Isha’s spot was a squared away corner of the parking lot, right where branches from the forest began to crawl over and give shreds of shade to the far away parking spots. In the early morning they weren’t visible, but as the day school crept to life the patches of shadow around Isha’s car would remain unperturbed as cars parked no more than three spaces near her clunker.
Club activities for night students were ending; rather they were over and the ambitious students were finally being driven home before the sun finally broke through. A werebat flew overhead as Isha hit the crosswalk, casting her a passing hiss before breaking at unprecedented speed upwards through leathery blue wings. There were far up beatings of other wings in the night sky, but Isha didn’t look for more than what passed by her yellow eyes. The morning smells of home had faded away for the stink of other monsters.
Isha rolled her shoulders and stretched as she crossed the lot. She didn’t expect much for today, or the rest of the semester even. Until coach was back from early vacation she was out of easy venting targets and the kids brought in from the Junior high had steadily broken themselves against her over the course of the semester. Hope against hope was that next semester lit some kind of fire under senior asses and they tried to storm her Den like last year. Claws and fangs even got popped before that ogre math teacher wandered down and nearly tore a hole in the wall breaking it up.
That had been the last of the good fights. Isha’s senior year had seen a trickle of fresh faced little nothings barging in for fights, and that had been it’s own sort of fun. But the actual quality of fights had left with the graduating class of last year and she had grown more and more bored throughout the first of her final semesters. A silver lining had been the Ocelomeh from Wayson; crazy jaguar jumped her at a mall and they’d even drawn blood before a mall guard broke it up. She was still trying to track the cat down for a rematch.
Maybe over break, she mused. In fact she was certain the break would have to be where she got her fun; even the night students were giving her a wide berth on the walk into school. A couple of leaner looking wolves were piled up in their pack, breaking only to clear way for her parting her way down the middle. Between the divided packs little eyes and fangs hid behind them for cover, glowering out at her with contempt and fear. A singular monster, blonde, pale and ruby eyed with outwardly human features stalked down the middle at shoulder length’s distance from Isha; not a challenge but a showing that she was not submissive.
Isha sighed. It was her own fault. In a day of extreme boredom she went to night school after it had broken one late night and picked a myriad of fights. That day had been glorious, a storm of fang and claw. Shadowy appendages that faded in day and meant for stumbling prey in shadow mixed in with dimly glowing eyes to paint the nighttime world the color of the predator, all and more rushing in for the brawl near the forest trail by school.
It was glorious. It was also over as soon as it started. The actual fight had bled into an orgy style brawl of random violence that had borderline coincidentally resulted in Isha being the last monster standing. If there were good fights to be had they were buried under a body of unruly delinquents punch drunk on blood loss. The night students regarded the whole thing fondly, but Isha now found herself with a whole upside down school full of kids who wouldn’t even look her in the eye, let alone give her a way of killing some time. From her walk to the school’s back entrance, even night teachers were dodging her gaze.
Even the backend of the school, that had been so dodgy when Isha had first skulked towards it in the dawn hours a year and a half ago, was now a poorly lit series of corridors, water closets and litter instead of being full of all those things and a handful of pissed off monsters looking to put a Junior in her place. Now she traversed the maze of dark halls like a mythical monster instead of a horribly bored one, utterly unbothered while navigating the labyrinth with directional skills that bordered preternatural. The back of the school was a mess of storage that splintered into school halls in afterthought, all of the sections now intimately familiar to Isha.
The Den had even begun to lose some of its luster to Isha. It was so comfortably situated between the cafeteria and the back labyrinth that she and her girls might have gravitated towards it even if it weren’t for all the pillows and bedding. The entrance to the tunnel it lay in was a little hard to find from the back, owing to the stairwell leading to it being slightly larger in width than the average manhole tunnel, but was easy to stalk towards when a monster knew the path. It had served as a delightful fighting ground for so long, but now in the hazy days of mid-year it’s only conflicts were Taima and Nicky’s squabbles. Isha had done nothing but study there for nearly a month and the lack of tables and over abundance of lumpy mattresses was making her seriously debate a migration to the library; maybe the more book learned monsters had some repression she could help them with.
In a fit of boredom at the narrow stairwell she slid an advanced history book through the slit in railing; it fell satisfyingly straight down without disturbing itself on the railing to land with a painful slam. A second after a mousey girl (in all senses) stuck her eyes out the top entrance only to squeal when Isha looked back at her from below and retreated. Isha almost chuckled, but still her heart wasn’t in it.
