Hazel

She’d been here before, she realized, taking a long drag from her cigarette. It was a long time ago, but she definitely remembered this place. Fargo’s been here, too, she mused. Still is. I can smell him on the wind. God, what a shithole.

The Shellbox was a shithole. A three-story converted munitions depot from the was of last century, the base that used to surround it had been demolished for hundreds of kilometers in every direction, leaving nothing but this dingy hangout for Europa’s lowest lowlifes.

“You’re gonna need to spit that out, ma’am,” said the bouncer, sneering and leering. Six foot eleven and probably about 400 pounds of steel cable, the black bear watching the door looked like he enjoyed popping arms out of sockets on his off time.

Hazel didn’t flinch, took a long drag off the cigarette in her muzzle, and blew the smoke out her nostrils. She was nowhere near as tall at 5’2, or as bulky at a waifish 111. “This a no smoking facility?” she grumbled.

“No.”

She placed a hand on the push-plate. He placed his arm across the doorway. “You’re not on the list.”

“There isn’t a list.”

The bouncer leaned down to match her, eye to eye. The red wolf could feel his hot breath on her muzzle, nearly choking on how moist it was. “Listen, ma’am. You’re not coming in.”

“Why’s that, lunchmeat?”

“Because I don’t like you,” he growled. “You look like trouble.”

She took her hand off the door. “Tough,” she said. “I’m supposed to meet a client here.”

“Cancel.”

“Get out of my way,” she hissed.

He started to show incisors, a half-formed grin on his face. The smallest chunk of an “oh, yeah?” escaped his maw before her left hand was on his collar. A mechanical whirring came from underneath her shirtsleeve, and before he knew what hit him, she’d thrown him to the ground. In the same motion, her pistol came out and pressed itself directly behind his round ear.

“I do not have time for this shit,” she said, clicking off the safety. The little coil derringer began to charge itself, blue lights flickering to life. She leaned in, snarling. “I’m not here to cause trouble but I absolutely will! Now are you gonna cooperate or am I going to spray your thinkmeats on the goddamn pavement?” she sneered, pushing warm steel even harder into his temple.

The wind was knocked out of him. He struggled to exhale an “okay.”

She spit her cigarette out at the back of his head and threw open the door. By the time he had realized he could get up, she was already gone.

Late

It’s 4:18.

Meyer rested with his arms behind his back, propping himself up, lit cigarette haphazardly nocked between his fingers. He brought it to bear against his lips, falling backwards and spilling himself across the crabgrass-laden median in the parking lot. He laughed at himself, a slurring, miserable laugh.

He was waiting for the ride back to his apartment.

He’d been drinking.

He was alone.

– – –

The alarm, more shrill than usual, cracked across his ears like the sound of a thousand blaring war horns. The mid-morning sunlight, strips of overwhite light cutting through the vertical blinds, hit him right square in the eye.

His left ear twitched. He swiped lazily at his cellphone, doing nothing to quiet it but knocking it to the floor instead. It clattered across the hardwood and into the laundry.

Meyer rolled over onto his back with a heaving groan, cowering in the crook of his elbow as the light bounced across his body. He stayed that way for a moment, mind slowly adjusting to the fact that he needed to be awake despite the overwhelming signals coming from his body to call in sick. He’d screwed up, again. Too hard on a Thursday, he whined internally.

The phone’s alarm did not shut off. He didn’t care. He stumbled to the bathroom anyway, cranking the shower as high as it could go. He left the fan off and sank to the bottom of the stall, sitting there in the nude, letting the hissing of the shower drown out the alarm and the hangover and the light from the bedroom window and the awful smell of vomit in the back of his sinus.

– – –

He pulled a dirty sports t-shirt over his head. Rifled through his underwear drawer and found a pair of boxer briefs he hadn’t worn yet. Pulled a pair of jeans out of his laundry hamper and tugged them on. Shoved his feet into a pair of slip-on skate shoes; he didn’t have any clean socks and it was mid-summer so it wouldn’t have mattered.

