Shower. Don't shower. Wait, no. Shower this time.
Comb your hair, you piece of shit.
Get dressed, pull on shoes.
Breakfast, breakfast, break... Leftover spaghetti? No, it's started to rot in the fridge, it's been so long.
Didn't you have a slice or two of spinach and bacon... Pizza! Yes!
… You're probably going to regret this later, but for now, your stomach is full and you can go on with your morning routine.
Zach Bruys bent down and did a quick retying of his boot laces before walking to the main room of his home.
1685 Blightblossom Lane. The address belonged to the condo Zach stood in. It was such a large space that the city decided to give the singular condo it's own moniker separate from the building it resided in.
Zach sighed, pulling his fingers through deep brown hair as he performed a mental checklist of what needed to be done before he left to do errands.
“Let's see,” The 22-year-old said, his voice a warm neutral that lifted up on certain syllables, “Rooms 3 and 7 need their carpets deep-cleaned. Room 4's bathroom needs a new toilet paper holder. Shit, and the window in Room 1 was busted a few days ago...”
He folded his arms and marched to the supply closet in the main hallway. He snatched up his favorite toolbelt, grabbed a canister of cleaning wipes and sponges, as well as a bottle of all-purpose cleaner.
He was going to have to make more than one trip, probably ten and over before he was done. But this would be a good place to start.
“Dear Mom and Dad,” He spoke out to Room 1 as he hefted up the new glass to the window pane, “I'm still taking care of the condo. Not like I can do much else with the two of you still gone. But, hey.”
He fastened the glass into place and plucked a cleaning wipe from the canister next to his feet. “It gives me something to do in the mornings.”
The smears remained; egged on by the residue on the glass that the warehouse employees had done fuck all in the means of cleaning up.
“Damn it...” Zach groaned, taking a new wipe and going at it harder.
“Mrs. Kusnetstov from the second floor keeps insisting that I should sell the place,” Zach shouted out over the choking whir of the carpet-cleaner. He shoved and yanked it over the pink shag carpeting in Room 7. “I guess she means well, but where the hell would I even go?” Which, really, was the thick and sad of it. A young man who was unequally Yokut and Japanese (he hated how his hair would never choose between stereotypically smooth or stereotypically thick and wild). He was gawked at whenever he went to the local Little Tokyo and he was pitied when he visited the Yokut settlement. So, really, what was the point of leaving?
“I mean,” He turned off the carpet-cleaner, “What if I did leave and you guys came back to an empty house, huh? What then?”
The words rolled through the room and crashed into a silent death in the hallway.
“The city's even been hounding me for the space.” Zach marked the part of the off-white bathroom wall where he needed to drill. He abhorred the thought of fucking this up again. He already had to patch up the remains of the last time he tried to fix one of the other towel racks.
Zach hefted up the power drill and rummaged through the bits that he had. “'You're holding up progress', they say. 'Think of what you could do with the money', they say. 'Why are you being such a stubborn little shit', they say.”
Zach fed the drill into the wall just enough so that, when he hefted up the first handle of the toilet paper holder, he would have a notch to put the corresponding nail.
“They say that I'm selfish keeping all this space to myself.”
Zach pulled a rag damp with polish over the doorknob of Room 5. He moved it back and forth until, when he removed the rag, the knob was sparkling like the sun's reflection in the harbor.
Zach looked around the condo. He removed the bandana from his hair with a low breath. “It's not like I'm forcing people away from renting some of these rooms out.”
''Cause she's a Maneater
Make you work hard!
Zach ripped his phone out from his pocket and hit 'Accept'; not even glancing down at the caller-ID. “Talk to me.”
“Where are you?” A woman's voice snapped out on the other line, “You know that the LlamaYama Cronutwich food truck calls it a day at 1:37! PM! To. The. Second!”
Zach shied away from the screeching voice and looked at the clock on his phone. Indeed, it was already 1:15. “Shit!”
He tore off the tool-belt, the gloves, and almost ripped off his boots before he realized how futile that would be.
He grabbed his wallet and keys off the counter and bolted towards the door.
His boots screeched against the hallway's hardwood floors when he forced himself to stop his momentum.
Zach walked over to the mirror he had hanging there and brushed back his hair, just to have it fall back into place. “Whatever.” He walked to the front door and took a step out.
Not before turning back, examining the state of the condo, and snapping a quick picture of the space with his phone.