When she finally reached the Den it was just Taima waiting on her. There was an awkward set of hooks near the entrance of the Den meant to serve as a coat rack. As the door opened inwards, the end result was that most of the hooks were dangling from the wooden outcropping and that Isha and her denizens just threw their coats on the floor. Regardless of its utility, it was the highest up object in the room that could be perched upon; Thus Taima was perched upon it. A fight with the bird didn’t sound interesting, so Isha opened the door just wide enough to inch through without slamming into the harpy on her wooden perch. They grumbled out a good morning to each other, Taima not looking away from her tablet on the floor playing an old sitcom. She was preening herself lazily and sleepily, the dark blue of her plumage gathering in the corner for an inevitable whining about from Nicole. For some reason today Taima’s talons were digging into her perch with more force and were pulling out shreds of wood that were being discarded into the accumulating pile.
“Nicky’s gonna bitch.” Isha said, tilting her head to the harpy litter.
“Saint Nicky? No shit?” Taima’s response was groggy but as venomous as she could make it.
“If you wanna fight you could just talk about her boy.” Isha offered.
“I don’t wanna fight.”
“Yeah. I love everyone Isha. I love the whole fucking world.” Taima spat into the pile for some reason, then snapped back to her tablet as a laugh track rang out. Isha shrugged and moved onto her spot in the back, the little bit of ground not littered with coats and pillows and instead littered with just a single mattress and flanked by blankets.
“Morg here?” Isha asked.
“No.” Taima said.
“Yes.” Morg said. “She popped up in the middle of the room in an eruption of pillows, the hard metal studs through her scaled ears catching and dragging a bit of a blanket upwards with her. The lower half of her serpentine body was coiled or perhaps spread all about the pillowy minefield. “Good morning, Wolf.”
“Fucking God,” Taima hissed, “Goddamnit, every time.”
“Hey, Snake.” Isha nodded towards Morg. Morg returned it, then retracted back into the pile. There was no sight left of her after, the wide length of her coiled unseen among the fluffy burrows. Whether she was sleeping or lurking, Isha had long learned to ignore it; thinking of Morg bursting from below to coil around an oni that had tried to rush in once brought too much of a smile to make her stop.
Nicky was there not too long after, just before the clock ticked past 7. Like always she came in near kicking the door down onto Taima and triggering another foul mouthed storm of squawking from the bird. Her outfit was more chaotic than normal, oversized sweater certainly, but paired with a purplish beret that hung loose off a horn. She didn’t engage in morning combat with Taima, talking without breaths on the phone to her boy with a floppy wave to Isha herself. Being ignored didn’t stop Taima’s morning tirade, but it did shorten it substantially.
Isha was buried into a science book while the misfits crowded in, calculus book cracked open on the side for her to test herself on algorithms between mitosis diagrams. The information was old and long rehearsed by this point; she was pleased to feel it coming to her in a steady mental drip without any real effort.
Still, she was bored. Studying was all she had to do in the twilight days of the semester, until boxing practice returned to her in the new year. The mutt of Greencrest had busted her cage open and now she had to sit in it regardless.
And it was the boredom that made her notice she was cold, and the cold that made her remember. Isha glanced at the clock: nearly fourteen minutes past seven.
The runt. Yesterday drew to her slowly; meeting a boy so suicidal made it hard to see as anything other than a fever dream, but yet here she was jacketless.
“Nicky.” Isha called.
“Huh, yeah, yes?” Nicky called back, glancing about the Den before settling on Isha with a lazy smile.
“I told that idiot 7:15 right?”
“Mmmm, yeah!” Nicky nodded. She was back in her phone right after, if she ever really left it.
“What idiot?” Taima asked.
“Got a new bitch.” Isha responded.
“Huh,” Taima clicked her tongue and seemed suspicious, “It’s that bad huh?”
“Nah, not yet.” Isha said, eyes going back down to her books. “This one just fell into my lap and I got a little carried away.”
“Who is he?”
“Uh…” Isha frowned. “Nicky, you said you found him online?”
“Huh, yeah!” Nicky snapped to attention again with another smile. “His name’s Milo, he’s from some ritzy buncha’ Jinkos.”
“Rich kid, huh?” Isha sneered, pulling out a notepad and a pen from under a pillow. “Guess money really can’t buy smarts.”
Taima snickered. “Isha got herself a dumb boytoy to buy her dinner!”
“Dumb ain’t even strong enough, Tai.” Isha chortled.
