Once in a Lifetime – Chapter 9


“We don’t really need to split up, do we? Maybe just one or two classes I can sit somewhere near, I don’t think the teachers will notice-”
Louise groaned. “Just come on, you know what you said about cryptids avoiding broad daylight and all that stuff.”

They were once again near the bustling entrance of their school. Chatters of students intermixed with cars pulling up to the curb.

“Yeah but, we weren’t actively hunting them. Animals aren’t dumb, and I think cryptids are less… dumb. What I’m saying is, we’ve never attacked one and let it leave alive.”
Louise rolled her eyes, still smiling. “I’m also sure they’re not dumb enough to attack a big school in broad daylight.”
“Yeah, but-”
She held her finger in front of his mouth. “No butts! Let’s just get through the school day. If we AREN’T attacked in broad daylight, we can go somewhere populated after. Like a shopping center or something, do some stuff there.”

She stared at her friend with a warm smile.
Davis was still shaking, holding his hands close to his chest. He kept glancing to his sides, occasionally turning around to watch his back.

She shook her head at him. “I’m goin off to class, just don’t act crazy, okay?”
She waved, running off into the building. He looked behind his back one last time, before sprinting into the building as well.



How many more periods until I can stop being alone…
Davis was constantly fidgeting his leg, glancing all around the classroom. He was only two classes through, and his mind was all over the place. This class in particular was especially agonizing, as he was seated right next to a large window.

It displayed an unassuming line of suburban houses, but his mind still raced with paranoia.
Anyone, or anything, could easily stare in and watch him.
His eyes would zip from the window, to anyone who fidgeted amongst the teacher’s lectures. Every creak of the classroom’s heater drove his senses crazy, fearing that eventually something would sprout from the vents to kill him, and flee before anyone could realize what had happened.
Everyone probably thought he was some kind of tweaker, he worried to himself.

In reality, the few students who cared about him thought he was undergoing some caffeine withdrawals.

He tried to bring his fidgeting under control, but he still couldn’t shake the thought of more monsters beginning to attack him, as some kinda punishment for messing with the forest.

He glanced over to the window and saw something, standing casually on the front yard.
It was a deer.

All it did was stir his paranoia more.
First, deer were incredibly uncommon to come anywhere near suburbs. At least for Tomahawk Hills. Deer themselves were pretty rare too, which Davis addressed to the town’s monster populace.
Then there was something he couldn’t properly word other than a gut instinct.
The deer looked wrong.
The fur of it looked like plastic. He thought if he were to walk up and stroke it, it would be hard and prickly, rather than soft deer hide.

The worst part was that the animal was staring straight into the classroom. It was slowly scanning its head, until it met its eyes with him.

The period bell rang, and he flinched. Looking back at the window, the deer was gone. He waited for everyone else to get up, trying to blend himself within the crowd of students.



  Lunch had rolled around, and Davis was further crouched into the corner of the cafeteria. Food wasn’t even on his mind, his stomach churned too much. He thought even a simple bite out of one of his sweets would cause him to puke.
He kept quietly glancing around, until Louise arrived, two sandwiches in hand.

“Hey, how you holding up?”
He nearly jumped out of his seat. She glared at him.
“Do I need to chuck this at you again?” She wagged the wrapped sandwich around.
“No no no no, just…”
He grabbed his head.

“I can’t shake the thoughts of that monster. Like, did you see that thing? How are you staying so… calm???”
“Well, I seriously doubt it left that factory. Second, I got my gauntlets on me at all times.” She motioned to her backpack. “So if it does rear its ugly mug, I’ll beat it in.”

“Yeah, but I don’t have the magic gauntlets. If that thing surprises me, I’m toast.”
“Yeah but you can be like, a ghost or something? That’s gotta count for something, even if it DOES attack.”
His brain paused to try to process her statement.

“Can you give me like, an ounce of that self confidence? Or somethin? We could be in so much more trouble than we ever imagined-”
Louise threw one of the sandwiches at his face. “Try eating for starters. A full stomach will probably help you out a bunch!”
His anxiety paused just to give a stare of death back at Louise. “When will you stop doing that…”
“See, the food got your mind off that cryptid, right?”
His eyes widened, and he went back to fidgeting. “Yeah I’ll just, skip lunch at least.” He pushed the sandwich away. “This nerve is gonna make me puke…”
Louise sighed, sitting down and beginning to eat her lunch.

