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Toxic #7: Chess: A Contact Sport

Mar 12, 2014

I shifted from foot to foot, my sneakers making a soft squelch in the puddle I was leaving. Was this some kind of private club? A mob place? Something else?

I edged my way to the bar, my eyes darting left to right. There was nothing remarkable, nothing that should’ve set my City Girl instincts off. A man and woman sitting at a table talking over their food. A guy who had to be a teacher sitting by the fireplace, rubbing at a mustard stain. Two men playing chess. But there was something hinky. What the hell was it?

I slid onto a seat at the bar, my neck muscles a solid bunch. Wrong. I was surrounded by wrong.

It had something to do with the guys playing chess.

Deep breath, Tiz. Chill. Whatever they were, whatever I’d interrupted, if I acted calm I’d walk out of this place with my head still attached. I’d been here before, seen supernaturals in a bodega and acted blind and stupid. One little fuck up with vamps didn’t mean I could never pull off blind and stupid again.

I snuck a peak back at the people, hunched into myself. The first chess player looked like he and showers didn’t get along at first, but the longer I stared the more dirt I saw. Like he was dirt. Dirt and mud. It moved and flowed with every gesture he made.

The second guy blurred when I tried to make out his details. Worse, looking at him made me want to lie down and cry. It was a grey wall of despair, so absolute I didn’t know if I could resist it. I had to look away or go into a funk so bad I’d never get out.

I reached blindly for the stack of napkins in front of me, trying to keep my face blank. I’d been worried about a soccer-dork werewolf in my art class. This was ten times worse. I didn’t even know what those things were, let alone how dangerous they might be.

Coffee. I’d order coffee. Then I’d get the hell out of Dodge.

The barista was crouched by the sinks, almost invisible except for a shock of lime green hair. At least he was watching me with the surliness of a coffee schlepper. “Coffee, please. Light, extra sugar.”

He sized me up as if I was a homeless person trying to mooch free food. I didn’t blame him. The mirror behind the bar didn’t paint a pretty picture, my hair in wet, fuzzy chunks that could have passed for dreadlocks. My clothes hadn’t handled the sleet any better.

“I have money.” I glanced at Mud Man. “And can I get it to go?”

He snorted and stomped to the end of the bar. It’s when I realized he hadn’t been crouching. He was just that short.

A voice to my left said, “He doesn’t get a lot of new faces in here.”

I turned on my stool, my heart thunking in slow motion. Vampire? Goblin? But the voice belonged to a guy maybe a couple of years older than I was. A normal guy. Human. His hair was a dark brown mess, and his eyes were the deep blue of a sapphire. And while his face probably wasn’t all that much if you studied the parts individually, when you put everything together… Well. It would’ve been nice if my hair had stayed combed for once.

All thoughts of being antisocial out of necessity fell out of my head. “Local place?”

“You could say that.” His mouth tugged up at the corners. My own mouth went a little bit dry.

The barista came back over and slammed my coffee down in front of me. Some of it sloshed over the sides and dribbled onto the bar. When he was out of earshot I muttered, “I said to go.” I sighed and mopped up the mess. Now, unless I wanted to draw attention to myself, I was stuck here until I drank the stuff.

“Problem?”

“No. It’s just with skills like that, it’s no wonder he doesn’t get many new people in.”

My neighbor stretched in his seat. It made his dark gray jeans hug muscles I didn’t need to see. Not when there was no chance I could talk to this guy again. And I couldn’t, could I? No matter how good he looked in his heavy sweater and butter-soft jeans.

“Fir is in a bad mood today. Don’t hold it against him.”

I dragged my eyes up to his face. “Fir? That explains a lot.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, with the name, the height, and the hair, I’d be in a bad mood too.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Do you just say whatever pops into your head?”

I took a sip of coffee and made a happy noise in my throat. It was good stuff, sweet enough to melt your teeth and twice as strong. Too bad I’d never set foot in this place again. “Pretty much. It’s part of my charm.”

A crash from the tables made my arm jerk and sent coffee flying. “Damn it.” No wonder the New York vamps had been pissed. Hot sugar to the eye hurt.

“You okay?”

I nodded and grabbed a napkin, looking for what had caused the bang.

The monsters. Of course.

Mud man had ennui boy by the throat, and was trying to shove a chess piece into his mouth. The teacher with the mustard stain was behind them, a Jeffrey Dahmer-class smile twisting his lips.

He had fangs. Big ones. And he wasn’t watching the fight; he was watching me.

© A.M. Schilling  2014. All Rights Reserved.

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