Nestled by a fresh-smelling bay and surrounded by gigantic steel bridges, Dama Fristad was known all over the country as 'the harbinger of new beginnings'. The population was primarily younger (recent college graduates, idealists, and entrepreneurs), majority employed, and wholly of the favor of looking towards the morrow and never the past.
Were there unsavory elements to this bay-side burg? Of course; we're talking about a city of living, breathing creatures here. Someone's bound to get stabbed, mugged, raped, or –
But the point is that it didn't happen as much as it did in other cities. Everyone was far too busy trying to build up lives they could look upon with pride and pass on to their loved ones.
“One Honey-Whip on Vanilla Wafer!” A burly, hair-covered man popped his upper-half out of the side window of a brown and white food truck decorated in llamas wearing chef hats.
“That's me.” Zach walked up and waved his receipt before anyone else could try and steal his order like that one asshole from two weeks ago who--
The truck owner handed him the warm delicate, flaky layers of a croissant and donut love-child split in two with a large scoop of fresh ice-cream in the middle.
With his food in hand, Zach walked back to the stone bench where the young woman who damn-near screamed his head off on the phone sat.
“So,” Faaria took a bite of her own order as Zach sat down, “Any takers on your condo?”
“No...” Zach was about to take a bite but he went on, “I've been updating the listing on every rental site every other day for the past eight months.”
Faaria adjusted her bright blue hijab to try and avoid staining it in her haste to finish eating. “I still can not believe you've gone this long without any tenants.”
“Like it's my fault?” Zach brought out his phone and opened up the latest site that had any rental inquiries. “Look at this. I put it as clear as night and day: '1 bedroom, 1 bath, kitchen-access, prime central location. $878/month as well as a share of utilities'. Do you know what I was sent last night?”
“No, but I am sure you are going to tell me.”
Zach swiped his phone screen and read out, “'Do you really need 878 tho??? I can't see paying that much for one room...'” Zach shoved his phone into his pocket. “If it wasn't what I was asking for, why the hell would I have posted the ad?”
Faaria shrugged. “Maybe they wanted to haggle you down.”
“I'm renting rooms.” Zach quipped back, “Not selling fruit in the back alley of Calcutta.”
The truck owner slammed his fist against the side of the vehicle. “Alright, last call!” He looked around, scanning through the crowds. “Come on, I know one of ya wants--”
In the corner of his eye, he could see a small hand bandaged hand waving a five dollar bill near the window. He looked down, a smile growing on his face. “Well, hello little lady.” He leaned out of the truck as much as he could to address the little bundle of ancient bandages. “What can I get for ya today?”
“Vanilla on cinnamon!” The little mummy beamed, her mouth missing several teeth but her eyes just as bright as most human children her age.
“Vanilla on cinnamon, huh?” The truck-owner chuckled as he went to prepare the order. A fresh cinnamon donut, a scoop of creamy sweet vanilla... “Here you go.” He waited until the mummy had a good hold on her order. He nodded, “Tell your moms I said hello.”
The mummy nodded and rushed off. She was going to get this right back to her parents and they were going to go to the park to share it!
The little mummy ran past Zach and Faaria just as Zach said, “Maybe I should claim that the condo is haunted so I can get some tourist revenue.”
The little mummy kicked up her feet when she saw an older mummy and the off-colored flesh of a zombie near the water fountain.
“I – WAH!” Her tiny feet tripped over the brick of the path and as she was sent to the floor, her icy sweet treat meeting the floor with a splat. She caught herself upon her hands but the moment she looked and saw the dismal fate of her ice cream, her wrapped-up face squeezed tight into a grimace. Her tears and whines rang out through the park, finally prompting the zombie and mummy couple to shuffle over.
“Oh no...” The older mummy cooed, gingerly lifting her child into her wrapped arms, “You have to be more careful, dear.”
The zombie turned towards the departing food truck. “Damn... it...” She rasped out. Despite the limited vocabulary her and her kind had control over, the words held all of her frustrations at the fact that the LlamaYama was G-O-N-E for the day.
Zach was listening to his friend talk about how there had to be something he wasn't trying. However, his ears were far more taken by the crying of a child robbed of a simple joy.
“Hello~?” Faaria waved her hand in Zach's face. His gaze had been wandering and his attentions were blatantly elsewhere. Zach silently got up, cronut sandwich in tow, and walked over to where the zombie and mummy were failing to calm their daughter down.
