediately stopped. That did the tri— A loud bang sounded back, causing his nerves to jump. He stood up and looked out the window. Was it something outside?
The porch and treeline near the front of the house made the window a deep, inky black. He leaned over and turned on the porch light.
A sinister grin from a black blob greeted him back. Leo froze. His mind couldn't make out much aside from a strained sneer and two, wide eyes that pierced through his heart. It let out a stuttering groan similar to a pained animal, and banged on the wall again. Too much stress. This was just too, too much stress raring its ugly head. He shut his eyes and turned off the porch light. With a deep breath he swiveled around on the spot and walked away.
Another bang made it clear that the thing wasn't going away. Leo wasn't going to let delusions get the better of him. “Leo!” the thing called out happily. No. No, just go away. “Leo Lion!” He froze. Fear was overridden by something else. He tightened his eyes as he tried to focus on that sensation. Nostalgia? Familiarity in that voice. That bubbly, all too young voice. He shook his head. “Where ya going?” That wasn't— “Scaredy cat as usual?” Bang. That wasn't possible.
"Open the door! I'm freezing out here!" Bang. Leo balled his hands into fists. How was she back? He had to check, make sure she was actually there. Leo opened his eyes, bringing him back to the house. Gathering his nerves, he walked back to the light and placed his hand over the light switch. "You don't look a day over forty, ya know?" the darkness said. Flick. There she was, staring him down, unblinking. The light barely reflected off her night black fur. She placed a hand on the window, showing off her long, spindly fingers tipped with threatening claws.
Leo stared, and stared, and stared. "Take a photograph, it'll last longer," she said, flashing her white ivory. Mindlessly, he put a hand up to the window. She wasn't real. She couldn't be real. All these years of wondering. There wasn't a chance she was real. And yet... "Well? Done admiring?" She placed a hand in front of his, those long digits extending past his own.
"M--Missy?" he said. The word still felt alien to him.
"Ding, ding, ding, ding!" she said, tapping her fingers in unison with her teasing. "You got it!" Her expression flattened. "So are you gonna let me in or what?" Leo examined her closely, trying to find any faults in the illusion. But there was none. There was none, and that frightened him. His mind screamed in defiance, don't ever let that creature near you. That pit in his chest told him she was comforting, almost familial.
The man swallowed and stepped over to the door. Missy's smile returned instantly, her form disappearing from the window. He unlocked the door before stepping back. The handle jiggled violently, then came to a halt. "A little help?" she said through the door. Leo relented, pulling the door inward a small amount. Fingers crept around the door and pushed it forward, revealing the creature in the flesh. She stepped inside and kicked the door shut. A part of Leo wanted to complain about her crude behavior, but he kept his mouth shut.
"Wow! Look at this place! A whole house to yourself, huh?" she said, looking around the dark room.
"Is it really you?" Leo asked firmly, as if a delusion would deny itself.
"Of course it's me. I'm the most me there is. You seen any other mes around?" she replied, walking around the room. "If you do, tell them off for me." She plopped down onto a couch. It was hard to make out at this light, but it was clear she started lounging. "So how've you been, Leo?"
"Why are you here?" he asked, taking a tentative step forward. "How are you here?"
"I just got here and you're already interrogating me, sheesh." She let out a low guttural yawn. "Aren't you happy to see me?"
"I'm..." Something, alright. It was hard for him to accept she was there at all. "It's been years, Missy." He rubbed his eyes. "I thought you didn't exist."
"Living proof," she said with a smile, teeth reflecting in the light. Indeed, living proof. He could try to touch her just to make sure, but that wasn't happening. "So is this a good spot to sleep or've you got room in your bed?"
"What?" Leo shook his head. "No, you haven't even answered my questions yet."
"Oh yeah." Missy held up two fingers. "One. The internet exists." Her index finger curled down, leaving the middle one. "And two, I took a very long stroll." Leo glanced back at the door. They were a long way from the old home. Just how far did she travel? "So is this a good spot or what?"
"Why here? Why now?" Leo shot back. "Don't you have anyone else?"
