Start at chapter 1.

Top tip: Hot water will cook your bloodstain, making it permanent.

Cold water and some soap and some scrubbing, and an hour later I was nearly falling down with weariness. The stain wasn’t completely gone from the blanket. By that time I didn’t care anymore. I crawled under the sheet wearing yesterday’s clothes that I’d tugged on before letting Monster in.

I tried closing my eyes. I was numb inside. Not even scared. I’d kind of shut down and gone into autopilot. I didn’t give myself room to think about where the bloodstain had come from.

I slept through my alarm. Big surprise. A text message woke me up around eleven. It read: Hey, this is Brian from drama 107. That guy, Monster? He gave me your number. I was wondering if you were free later?”

My heart turned over in my chest, and not in a horrible sick way, either. I hesitated, trying to think what to respond.

Laura, Hey Brian. I should be free. What time are you thinking?

Brian, A bunch of us are going out for drinks around six. There’s a new place that’s just opened.

We arranged a time and a place to meet. I had no prohibition against alcohol, but I wasn’t a big fan of drinking. I was also a little disappointed that he’d said a bunch of us, meaning more than just him and me. But it was a start. It was more than that. For me it was a huge step.

I was humming as I got ready for my afternoon class. I hadn’t forgotten the episode last night, but it didn’t seem so bad now. I could ignore the bloodstain. Maybe it had been there a long time and I hadn’t noticed?

The class was tedious and painful, as if a dentist had boarded the same airplane as the rest of us and was giving us in-flight root canals.

I had English after that, the class I was reading Bleak House for. Monster was in that class. I had no idea and was surprised when I saw him. He was sitting on his own at a table. We made eye contact. I looked away. There were three or four empty spots, one of them next to a short girl who looked vaguely familiar and the others next to guys. None of them Brian-cute, but all of them a far cry from Monster.

I hesitated too long. Behind me a man said, “Excuse me.” It was the prof. I felt myself blush and quickly moved to the seat next to the short girl.

I’d tried not to look at Monster. This was so high school, I thought. Get a grip, Laura.

“You’re name’s Laura, right?” asked the girl.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’m Ash,” she said. “We were in that Philosophy of Modern Physics class last year. It got a lot better in the second half.”

“Oh,” I said. “Sorry I had to drop. I’m in another class with the same teacher.”

“That was this morning,” she said. “I didn’t see you.”

“Yeah,” I winced. “Slept through my alarm.”

The lecture started. Inevitably half the class hadn’t read the first chapter. We talked about how Bleak House was based on a real law case that lasted so long the legal costs drained all the money that was in contention in the first place. No one talked about how great the prose was at the beginning of the book.

I wondered why Monster hadn’t mention being in the class. Last night I’d told him I was reading Bleak House for my Victorian Lit class, and he had said nothing. And I knew he hadn’t been in the first one. Had he decided to come because he knew I’d be there?

I cringed inside. Did he have a thing for me? Was it going to get really awkward when I had to tell him it was fine to hang out with him in the middle of the night after I’d seen a ghost, but we couldn’t really be friends in front of other people because he was too strange, and we certainly couldn’t be in a relationship for the same reason.

I hardly paid attention to the remainder of the lecture. But somehow my unconscious brain paid attention, because after the professor posed some question to the class, I found my hand in the air. Only then my unconscious brain sped off and left me stranded, without even knowing what the question had been.

“Sorry,” I said. I was going to chicken out and say I’d forgotten what I was going to say, instead I said, “I just wanted to say that I loved all those sentence fragments at the beginning of the chapter. I think it wouldn’t have worked if they’d been complete grammatical sentences.”

Everybody seemed to stare at me. I could be just imagining that, though. I didn’t look to see if they all were.

The professor nodded and said something utterly forgettable about Dickens being a genius of words at the best of times and a sentimental hack at the worst of times.

This made me snicker out loud because I was thinking of the opening to the Tale of Two Cities. And I heard Monster snicker too. The sound kind of sent this prickling embarrassment through my chest and at the same time I felt like a happy light had been switched on inside me.

“Are you going to the Cracker Shack?” Ash asked a little later during a particularly boring part of the lecture.

“I haven’t heard of it,” I said.

“It’s new,” she said. “Opened this afternoon. Everybody gets a free shot and beer.”

“Seems too good to be true,” I said.

“Yeah, There were tickets or something. They were handing them out the first few days around campus.”

“Nothing like promoing alcohol to university students,” I said. Then, ”Wait.” I took out my phone and texted Brian: Is the name of that place we’re going the Cracker Shack?

“Are you going?” I asked while I waited to see if Brian responded. She nodded.

Our professor cleared his throat and sent us a meaningful look.

My phone buzzed. I glanced down. Brian, That’s the one. We still on?

I typed yes. Then said, “Guess I am going. I didn’t realize it was called the Cracker Shack. A guy from my drama class asked me earlier but didn’t mention the name.”

“A little less chatter, please,” the professor said.

Edmonton-based writer of scifi, fantasy, horror, and other weird fictions. No publication credits. Read at your own risk.

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