“Come on, if it hasn’t attacked now, it won’t attack at all. Just eat up.”
“Maybe it’s just being really patient… Like, I think it’s been watching me!”
“Psh, what? You think it’s attending school with us?”
“I mean if it can turn into a mannequin, what’s stopping it from turning into a person? Or a deer peeking through the window? Or maybe a bird watching-”
“Good, let it turn into a deer! That’ll be a lot easier to beat up than… whatever it was last night.”
Davis put his head face down on the table. “Oh jeez… I just realized that I’m missing all the class content today too. I’m gonna be so behind on everything.” He gripped his head again.
Louise shrugged. “What, is one day’s worth of school gonna kill you or something?”
He glanced up. “Academically, yes. Especially when some of this stuff is test and quiz prep. A quiz which I ALSO have next period too.”
Louise shirked back a bit. “Oops… uhh… good luck? Maybe just imagine me beating up that cryptid for you if you get nervous and distracted, I don’t know.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, I guess.”
“Only a few more classes to go. We can spend the rest of the day at a mall.”
Her expression brightened.
”OH actually, how about we go to a restaurant? I know a place that serves some KILLER burgers. We can get some and then do… Something I guess. Group research? Maybe plan some defense strategy for your home?”
His heart lightened at the thought. “Yeah, that would be kinda nice.”

He took a deep breath, unwrapping the sandwich.

“It’s not gonna attack in broad daylight, right?”


  After a terrible quiz with questions he couldn’t recall, the last few periods of the school day, Davis shared with Louise: History and English.

Simply having her in the same room was somewhat reassuring. If he was attacked in broad daylight, no doubt it would provoke some response from PAIN. Hopefully not the whole town quarantine response. His nerves soothed as his brain thought more rationally about his potential monster stalker.

Even with his good friend near, it didn’t do much to quell his wandering mind. Instead of paranoia, it was more focused on planning what to do if he were attacked at that very second. Obviously, he didn’t have any of his gadgets with him. Maybe he could use pencil shavings as some kinda makeshift blinding powder? Pens and scissors were decently sharp. He wasn’t sure if they were sharp enough to pierce the monster’s hide, but if his knife did the job, scissors should work too.

Oh right… I lost my knife…

Still, he kept thinking back to anything he could possibly do, anything to not be useless.

When the final bell rang, he was snapped back into reality. Looking down at his desk, it was a shameful reality.

He hadn’t taken any notes, and the teacher was already wiping away what was written on the whiteboard. No doubt, the stuff was essential testing information. He sighed in despair, walking over to Louise.

“Hey, can I copy off of your notes? I kinda dozed off today.”

She stared back blankly. “Wait, you actually waste time taking notes?”

He returned with a stare of disappointment.

“We’ll… I guess I know what we’re gonna be doing when we go out to get some burgers. Study.”

“Hey, whatever was covered today isn’t that big a deal-“

She paused, gears in her brain processing what was said at lunch.

“Oh. That stuff was test prep wasn’t it.”

He squinted his eyes, nodding.

“Yeah… We probably should huh…”


  Davis stuck close to Louise as they streamed out of the school with a river of students. He was holding tight to her arm, like a frightened child, glancing at all the students surrounding them. She would glance over to keep an eye on her friend, making sure to keep trucking onward.

It was a ten minute walk, but they arrived at a shopping plaza. It was a large parking lot, lined by various fast food places, a few restaurants, department stores, and some smaller shops for miscellaneous needs. Outside the front of the restaurants were dining areas, lined with flowered hedges and fountains.

There were plenty of teens and adults, some students of Tomahawk High, eating, chatting, or just enjoying the nice scenery.