As the clock ticked to 7:15, Isha debated her options. Her mind was on study, but then again she WAS bored and tracking down the little idiot sounded at least halfway to amusing. With class at 8, she’d have to sniff him down now or lose the opportunity. Assuming the runt crawled to school today even, which he struck her as stupid enough to have done.
She briefly weighed the interesting notion of tracking the runt’s scent to his home before the Den door being slammed open snapped her to attention. Taima squawked louder than the door slammed and the dullard at the door had taken immediate notice, peering behind it at the rising harpy with a look of terror. Isha’s jacket hung loosely from him, the oversized clothes making him look like a little kid who had just broken a vase.
Difference was that the broken vase was screaming at him instead of his parents. The impact squawk was a scarier noise than anything Taima had ever let loose during a fight and the verbal frenzy she was screeching out now was competing for a close 2nd; from little of it Isha could make out from the verbal maelstrom.
“I’LL RIP IT OFF!” Taima screamed. Her sentences dissolved into jumbles of angry gibberish as she jumped up and down, feathers flying in the tantrum. Words came back to her in twitchy gasps. “DO YOU HEAR ME? I’LL RIP IT THE FUCK OFF!”
“Sorry! I’m so sorry!” The runt said. He was pressed against the narrow corner where the wall met the doorway by Taima’s frenzy. He hadn’t just opened it on her, he’d actually kicked the damn thing in on her trying to make an impression on a band of delinquents.
Isha assumed so, anyways. She couldn’t imagine ever this moron slamming a door into the DEN of all places that hard without some threadbare motive.
And he had certainly made a hell of an entrance: Taima was rabid and Isha was holding back tears from laughing. Nicky was cackling in her corner and even Morg had reared her head from her tunnels to let out hissing snickers. Isha was in awe. She hadn’t even had to hunt down the little moron, he had wandered straight to her and gotten himself in trouble all on his own.
He continued to impress, she had to admit it.
Eventually, Taima began to tire. What was a deluge of hate dried out into a sputter of griping until the thunderbird hopped up to her perch with nothing but a stinking glance. Milo, the newly identified moron, only worked up the courage to steel his gaze at the rest of the room when Taima could be tucked away in the corner of his vision; he saw the wary head of Morg descending into her tunnel, which he stifled a yelp at, the floppy waving succubus and Isha who had cooled herself to look neutral after her laughing fit.
Milo cleared his throat. “Hey.” He aimed it generally at Nicky, who finally stopped the body yanking waving when he did to look back to her phone content. The tone was harder to place; the idiot sounded like he was trying to say it…Isha wouldn’t say tough, but what a human might think a tough guy sounded if one of those existed.
The kid began to walk towards Isha.
Rather, he began to strut. That was the best word Isha could think of for whatever contortion his legs were tangling themselves in as he marched to her. He seemed to be making himself out to be taller, trying to angle himself so that it wasn’t so obvious that he was walking on tiptoes. At the same time he kept his shoulders out broad like he carried the weight of his hypothetical testosterone on his back. The frequent stumbles across pillow mines that sent him sprawling for a second were only distractions from it instead of a merciful end to whatever he was doing.
When he got to Isha, he was lost again. Not quite the mess he was under Taima’s barrage, but he seemed to have lost all semblance of steam at the foot of Isha’s mattress.
“Good God, Runt,” Isha said finally, “If I didn’t know better I’d think you were suicidal professionally.”
“Devotedly death prone.” Called Morg.
“Murderously malfunctional!” Chimed in Nicky.
“Fuckin’….” hissed Taima, “Stupid…..dumb……” she trailed off into further growls amidst aggressive preening on her stoop.
Milo blanched amidst lyrical belittlement. “Look, what do you want me to do?”
“Stop talking.” Isha replied with a shrug.
“I thought you wanted me to come here.” Milo whimpered. She thought he was scared at first, but realized at the puff of his cheeks that he was actually, somehow, inexplicably, pouting at his treatment.
“I did. You’re here. So sit down and stop talking.”
“I’m studying. Stop talking. Mongrel.” Isha intoned back at him. The thought of hunting the mutt down had been amusing and seeing him stumble in like a militarized rodeo clown had been well and good, but now that he was actually here Isha just recognized that she needed to be studying. She didn’t have the energy to think up a game to play with him, not until she’d had a long dull day that required venting.
“Don’t you want your jacket back?” He asked her without even a semblance of a pause for thought. “It’s too big for me.”
She growled and finally spared him a glance, then began to snarl as she saw the doe-eyed emptiness staring back at her. “That isn’t a present, lemming. It’s to keep another monster from putting your head through a toilet whenever you mouth off to them like you did yesterday twice in a goddamn row.”