Missy rolled onto her back and stretched. "Man, you just do not let up." She grumbled. "Look, my last guy ducked out. I thought you were cool. Simple as that." Leo's internal thoughts denied her near instantly, but he kept his mouth shut. There was a soft, vulnerable feeling in his heart that felt terrible at the thought of kicking her out. But her? His eyes went across Missy again. She was an imaginary friend. A nightmarish one. She couldn't live here. God knows what she'd do when he was gone, or heaven forbid, while he was home. "You still make that face, huh?"
"You've got nowhere else to go?" Leo said, ignoring her. "Absolutely no one else to turn to?"
Leo pursed his lips and sighed. "No one else? You're not lying?" You have to.
"Not a soul, guy."
Just this once. "You get the night. That's it," he said firmly. Missy sprung from the couch, demented smile still plastered on her face. He pointed at her. "But you don't touch a goddamn thing. Got it?"
The monstress's expression soured for a moment. "Scared? Where's brave Leo?"
"He took a hike when he got a job." The man crossed his arms.
"Sucks." She spun around and looked at the house again. "Nice digs, though. So, what, you some kinda investor or CEO?"
"Never mind, it's probably too boring." This was going to be a mistake. She started walking about.
"Where are you going?" Leo said, trailing a safe distance after her.
Missy crooked her neck back at him. "Having a look. God, I'm not gonna piss on the walls." She waved him off. Leo watched her closely. While the ease in his heart told him she was a friend, other parts still screamed to get away. "Doesn't look like you got a taste in decor. But hey, bachelor life." She really was here, wasn't she?
"Where have you been?" Leo asked all too earnestly. It was hard to think she could stay anywhere.
Missy stopped in her tracks. "In not the best places." She returned to pacing. "This place is turning out pretty good." Leo's mind struggled to come up with anything to say. It was like a mythical beast waltzed into his home. A part of him wanted to cheer at the fact that she wasn't a sign of mental illness, and yet another grappled with the fact that things like her did in fact, exist.
Most importantly, she was a friend. An old one, in any case.
Missy was a long cry from her younger self, but she was still recognizable. Though now, instead of a worn, girly dress, she was sporting much of nothing at all. Her proportions had grown drastically, including her arms and hands, which now hung down nearly to her knees. Missy's snout had also expanded from a cute nub to a near canine-like protrusion.
Of course, Missy had also grown into a woman in the process. Fur fortunately hid her indecency, at least directly. Her modest breasts were quite visible on her chest. She was curvier too. A full of head of strangely human hair flowed down from her head. It was longer, curlier, and interestingly more reflective than the rest of her fur.
“Hold on, you've got a whole queen here and I'm taking the couch?” Missy said as they rounded into his room.
“We're not sleeping together, Missy,” he said plainly. For several reasons.
“It's only one night.”
“It's one night, in my house.” He pointed to himself. “Don't like it, you can take up a tree outside.”
She rolled her eyes. “Pshhh, fine. That's how you treat a long lost friend, sure.”
“I barely even know you anymore! Christ, I almost went crazy thinking you were some horrible delusion from trauma!” Leo huffed.
Missy held up her hands. “Damn, dude, and I thought I had issues. No trauma here. I'm real, see?” She extended a hand and prodded him with a clawed finger. He winced at the spindly thing touching him, but he supposed it did help. “I'll take the couch if it means so much to you.” She turned around and walked past Leo, close enough to get a scent off her. Instead of wet dog, she smelled of shampoo and a faint earthy aroma. Someone had to have been helping her.
The two wandered back into the living room, where Missy lay down again. Leo took up a pristine lounging chair nearby. “No free shows,” Missy said.
Leo shook his head and sighed. “Why'd you come here, Missy? I don't want a cute answer either.”
Missy looked over at the window. “Last one on the list, Leo. Didn't like the other guys.”
“Fucked up that bad?” List?
“We did our share of fucking up, alright? I don't want to talk about it, especially not with the guy who lumped me on a couch.” She turned away. “Good night.”
Leo lingered on her for a moment longer. He opened his mouth to say something else, then shut it tightly. She was really here. He couldn't take the suddenness of the situation, nor its bizarre implications. The man stood up and walked back to his room. He stopped to give her one last look. So much he had to ask. So much he couldn't ask. His hand settled on the door knob, then quietly closed the door.