There are a few rules about walking through the bad part of a crowded city. First rule: Don’t look at your feet. Stare straight ahead, and keep your eyes open. Second rule: Keep an angry, threatening look on your face. It helps to think about something that actually makes you angry, of course, but you try to keep it to things you can’t change, like income tax, anti-vaxxers, or the ice cold wind hitting you in the face that’s typical for a Canadian winter. Third and finally, don’t stop to talk to anyone. Don’t even look at bums begging for change or people asking for directions or the time. Minimal interaction is key.
Of course, it would be easier to keep up the tough girl façade if you hadn’t just crashed into a short bald guy in a blue coat when you turned the corner too sharply. Your whole urban survivalist demeanor dissolves away as you rush to apologize for your clumsiness.
“I’m so sorry, are you okay?” you ask, brushing off your pants and holding out your hand. Your knee stings a little bit, probably having scraped it in the fall.
The, err, person you crashed into is not, in fact, a bald man. It’s a skeleton. A short, maybe five foot tall, human-ish skeleton, with a faux fur-lined blue winter coat on, basketball shorts, and… Pink, fuzzy house slippers? You gape.
He doesn’t respond at first, or take your hand, choosing to rise slowly to his feet on his own. “i’m ok,” he says after a moment of deliberation, staring up at you, quietly analyzing the stranger that knocked him down. “what, never seen a skeleton before?”
“Not outside a biology class, anyway,” you joke, chuckling to yourself nervously. “Seriously though, are you okay? Sorry, I took that turn too sharply.”
Another too-long pause before he speaks, his eye sockets shifting into some unreadable expression. “heh, so did i,” he says quietly. “i’ll be fine,” he says, a bit louder to try and reassure you.
“Good, good, uh,” you say, releasing a breath you had no idea you were holding. “Well, enjoy the rest of your day, I suppose,” you wave shyly with one gloved hand, collecting your school bag once more, shivering slightly in the late January cold.
“ok,” he says simply, shrugging his shoulders.
Before you can get more than ten steps away, down the street he had been coming from, he calls after you. “hey, wait.”
Despite yourself and your three rules, you stop and turn to him again. “Hrmm?” you ask, trying to keep your teeth from chattering.
“have you, uh, met any monsters before?” he asks curiously.
“You’re the first,” you manage. “Is that a problem?”
“no, uh, no it isn’t. not at all,” he responds. “cool. catch you later.”
You pause a moment as he turns away from you, wondering about that. Shrugging, and figuring you’ll never see him again anyway, you continue on home.
Home is what you make of it, they say. Your home, in this case, actually consists of a laundry basket with all your clothes, a small scavenged shelf displaying your most prized possessions, and your aunt’s livingroom couch functions as your bed. It’s been a rough five years since you had to leave your parents’ house to maintain some semblance of sanity, but you’re fine with the arrangement, so long as your aunt is still fine with it, too. And you’re sure she won’t be fine with it forever, but so far she hasn’t said anything.
You work two part-time jobs (one seasonal) five or six days a week and still manage to attend college five days a week as well. It’s an odd work-life balance, but it’ll be worth it when you graduate, you tell yourself. Fortunately, since your aunt lives in welfare housing, you qualified for enough in student loan money to pay for your tuition in full. The money you make from your jobs goes towards food, your cellphone, and into a growing nest egg for your own place - whenever you can be bothered to find one, that is. That’s something that can wait until you graduate and get a real job, or until your aunt finally snaps and throws you out too.
You sigh softly to yourself when you start unloading groceries from your backpack. Fetching the permanent marker on top of the fridge, you start labelling your goods so your cousins don’t get any ideas about eating it.
“______’s pizza. Eat them and it’ll be $10 for the antidote,” you muse out loud as you scribble the empty threat on the side of the box.
After putting everything away (and a couple pizzas in the oven) you head to the livingroom to grind through three chapters in your textbook.