“I didn’t mouth off, Kana was the one who started it!” The pout rose back up on Milo’s face like a sponge that absorbed fear and self-preservation.
“Oh my God he actually mouthed off to someone else,” Nicky gave an airy laugh like a gasp of whimsy, “Izzy I thought you were messing with me.”
“Kana!” Taima blew up in the corner in a squall of crowing, “He got beat up by friggin’ KANA?”
“No, he almost got beat up by Kana,” Isha mumbled, energy fading, “The only successful thing he’s done in front of me is avoid messing up my jacket so bad I tear his legs off.”
“But the day is young.” Hummed Morg.
“Yes, yes it is,” Isha mumbled, “So runt, what I want you to do is sit down, on your hands, and shut your mouth until I tell you to do something different. And if you don’t, I won’t do anything.”
Milo blinked. “You….won’t?”
“Nope. Taima will.”
At Taima’s snorting, the Den was finally quieted for a while. Morg stayed in her tunnels for a nap, Nicky finally reverted to manic texting over talking, Taima preened with a hungry eye on the newcomer at all times, the newcomer sat on his hands and shut his mouth and Isha, finally, mercifully, studied.
It was blissful, it was serene; it was doomed to fail. To his credit, Milo really did make it almost the entire time. The incessant glances and clicks of the tongue were early warnings something was spinning in what amounted to his brain, but as Isha was yet still unversed in the depths of his self-generated self-harm she was content to keep her eyes down.
The peace broke at 7:50, when the denizens began packing their bags and preparing to depart for morning classes. Isha fatally displayed the spine of her book to him and out of the corner of her eye she saw eyes lit up in some kind of half-thoughts that were ready to spill out.
“Hey.” He said abruptly right as the inhabitants began shifting. He seemed to say it to Isha but his eyes had a vacant troutishness to them that made it hard to tell.
Taima broke her stride to the door to begin hopping over manically towards him before Isha halted her with a raised paw. Isha didn’t break her own pace and finished tossing her books into her bag before turning to the runt with a saccharine smile and exaggerated interest.
“Uh-huh?” She asked, making her voice as eerily chipper as she could.
The effects was of course lost on Milo. “You take Physics II?”
“Uh-huh, sure do!” She sang. 7:51 was a good timing she figured, rolling her shoulders and stretching some muscles. Calculus was starting soon, but she finally felt like she was in the mood to vent with the runt a little bit. He managed to have good timing for once.
“I wanna make a bet.” He said.
The Den went quiet. The body’s shuffling stilted and the three by the door turned to look at whatever was about to happen.
“A bet.” Isha repeated. It wasn’t a question; she mimicked how thoughtlessly he said the word reflexively.
“Yeah. I bet I’ll do better on my Physics II final than you.” Milo laid the bet out flat and simple, like it made complete sense for him to say this for no reason at this exact moment.
Taima tried to laugh in the background, only for it to twist around a gasp into a confused bark. Nicky was hopping up and down; Morg had tilted her head.
“What’s the bet?” Isha asked. She was captivated to hear the answer.
“Well, if I win you leave me alone.” Milo said.
“Well,” Isha said, “Well, that sounds boring. How about if you win, I’ll piss off AND you get to keep my sweet jacket? And you can tell all the monsters about how you pulled one over on the meanest bitch in school for free.”
“Alright, deal!” Milo said with eagerness. Staring at his face, wide-eyed and oblivious, Isha felt a very old hunger begin to stir in her. Not just excitement, which was rising steadily as this idiot tightened the noose around himself with a grin, but a primordial kind of hunger; hunger inherited from old ancestors who stalked the woods that the world liked to pretend had been weeded out.
“Hang on,” She whispered, trying as best she could to keep her smile from widening any further, “You haven’t said what I get if I win.”
“Oh.” Milo frowned. He seemed to have not considered this, but asked without a hint of fear, “What do you want?”
“I want my name tattooed on the back of your neck so the whole world will know whose bitch you are.” Isha said. Instinctively she was beginning to hunch over as she talked, felt old doors in her mind start to open and thoughts of hunting began filling her head. Excitement was too weak a word; she was rabid for this.
Milo’s frown kept, but only for a moment. “Deal!” He said, big eyes full of dedication.
“Shake on it?” Isha offered, bringing a clawed hand up to his face, with speed he would never fully appreciate the restraint behind. He was surprised by it, but only for a second. He clamped down on her hand as hard as he could, as the trap snapped shut.