My office was on the fourth floor of the Hansen Industries main building, smack dab in the middle of downtown LA. The office wasn’t mine per se, but calling it that made me feel important. Hey, a guy’s got to get his ego stroked somewhere.
There were ten of us accountants, sandwiched into identical cubicles placed in between the marketing department and a unisex restroom. It was your standard professional office, complete with a stained grey carpet, some motivational posters thumbtacked to the wall, and a dead potted plant wilting in the corner.
Oh, and there were monsters everywhere. It wasn’t considered polite to call them that anymore, but that’s what they were. Psychic vampires and metamorphic shifters and god knew what else. A plant elemental worked three stations down from me, and the place reeked of rotting vegetables and mold. I couldn’t say anything for fear of being written up as insensitive. I already had one warning from when I’d thrown up watching a giant slug eat its lunch.
Vork, The Thing With Invisible Skin, poked his head around the corner. I took one look at him and felt my stomach heave. His name was fitting, perhaps gratuitously so. His internal organs, all a sickly shade of yellow, were out on display for all the world to see. His bones poked out through a slimy, transparent barrier. He could’ve at least put on a hat to cover that veiny brain of his.
“Hey, Nick!” He said. He sounded surprisingly cheerful for someone with no vocal cords. “Can I borrow your stapler?”
I considered saying something, but opening my mouth in front of Vork would surely result in another reprimand from the higher-ups. Instead, I just grunted and handed it to him.
“Thanks. You’re a real pal.” He extended a bony hand and disappeared back into his workstation. It took a moment for the room to stop spinning.
On some level, I knew that the monsters were just like everyone else. They were just trying to get by, and it wasn’t their fault if they smelled weird or were slightly radioactive. But I still missed the old days, when the monsters knew their place, and the humans knew theirs. Sure, it hadn't been fair to the monsters, but at least I hand’t had to worry about accidentally touching the poisonous skin of Fred the Giant Toad on a tight elevator.
A moment later, Vork’s gruesome hand reached over and dropped the stapler on my desk. The room turned upside down again.
“Hey.” Vork said again. “A bunch of us are going out after work. You should come.”
I nodded noncommittally, but my mind was working at a mile a minute. I had to come up with some kind of excuse. “I would, but I have a-”
“It’ll be fun.” Vork interrupted. “Hurley’s coming with us.”
I wracked my brain, trying to put a face to the name. I was coming up blank.
“I shouldn’t say anything,” Vork continued. His voice had dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “But he kind of has a thing for you. He wanted me to get you to come.”
I sat up a little straighter in my chair.
“I’m not gay, but if I were, he’d totally be my type. Broad shoulders, great hair. Terrific smile, too.”
My disgusted expression morphed into one of apprehensive joy.
“And those wings!” Vork ran a tongue-one of many-across pale yellow teeth. “You don’t see stuff like that everyday.”
My shoulders sagged, and I let out a deep, rattling sigh.
“Think about it, okay?” I heard Vork’s footsteps recede into the distance, along with my last shred of hope.
I spent the rest of the day focusing on my work, hoping to get out of here before another one of these freaks approached me. I glanced up at the clock mounted to the wall. Just two minutes before quitting time.
I sat there for a moment, and an idea began to take root in my brain. It would probably get me written up again, but that was a small price to pay for early freedom.
I bolted for the elevator. At the last second, I decided to take the long way around. I figured it was the best way to avoid talking to anybody else.
“Hold the door!” The voice was soft and commanding, all at once.
I entered the cabin and stuck out a hand. The doors halted with an awful creaking noise. We’d been complaining to the higher-ups about this for years, but they were too lazy to do anything about it. That, or they just didn’t care.
“Thank you.” The voice came again, and now I had a face to match it with. He was impossibly tall, and clad in an impeccable suit that probably cost more than six months’ rent. His skin made it seem like he’d just returned from a naked trip to the Arctic. A pair of huge leathery wings poked out from two slits cut into his back. “You’re Nicholas, right?”
I nodded, thumbing the button that would take us to the first floor. “People call me Nick.”
“I’m Hurley. People call me Hurley.” He chuckled a little, then stopped abruptly when I didn’t join in.
We stood there for a minute, not saying anything. The only sound was the bloodcurdling groan of the elevator. Or maybe that was the Banshee on the fourth floor.
“Nice weather we’re having.” Hurley said after a moment.
I knew for a fact it was going to rain today, and the temperature was hovering at a cool six degrees. I suppose for someone like him, that was considered pleasant, or even beautiful.
I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. Frankly, he was gorgeous. Those golden eyes, that raven-black hair that gleamed like obsidian in the light. But he was also a monster. He probably wanted to eat my brain and suck out my life force.
“You look really good today.” Hurley said. “Is that a new shirt?”
“Yeah. I picked it up at JC Penny earlier this week.”
“Looks good on you. It compliments your musculature.”
Damn it. He might be worth it.
I lived in a dumpy apartment complex on the outskirts of the city. The exterior was crumbling and the commute to work was a bitch, but at least the rent was cheap.
I ascended the steps and pushed open the door. The apartment was minimalist at best. A more critical eye might describe it as Spartan. Ordinarily, I would’ve collapsed onto the couch and surrender myself to the mind-numbing glow of reality television. Tonight, I was too tired even for that.
I staggered into bed, but my hopes of sleep were dashed by my neighbors. The Shrieking Squids in the upstairs apartment warbled so loud I wanted to scream.