Davis was totally unfamiliar with it all.
She turned to the terrified boy.
“You can relax. If someone literally tries to jump us, I’ll throw em in front of a moving car.”
“I really doubt you can throw that big of a monster out into the streets.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m telling you, I SERIOUSLY doubt that monster will reveal itself to everyone after staying hidden for so long.”
“I already told you, this thing is different-”
She tossed her backpack open, slipping on her gauntlets.
“There. Feel better?”
His heart rate slowed down at the sight.
“Wait, won’t that draw suspicion?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Who the heck cares if I’m wearing gauntlets or not?”
He glanced around at all the students. “Well, they might find it weird and talk about it.”
“So?”
His heart slowed down more. “Don’t you care about how you look to others?”
“No need to when I constantly look this cool.” she spoke with a grin. She struck a pose, reaching out her hand in a taunting motion.
Davis put his hand on his face.
“Stop it, you look embarrassing…”
“Fiiiinee. Now, for lunch, you GOTTA try Royalty Burgers if you haven’t.” She grabbed his arm and tugged him across the parking lot towards the restaurants.

“It’s not a chain or anything, they grill them there with fresh meat and everything. It’s AMAZING!”
She was skipping along with excitement.

“They also got so much more in case burgers aren’t your thing, like maybe some chicken tenders, ooh and KILLER milkshakes as well. The fries there are kinda pricey but it’s totally worth.”
Davis took a deep breath, eyes darting side to side. Nothing seemed suspicious. “I haven’t eaten out in like forever. It sounds like a nice change of pace from frozen food.”
Louise continued to march towards the food, stopping in front of one of the department stores.
“Oh yeah, I also gotta use the bathroom real fast.”
Just the mention reminded Davis. He felt a cramp in his stomach, and he grasped it.

“You gotta use it too?”
He groaned. “I can hold it. Ugh… Ok maybe not.”
She stared at him for a few moments, putting together what had happened.
“Don’t tell me… You’ve been holding it in all day?”
“The bathroom would be a perfect place to be ambushed-”
She grabbed him by the arm, tugging him towards the store entrance.
“It’s a packed department store, there’s tons of people around, you’ll be just fine. Just scream like a maniac if you see anything funny, all right?”
She continued tugging until they reached the bathrooms.

  Louise finished first, waiting right outside the door for her friend. It didn’t seem too busy, as not too many people went into the bathroom. Minutes passed, still no sign of him. She began tapping her foot as she saw people continuing to leave.
“Sheesh, this is why you don’t hold it all in…” she silently spoke to herself. Finally, a minute later, Davis emerged.

Louise stared at him, concerned.
“Jeez dude, you all right?”
He looked even paler than before, and was shivering as if he had a cold. His back was hunched, and eyes incredibly baggy.

“Y-yeah.” He spoke in a very hushed voice, chittering his teeth. “I’m j-just… still really s-scared.”
She put his arm on his shoulder. “Sheesh, I didn’t know you were gonna be this much of a baby about it. Probably should have found a family bathroom or something.”
He simply stared pathetically at her.
“Well, come on. Let’s get us some burgers, that’ll warm and cheer you up.”


  It was a horrid eight minutes on the toilet, both thanks to holding it in for so long, and the paranoia of being attacked at his most vulnerable. Every time somebody came in and out of the door, his heart began beating into overdrive. He continued to heavily breath in and out, trying to relax himself and push through his terrible digestion as fast as possible.
Granted, after it was all done, his stomach cramps were mostly gone, and he felt significantly less stressed out.
Not to mention he felt absolutely starved.
He washed his hands, and grabbed the door handle.

It didn’t budge.

His heart accelerated as he yanked again and again.
It still didn’t even move an inch.

He banged the door, yelping.
“LOUISE, HELP ME OUT HERE! THE DOOR’S STUCK!”
No response.

He banged more, and turned around.

All of the stalls were slightly ajar, and nobody.
He unbuttoned one of his jacket pockets, searching for his phone. It wasn’t where he usually put it

He opened every other pocket, scrounging through several pieces of candy, unable to feel the rectangular shape of his phone.

There’s no way I left it at home, did I? I didn’t take it out at school at all…

He continued to bang on the door, yelling. Between screaming, he glanced behind him, still finding absolutely nobody.


“…I’m sure this place will serve SOMETHING you like. Just promise me you won’t be picky!”
Louise kept prattling on as she pushed the doors to the restaurant open. It wasn’t too crowded, but there were still a fair amount of customers inside.

