You were probably wondering why I was taking the bus home that night I met Billy if I lived in a dorm on campus. You might have thought that was a plothole, except for the fact that the class was not on the main campus. There, I bet you thought you got me. Nope. For some reason it was being held on one of the other campuses. Apparently the university has three of them.
It was a really pointless class, but I signed up for another taught by the same prof for the upcoming term. The syllabus looked really interesting. That was my excuse.
Great news! They were doing construction on the dorm. The whole building stank of paint and some kind of chemical. There was a rumour going around that they found a massive amount of asbestos and that’s what the construction was really about. Fixing the leaks in the roof was just the cover story.
I heard this from a short guy with a shaved head and a pierced ear. His name he told me without blinking was monster.
“My name is Monster. What’s yours?”
“So yeah. It’s 100 percent asbestos they’re taking out. I’m not staying. I have a sinus condition that is exacerbated by this environment.” He frowned. “That’s probably too much information, isn’t it? I’m terrible about that.”
“That’s okay. I guess the cancer risk isn’t great, either.” I kind of liked him. He had an air of anti-bullshit. I felt sure that Monster would call things as he saw them and probably when it was inappropriate to do so.
“It’s fine, though,” Monster said. “I got a line on a new place. Cheap rent. It’s not on campus though.”
“Great,” I said. “I’ve got to put my stuff in my room.” I hadn’t yet been to my room. I’d stopped, bewildered, Flabberaghast (trademark) at the ruinous condition of the student residents building to which I’d been assigned.
“Would you like to drink coffee or something later on? You seem like a bona fide nice person and I’m trying to collect nice people like Pokémon.”
I smiled. “I don’t drink coffee,” I said. “But I like hot chocolate.”
“I knew you were going to say that,” he said. “Isn’t that weird how I knew you were going to say that? Maybe it’s your breath. It doesn’t smell like caffeine. I don’t know…but that’s weird. Let’s totally have hot chocolate together.” Then he pulled out his phone. I wondered if he were marking me in his deck of collected nice people.
Then he said, “My plant just texted me, sorry.”
“No problem,” I said. Had I misheard him? Or did he too anthropomorphize his house plant? Should I get to know another lost soul who did that kind of thing? Probably not, said the voice inside my head that sounded like my Mom.
Maybe it was because Monster seemed safe despite his name, too weird, too nerdy to be dangerous, but I met him for hot chocolate. He was studying classical literature, and botanical science, and geology, and Russian.
“But what’s your major?”
He set down his cup and looked at me surprised. “All of those. I’m majoring in all of them.”
“You can’t do that,” I said replete in confidence earned from hours studying the online course catalogue and registrars guidebook.
“Well I’m attempting it,” he said. How about you?”
“Math and philosophy,” I said. “I like logic.” I froze. I’d said virtually the same thing to Billy that night at the bus stop. It was weird I said it now, because I wasn’t enrolled in a single math or philosophy course that semester.
There was kind of an awkward pause in our conversation then. I wondered if I caused it, if I’d unintentionally looked gloomy all of a sudden. I said, “Sorry, I was just thinking about a guy I knew who…” I stopped dead. What was I saying. That wasn’t something you dropped the first time you have hot chocolate with someone.
“I was thinking about this place I’m contemplating moving in to,” Monster said. “I think it’s going to be very auspicious. But tell me about this guy. He wasn’t a boyfriend, right?”
“No,” I said. Then, I thought, why did he say that? Do I come across as being single and desperate? As being gay? Was he gay? Did it take one to know one? I’d heard that. Except I didn’t think I was. Gay, I mean. I knew I was single. That was my natural state. Why was I having these thoughts? I wasn’t into Monster.
I said, “Do you mind if I ask you about your name?”
“Yes,” he said. “I want to know about the guy.”
I said, “I didn’t know him that long and he killed himself and that thing I said about liking math and philosophy and logic, that’s what I told him the one time we met. And I’m not taking any math or philosophy this term. So…I don’t know. I was just weirded out for a moment.”
“I do that,” Monster said. “I think it’s nominative determinism. Monsters weird people out. That’s what they’re made for, to reveal the other and in so doing, to tell us something about ourselves.”
“Sounds like you’re probably right.” I took a long drink of my hot chocolate. I’d hardly touched it and it had become warm chocolate. “Tell me about your name. Is it one you chose for yourself or something?”
“Something like that,” he said. “It’s not the one I was given when I was born. It’s not the one on my birth certificate.”
“Okay,” I said. “It’s just that it’s kind of provocative.” His big words were rubbing off on me. I thought I liked that.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s part of it.”
We spent about ten minutes saying inconsequential things to one another, asking about family and books (he liked books, too. I wasn’t surprised), religion for some reason (neither of us were), and finally the shitty state of the student residents. He said, “If you want I can ask if there are still any apartments available. The rent is really cheap. Like a hundred more than the room in res costs.”
“Okay,” I said, thinking privately I probably wouldn’t go for it. Sticking it out at ground zero in the student res might be unpleasant but at least it was something I was used to. There’d be other people on campus, as opposed to off it. I might not be super alone.
After exchanging phone numbers, we went our separate ways. I decided I was going to work on growing my social circle in real life. I might be able to do better than Monster. I guess that sounds really harsh. But that’s what I thought then. He was just odd, in a way I felt I was supposed to be put off by. But I wasn’t. But I told myself I was.
The first day of classes came and went. It was passing out outlines, going through student conduct crap that nobody cared about. The professors made feeble jokes recycled from every class they’d ever taught. The better ones talked with what might almost have been real passion for their subject, giving a teaser of what was in store. But you knew that their passion wouldn’t last. One professor, the jerk who I’d had last term who’d canceled that evening class, he made a point of stressing us out with the riggers of the material, his attitude toward poor scholarship, and gave off a general fog of hating the world and especially students. Most of it was an act, I knew, because he hated grading papers and wanted as many students as possible to drop the class.
As I was leaving, my phone buzzed with a text from Monster. “Apartment available. Want to come see it at 5?”
“Yes,” I typed back, even though I didn’t see the point in going. I had no intention of renting an apartment off campus. I would, I told myself, put up with the horrendous construction noise, and I’d grow accustomed to the fumes that had given me a headache last night. I also had more stupid regrets about associating myself with someone as strange as Monster.
But, I typed yes, and then I met Monster at 5 in front of the campus Starbucks and we rode the bus together to the low-rise apartment building that had sprung up where the old Billy House had stood.
This is utterly true, dear reader. I know you knew the direction this was going. But I didn’t. Honestly. It didn’t even cross my mind as a possibility. If I had thought about it, which I didn’t, I would have assumed that the apartment they’d been building where the Billy House had stood wouldn’t have been completed yet.
Well, it wasn’t. But they were renting out rooms.
[tags, NaNoWriMo, nanowrimo, fiction, novel, fantasy, horror, discovery writing, first draft]