He leaned down at the laundry pile and grabbed his phone. He turned off the alarm and checked the time, and if his fur could have gone any whiter, he would have turned invisible.

He was very late.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he grumbled, thrusting the device in his back pocket. “She’s gonna kick my ass this time, no doubt about it.” He shoved his wallet haphazardly into his pocket with a handful of change and wadded-up bills.

Palming the keys off his side table, Meyer was halfway out the door before he remembered his glasses.

He nearly forgot to lock the door.

He was on the bus towards the music store within five minutes, barely keeping himself from being one of those people that catches a mouthful of exhaust fumes.

– – –

“You know what time it is, Brad?

It took exactly one second after the door chime finished its job before Meryl bellowed in the general direction of the front of the store.

Meyer winced, partly from the hangover and partly from the shame. “Y-yeah, s-sorry.”

“Whatever.” She rounded the counter, scratching under her ears, yawning a bit. Her mottles shifted like specks of red wine vinegar in bread oil. “I need you on the phone with the repair center. They’re slacking. I got parents blowing up my phone because I haven’t had anyone to answer calls or man the counter for the last two hours, Brad.

“Meryl, I’m sorry, I know, I didn’t get up unt–”

“Get coffee, get to work, and when I’m done catching up from the two hours of balancing the books I missed covering your shift, we can talk about how passing out in an Applebee’s parking lot off mozzarella sticks and rum punch made you late.”

Meyer froze. “H-how did y-”

She looked at him, eyes wide, brow bent in frustration, drawing a circle in the air around her own muzzle. He clasped his hands over his own.

“And next time when you clean yourself up, wash your face,” she scowled as she pivoted back to the office.

maybe (fiction)

The train pulled away from the platform, lumbering and lurching forward on its launch, away from the city and into the fog.

We were silent for a while. Maybe it was fifteen minutes. Maybe it was thirty. I wasn’t paying attention, lost in my own fog.

I reached for my partner’s hair, barely grazing his ear. His response was immediate, frosty, and painful.

Don’t touch me,” he said.

I winced as if I’d been stabbed. It had just dawned on me that I’d erred moments before we boarded. His words stung my core with the venom of a thousand snakes.

He cringed and pressed into the furthest edge of his seat, shoulder against the window, as if he was hoping to somehow osmose through the glass to get away from me.

“I’m sorry,” I frowned. Maybe all of this was my fault. Maybe I should feel ashamed. I didn’t know, not right now.

“I don’t care,” he said, not staring at me. He was staring out at the cars, the houses, the tracks. Maybe he was talking to my reflection in the glass. Maybe he was talking to himself. Maybe he was talking to the window. “What you hid from me was selfish.”

I was glad he wouldn’t look at me. I was I looked at the carpet. I looked at the seat in front of me. I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t bear the tear-stained cheeks, the wet eyes, the pained expression. He was weeping again. Quietly, but I could hear it in his voice.

Time passed. The silence was deafening. Other passengers were making light conversation, talking about their jobs, their travel plans. Their pedantic blathering was soothing in a way that only served to make me feel more tense.

Maybe it was another hour. Maybe it was two. I was, for the moment, in stasis, trying not to think about things.

“I can’t live without you,” he sobbed. “I don’t know what I’m going to do once you’re gone.” He turned back to me and it was as if he’d stung me all over again. His expression was that of a lost child and a grieving widow rolled into one.

His pain was palpable. It was touching and terrifying. I didn’t know what to say. Maybe I should try to console him. Maybe I should say nothing. Maybe I should say everything. Maybe I should hide in the bathroom. Maybe I should pull on the flask in my bag. Maybe I should cry, too. Maybe I should do nothing.

“I’m sorry,” I said, and I put my arm around him. This time he didn’t recoil. He embraced me and sobbed into my shoulder. “I’m sorry.”