Faaria pouted at the retreating back of her friend. She wasn't just talking for her own benefit. However, as she watched Zach hand over his own cronut-sandwich to the little mummy and depart with a wave and a ruffle of the child's ribbon, a quiet little 'aw...' left her lips. And with her heart feeling fuzzy from the display, her brain was blooming with a new idea to help Zach out. She wanted to be able to go home without worrying about him being alone in that giant empty condo.
“Guess my track-record of going without LlamaYama's is still safe.” Zach tried to joke it off but, despite doing a good deed, he was still slightly disappointed that he had run all this way just to end up missing out again. Zach looked and saw Faaria grinning up at him. “What?” He looked down to his feet. Up to his knees, to his shirt. There was nothing amiss. “What's got you grinning like that?”
Faara finished her food and clapped her hands together. “We're going to get your rooms filled by the end of the week!” Faaria hopped up to her feet and grabbed Zach by the wrist.
“Wait, your hands are sticky.”
“Shut up and let's go!”
Zach often wondered if someone like him should have been so familiar with the inner workings and sinew of City Hall. But Faaria had a thing for dragging him to work with her to see what a real job was like. So he knew to wave to the guardian lion statues in the main hall of the older building. Both statues nodded their greetings to him before resuming their stone-faced duties. The sound of great wings flapping caused Zach and Faaria to duck just as the graceful form of the mayoral caladrius whisked by: her great wings reflecting the light of the room as brilliant spectrums.
She departed and they were soon off again. They reached an elevator and Faaria produced a key-card from her pocket and swiped it through the reader on the wall.
“I should have said something before,” Zach spoke as they stepped into the elevator that soon lowered down, “But what are we doing here again?”
Faaria waggled a finger in his face. “Good things to those who wait.”
“Last time you said that,” Zach shoved his hands into his pockets, his foot tapping as he waited for their stop, “I didn't have water in my condo for a month.”
Faaria folded her arms and sent a pout and a cut of the eyes Zach's way. “You still aren't letting that go, are you?”
“I had to go to the Chinese restaurant around the corner just to take a bath, Faaria.”
A chime floated down and the elevator doors opened. “Hey, wait.” Zach looked up, left, and around. The intimate warmth of red velveteen wallpaper and embroidered flooring seeped into his perception: it condensed his senses, letting him smell the crackling fireplace two rooms away.
“This is the floor of the city Housing Committee.” Faaria kept walking and Zach even found himself, “Come on, keep up! We're here for you, not me.”
Zach grumbled something under his breath along the lines of 'around the corner for a bath, Faaria...' but allowed the tug of his friend to pull him.
She skidded to a stop in front of a simple, unassuming room with a glass door. “Faaria, for the love of God,” Zach glared down at her, “If you try to tell me that there's wine in here.”
“Quiet down, Fortunato,” Faaria opened the door and led the way in. It was a tight fit for Zach so he didn't even know how the hell Faaria was walking through with her, ahem, larger presence.
Shelves upon shelves, crafted from steel but blanketed with verdant moss, reached to the ceiling. Zach stopped to take a look at one of the many, many treasures this storage room held.
They were perfectly round, perfectly smooth, while they held the fluidity of water and the color of the world around them.
Zach's words fell lifeless to the ground as he approached one of the orbs. He hefted it up into his hands, a soft warmth spreading out from his fingertips and resting into his bones.
He smelled... vanilla. And sugar.
“It's an Enviea.” Faaria explained, “They're what allow non-humans and humans to live in the same space.”
Zach had to pull himself away from the welcoming aura that the Enviea seemed to flood over his entire being. “What do you mean?”
Faaria leaned against a shelf. “Well, think about it: a dragon, a mermaid, and two humans couldn't live together in the same house without gutting it or something, right?” She looked up at the collection of Envieas in the chamber. “They... affect space and matter. I don't completely know how they work, but all the businesses and rentals and things in town all have one.”
That was it. Zach understood now.
“How much?” He asked, his eyes looking back at the Enviea in his hands. He knew that something like this couldn't possibly come for cheap. But, just maybe...
If, you know...
It would help him rent out those rooms...
Faaria stood up straight. “Right to business, hm? Let's see...” She hummed and swayed, “The typical price is around, oh, 150,000--”
“What?” Zach dropped the Enviea back onto its cushion like it was made of fire. “Faaria, what the hell? I can't afford this; why the hell did you bring me down here?”
Faaria stepped back. “Come on, I had a feeling... But maybe we can find a used one around here for you to buy at, I don't know, half off?”