Davis was still shivering like a terrified animal, keeping hands close to his chest. He glanced at every customer as if they were planning to lunge out and attack him.

“Plus maybe we can come here after excursions. They’re open real late into the night too!”

Davis nodded. He sniffed the air, and straightened out his back. He took in a whiff of the scent of grilled beef patties, fries, chicken, and a mix of various other foods.

“Smells good, huh? I told ya, you’re gonna LOVE this place.”
She bounded over to the cashier, staring up at the menu.
“Just give me a Royal combo with some water, and…”
Davis was staring blankly at the menu. His mouth was slightly agape, looking at the pictures of the delicious-looking food.

“Need a few moments?”
He pointed at a picture of a thick, double burger. “That one.”
Louise chuckled. “Feeling hungry now, huh? Isn’t food just the best? Ah, wait one second. Do you mind if I take these off?”

She held up her gauntlets.
“I don’t exactly wanna be eating with them and all. I haven’t washed them properly yet and uh… Yeah.”
He nodded, still staring at the picture of the tasty looking burger.



Davis had been kicking at the door for several minutes, and was now lying on the floor exhausted. Every now and then, he’d hear somebody shove the door, trying to get in. Sometimes it was a light tap, other times it felt like somebody was trying to kick it down. If he was lucky, somebody would complain about the locked bathroom, and a manager could unlock it.
Unlocking, maybe? He had picked locks before. It was a good way to get into classrooms where he could hang out and be alone during lunch.

He searched around his jacket pockets. Through lint and small bits of garbage, he at least found a paperclip in there. He sighed in relief, bending it into a straight metal wire, and hurrying over to the bathroom door.

He paused in despair, realizing there was no lock on this side.


“Could… You get me another.”
Louise had barely touched her fries as she glanced at Davis.
The burgers served here were definitely not average. The “Royal Marriage” he had just finished were two quarter pound patties, each with two slices of cheese, and finished with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, ketchup, and mayonnaise.
In the time that she had just taken a single bite of her burger, he had demolished his.

“Wow… Have you ever had burgers before? Like, once in your life?”
“No… They’re amazing…”

A big smile grew across her face.
“See, man I KNEW you’d love this place. Just hang tight, do you want a shake too?”
“Shake?” he cocked his head, staring inquisitively.

She paused. “You’re a frozen food hog and you’ve never had a chocolate shake either? Man, you’re missing out on SO MUCH GOOD STUFF. It’s a good thing I dragged you out here!”
She walked over to the counter, making a new order as he sat, staring at his polished plate of food. He looked up, gazing at Louise’s barely eaten burger and fries. His mouth began to water, and he reached over, snagging a handful of fries and shoving them into his mouth. He glanced behind, seeing Louise was walking back.

“Just give him a few minutes, and you’ll have some more food…”
She saw a bunch of her fries were noticeably gone, and glanced at the boy.
She squinted her eyes with disgust.

“You coulda just asked if you wanted me to get you fries too.”

She sat back down, and moved her food further away.
“I gotta keep an eye on this till your next order, huh?”

  Minutes later, after Louise finished her meal, she ran over and brought the second helping over to Davis. She kept her eyes on him as he dove straight into the burger again. He tore into it like an animal, shredding it down to nothing but crumbs.

Grabbing the shake, he took off the lid and chugged. His eyes bugged out at the first gulp, and he coughed up the shake, spilling it everywhere.

Louise instinctively ducked, avoiding the projectile shake-spit.
He coughed and gagged, still spitting out little bits of melted ice cream.

“Guess you have a selective sweet tooth, huh now?”
He glared at her. “It doesn’t taste good. Could I get another burger?”
“Seriously? Well, even if I wanted to, I got no more cash left.”
He glared. “So?”
“Do you got some money to help pay too?”
“No.”
She gave him a wry look. “You’re gonna be paying for one heck of a lunch for me in the future for this. Now, are you feeling better?”
He stared at the empty plate again, before staring back at her.
“Yes.”
“See, a good meal will help your nerves a bunch. Now let’s get on home.”