Zach scoffed and Faaria pouted at him once more. “At least I'm trying to help, you big grumpy baby!”
“Faaria.” Zach sighed for a second. “Most of your 'help' results in me begging for a quick and merciless death.”
“Now, now, you two...”
“There's no need to argue in a place like this.”
Zach whipped his head to the left. “Mayor Hebeus!” Then to the right. “Mayor Heart!”
Mayor Heart was an older woman, dressed in a baby-blue skirt-suit and matching heels. Her black hair had some streaks of gray in the up-do she had, but her brown skin showed no sign of her age.
Mayor Hebeus stood upon four powerful legs, the hoof of each leg swaddled in billowy feather hairs. He had started to bald a bit, but his gray goatee was as thick as any rugged lumberjack's. His torso was draped in a suit jacket, the tails falling over his lower half and splitting in two just as his swishing tail came into the picture.
Faaria smirked and folded her arms. “Told you.”
But Mayor Heart allowed her painted lips to curl up in a skeptic's grin.
“And I thought that I told you that I need you to file the rest of the petition templates for the leprechaun banking school?”
Faaria flinched back like she had been burned. “Well, you know...” She tugged at her sleeves, “I just wanted to... Help my best friend out with his rental situation?” Faaria ended her piece with a chuckle.
Mayor Hebeus looked to Zach. “Still no decent applications, huh?”
Zach sighed and started to leave the Enviea chamber. He should have known better than to let Faaria drag him into any more bullshit but he was getting desperate.
He walked through the halls of City Hall, dipping out of the way of an embittered Cwn Annwn trying to make their way to the law department. Zach followed the hall, took a left, and let the quivering carpet underneath his feet carry him back to the reception area.
Now then: if he could just find that one bench that he always seemed to be in a three-way power-struggle with two non-humans for any time he was stranded here. Zach squinted his eyes to get a good look. His vision was obscured by the lumbering mass of opaque sludge that was being escorted through the building. When they were finally gone, Zach carefully stepped over the slime trail left behind and found, to his relief, that the simple wooden bench was empty. “Now to wait.” He whispered, leaning his back against the wall once seated.
He felt submerged: cloaked in the sounds of growls and hisses, of ancient languages mingling with human tongues. Zach took a deep breath, soaking it in. He finally opened his eyes and let them fall onto the one major ornament of Dama Fristad City Hall. Oh, the building was well-furnished and decorated, but the shining jewel of the city was the velveteen dress of deep plum encased in a glass tomb. It stood in the center of City Hall for all to see... And for some to strive for.
Zach heard Mayor Hebeus approaching before the centaur spoke. Hoofbeats traveled further than footsteps.
“Still haven't found a princess for this dress, huh?”
Mayor Hebeus shook his head. “Unfortunately the search for someone pure enough of heart and kind enough of mind is looking to be too much of a reach. But,”
Zach found his attention taken away from the dress beneath the glass when the centaur next to him began rummaging through his pockets. Zach managed to keep his mouth shut for all of three minutes before he asked, “So, I've been wondering--”
“No, I'm not going to start wearing pants just to have better pocket options.” Mayor Hebeus switched to his other coat pocket: mumbling something about 'nosy young people' and 'how would that even work, anyhow?' It took him another minute. “Ah.” Mayor Hebeus pulled out what he had been looking for: the familiar warm scent of vanilla and sugar whispering to Zach's senses. Zach turned as Mayor Hebeus eased an Enviea into his hands. “Sir, wait—”
“You know just as much, if not more, than I,” Mayor Hebeus insisted, “That those rooms have been empty for far too long. Go on, boy,” Mayor Hebeus nickered, one of his hind-legs tapping at the linoleum floor, “Take it.”
Zach looked down at the clear orb and then back up at Mayor Hebeus. He couldn't accept this, really... Though he was certain that if he didn't, he would get a pun about looking a gift horse in the mouth by Faaria later on.
Yeah, he would honestly rather die than hear that. “Thank you, sir.” When Mayor Hebeus handed him a handkerchief to wrap the Enviea in, Zach took it without question.
This could actually work.
Now Zach just needed a way home that wasn't Faaria or public transport. “Mayor Hebeus,” He looked up, “Do you think that maybe I could hitch a ride home?”
“Don't push your luck, boy.” Mayor Hebeus gave Zach a simple punch to the shoulder; tail swishing angrily behind him.
Thank you for reading!