  Davis had been staring at the door for a long while, trying to figure out any way through. Help clearly wasn’t coming anytime soon. It couldn’t have been a coincidence the one time he split off from Louise this all happened.
He looked up to the ceiling, lost in trying to figure some way out of this hopeless situation. Maybe there was some kind of air duct he could crawl through.

The only duct he could see was only small enough for a rat to fit through.

He squinted as he stared at the wide, fluorescent lights.
If only there was a way to turn out the lights, then he could phase through the wall without any issue. There was no light switch he could find.
Though, the switch wasn’t the only way to turn them off.

His heart raced and he gulped.

“I really hope I don’t get in big trouble for this…”
There were no cameras in the bathroom, but most likely some watching outside. There was only one way he thought out.
He ran over to one of the toilet stalls, grabbed a handful of toilet paper, and unscrewed the seat.

Wrapping his face in the paper to (hopefully) hide his identity when he broke out, he proceeded to throw the toilet seat at each of the lamps. One by one the bathroom dimmed, until he smashed the last one, submerging himself in darkness. He felt his way along the wall, until he could feel the door handle.
He held his breath, and turned incorporeal, rushing through.

On the other side of the door, he felt the gut-punch of entering a lit area. He stumbled down onto his knees, and materialized back into reality.

A few shoppers leapt back as they witnessed a person whose face was wrapped in toilet paper appear out of nowhere.

They were completely frozen in place, not out of fear, but sheer confusion.
He scanned the people waiting quickly; Louise was nowhere to be found. He scrambled up to his feet and sprinted out.

As he ran, his mind was preoccupied with two things:
Finding Louise, and hoping to god nobody would ever find out this was him.

Running through a crowd of shoppers, he tore away the toilet paper off his face. He threw his hood back over his head, and glanced around.
Not too far off was Royalty Burgers.
She wouldn’t abandon him without good reason, right?
He sprinted towards the restauraunt.

He shoved open the doors, glancing around.
She was nowhere to be seen.

His heart began pounding against his chest.

He ran outside, whipping his head all around, trying to find her.

Not too far off, he saw not her, but an all too familiar style of dressing.
It was his style, somebody wearing a big black school jacket with the hood up. And next to him was Louise.

He broke into a sprint.

“LOUISE!” He screamed.

She turned to him, pausing in confusion. The hooded figure turned, revealing that it was a near perfect looking copy of him. She looked at the Davis near her, and then back to the other in the distance.
The closer Davis screamed in terror, grabbing Louise’s wrist and fleeing.

The other Davis reached out, yelling for his friend.

He gave chase, running across the parking lot of the shopping center, cars slamming on their brakes to avoid hitting the students. He dragged her towards downtown, where the city streets thinned into more clustered general shops and small apartments.
The doppelganger slowly was putting more and more distance between the two, pushing past pedestrians, and sometimes shoving them into the pursuing boy. The constant obstacles, combined with Davis’s endurance, caused his breath to shorten. His sprint turned into a light jog, and then a full stop as he hunched over. He gasped for breath, staring horridly as his friend disappeared further and further away.


  Davis kept running with Louise, until he could no longer see their pursuer. He took her to an alley between two shops, free of any pedestrians or passerbys, and sat down behind a dumpster. He was heaving heavily, eyes shut tight.

Louise was panting, but it was more from the adrenaline of the situation than the long run he just tugged her through.

“I’m… Sorry…” he heaved out. “That…”
“The monster from before?” She finished his sentence.

He nodded. He began to cry.

“It’s been after me… all this time…”
He buried his head in his knees, curling up.

“And now it stole my skin. It knows me too well…”
“Hey, it’s just got your looks. I doubt it’s got your personality too. Plus, now that we know that it’s near, we just gotta get a quick plan and pummel it. Just give me a second.”
She turned around as she slung her backpack to the ground.
The gauntlets. She’s getting the gauntlets.
She opened it up, squatting down and shuffling through her pack.

From his jacket sleeve, he procures a knife, the same one he had lost at the factory. Without hesitation, he lunged forward with it, aiming straight for her back.

.

.

.

Louise nonchalantly stepped to the side, letting him crash into the alleyway wall. She scoffed as she slipped on her gauntlets.

“I told you, it ain’t got your personality. I mean, eating a bunch was one thing, along with liking the taste of mustard too. But not enjoying ice cream? I KNEW somethin was up then!”
He turned around, his face now deformed. His mouth had widened considerably, growing terrifyingly large teeth. The sounds of bones cracking and skin stretching emanated from him as his jacket turned from a fabric into a carapace-like material.

Louise gasped, but clenched her fists tight.

He tossed the knife aside as he stretched out his arms and legs. His fingers fused together and sharpened themselves into razor sharp claws.


In a matter of seconds, the cryptid now stood a head over Louise, looking like a stretched out, horrifying mockery of Davis.

“The least you coulda done is stop wearing my friend’s skin before I beat the snot outta you!” She yelled.
She shoved her feet off the pavement, slightly cracking it as she dashed forward.
She tackled it in the stomach, pinning it against the wall. There, she proceeded to punch it twice in the chest.

It reacted with a screech, but grabbed the back of her shirt with both of its elongated arms.

It tossed her away to the back of the alley, and leapt towards her.
When she was still getting back up to her feet, it slashed at her chest. She felt the sting of the scratches, and gritted her teeth.

She returned with a punch aimed at its face, but it dodged.

It leapt back and swiped again, but she was barely able to leap to the side. The very tip of its claws grazed her thigh.

She gritted harder, trying her best to endure the pain.

I’m not gonna win this if it keeps out-reaching me…

She turned and grabbed the dumpster, shoving it at full speed towards the cryptid.

It merely leapt over the improvised battering ram, and landed close behind Louise, preparing to grab her.

“Got ya close enough!” she yelled as she turned around and grappled the hands of the beast. She bent her knees and pushed towards the cryptid. It was one shot, and she had to just out-muscle the monster and pin it down.

The two were at an impasse, barely making way over each other’s strength.

Very slightly, she was being pushed back thanks to the creature’s increased weight, but still held strong. The brawler dug her feet into the ground, noticeably cracking the pavement, as she braced to stop its approach.

They continued for several more seconds, locking eyes and matching strength. Neither dared to break the grip and risk giving the opposing party a potential upper hand.

She began to lose more ground as the monster continued to push down on top of her.

She willed all she could to try to shove back, but she was outclassed. She glanced around, staring at its legs. They seemed open, so maybe if she was fast enough she could sweep it then pin it to the ground again.

To her surprise, the force pushing against her suddenly released, and the monster screamed and recoiled.

Something sharp had shoved into its ribcage.

Louise screamed triumphantly as she shoved forward, pinning the massive beast to the floor by its arms, and she wasted no time getting her knees on top of its legs as well.

It flailed wildly, claws just glancing the girl. Each scratch only felt like a small pebble was bouncing off of her skin. She managed to get behind it, trapping it in a headlock and wrapping her legs around its abdomen, holding down one of its arms.

She caught a jacketed figure walking up to the side of her vision.

It was the real Davis. She grinned.

“Ngh… This is why… I say a little bit of cardio… won’t hurt!”

The monster struggled and screamed, attempting to stretch out its arms more to try to break free.

Davis walked behind and pulled his knife out of its chest, and stared at the disgusting imitation of himself.

“Come on Davis, I can’t hold it down all too long. Go for it’s throat, or heart, or whatever! Just make it quick!”
Davis nervously crouched down, reaching for the neck of the beast.

It yelped out again, but this time it wasn’t a monstrous shriek. It was a cry of a girl.

“Please, spare me! I don’t want to do this!”
Davis was taken aback. The creature ceased struggling, and Louise looked angrily at him.

“Hurry up, don’t let it trick you!”
“Hold on. What do you mean?”
“I don’t attack humans. If I do, they seek me out for revenge. But here I had no choice. If I didn’t hunt you, they would hunt me.”
“Who’s they? What do you mean?”
“Davis, quit this, seriously!”
Louise gripped the monster tighter, pushing down harder. It winced more.

“I want to listen to it. I didn’t know that monsters could be intelligent enough to like, communicate with us.”
“Who cares, they’re still a threat and need to be dealt with!”
“I’m not a threat! I’m trying to live! I will be starved if I return!”

“Wait, you mean you’re fed? Like somebody’s pet?”

“If I don’t do what he wants, he starves me! And he threatens far worse!”
“That… doesn’t justify… your actions!” Louise yelled, as she gripped the monster tighter. It was now whining like a dog in pain. Its long limbs were limp, and wasn’t even bothering to put up a fight.

Davis grimaced at the sight.

“Louise… I’m sorry but this isn’t right!”
He put his knife in his pocket, staring pathetically at the creature.

“Davis, you absolute MORON!” Louise screamed. It caused his heart to skip a beat, hearing her genuinely angry.
Her grip loosened at the shock of betrayal. The cryptid, seeing this opportunity, broke free from her grip.
As it ran to the back of the alley, it shrank its limbs back to human proportions.

It re-took Davis’s form, staring pathetically at the two.

Louise glared daggers back at it. “Look, you’re lucky my friend here decided to spare you. But if you ever try anything again, I’m going to make you pay big time. Far worse than not eating anything. I’ll cut your stomach right out!”

It nodded.

“I don’t want to starve though… How can I eat without him?”
She turned her head away dismissively.

“Maybe you can beg your master for some scraps of food if finding a wild deer is so hard, huh?”
“Deer… There is no more prey to eat. I will starve in days.”

Davis shuffled forward, wallet in hand. He handed it a $20 bill.
“Louise, did you eat with it at that burger place, right?”
Louise nodded.
He turned back to the monster.
“Just when you’re too hungry, go to that place, and hand them this, and ask for food. Do you understand? Just, copy how Louise ordered. I’m sure you’re smart enough to figure it out.”
It nodded. It turned around to the alley wall, and climbed up it like some kind of insect, disappearing onto the rooftops.

Davis sighed in relief, and felt something smack him from behind the head. He winced in pain, rubbing the spot that was whacked.

“Davis, did you want to get us both killed or something?”
He turned around, and Louise looked absolutely furious. He shrunk back.

“It…” He put his fist against his mouth. “It felt wrong torturing it like that.”
“Oh, just because it speaks, that means you should feel bad? Would you have said the same thing if the wendigo started begging for mercy?”
“It’s not just speech, it’s like… intelligent! It’s creepy that it can shapeshift but like, if it can act and behave like us, and if it’s being forced to go after humans, then we can’t just kill it, right?”
“Oh let me think, YES. For all we know, you just let some shapeshifting monster run out to go kill some more people, and get PAIN’s attention. This was an assured win and you just botched it all.”

“Excuse me…”
They turned to find the monster, still imitating Davis, had returned.

“I need to return this.” It walked forward, handing Davis his phone back. He was somewhat surprised, but surprise changed to joy.

“Thank you!”

It scurried to the roofs once more.

He turned back to Louise.
“So why was it nice enough to return this to me after I took it? It’s desperate, and needs our help too.”

“Or it’s building fake trust with the only two who can kill it. I’m done here.” She grabbed her backpack, and stormed out of the alleyway. He groaned to himself, feeling the pangs of anxiety in his stomach once again.


  The two had returned to their respective homes, and Davis was lying down on his couch. He still had an ache of guilt in his stomach, and wasn’t feeling up to do anything for the rest of the day.

He took deep breaths, and tried to reaffirm himself that what he did was right.

His phone buzzed. It was a text message from Louise. He stared at it for a few seconds, heart racing about what it said.

I’m sorry for hitting you and yelling at you Davis. You’re my friend, and I should have trusted your instincts. If you’re right, maybe we can find that cryptid again and ask more questions, like who its owner is, and maybe that could lead to more discoveries.

Another one buzzed in.

That’s at least like, a best case scenario. But don’t think I’m entirely fine with this. I wanna do whatever it takes to keep our town safe. If I even get a hint of that shapeshifter causing trouble, I’m going to break it’s neck.

The image of the monster taking his own shape, with its neck broken, sent shivers down his spine .

It was intelligent, it could communicate.
He never expected any of these monsters to be innocent, hoping to live peacefully with humans, but he could only hope this was one of the few exceptions.