Misty Owens is one of my favorite characters. She was a surprise really, a character I made for a writing class that grew into a race to finish a novel in a year while working full time at my regular job. She’s an unusual character too, a metalhead and gamer from the back woods of Maine, working as a maintenance person at a sports complex while writing on the side. Until the end of the world begins that is. I’ve never really shared her with anyone before, but here it goes.
Welcome to the first few pages of Vale: The Reluctant Hero
“Oh god, Benny!” I groaned as I opened the apartment door. “You’re supposed to warn me before you do this!”
“Ignore my room-mate,” Benny grunted to the girl I sincerely hoped was a client and not a conquest. She snapped another photo and nodded. “Good. We’re done. Come down to the studio tomorrow and we’ll go over what we’ve got. If you like it, I’ll send it in.”
The woman nodded and vanished into the bathroom. Benny felt my eyes on the back of her head and sighed as she began to pack up her equipment. “It was a fashion shoot Mist, relax.”
“Don’t fashion shoots require the clothes she’s trying to sell?” I quipped, kicking off my shoes and falling back into the comforting embrace of the couch. “And don’t you have your own studio now? And for that matter, didn’t you move out last week?”
“Maybe I missed my girl,” Benny said with a chuckle. “Besides, I needed the brickwork.” She sat down beside me and started to fix my messy black braids. “Seriously, you need a better job. You have sawdust all through your hair again.”
“I need money to support my gaming habits,” I replied. “And since all I can seem to get for my books are rejection letters, the money needs to come from somewhere.”
“You can still write for my magazine you know,” she insisted. “It has to be better than working maintenance at the Complex.”
I winced as she tugged a stubborn piece of sawdust free. “My dad was the maintenance director where I grew up. I helped him ever since I was strong enough to lift a hammer. Honestly, I think your magazine would like me better as a subject than a writer. I doubt they’d like my ideas very much.”
“You could always model for me,” she said as she worked, something that she had been bugging me to do almost since we met. “Your tattoos would look awesome, and the magazine would pay you.”
My eyes went down to the colorful patterns and pictures inked on my arms, cartoons, skulls, dragons and more, all nestled in flowering vines that crawled up from my wrists to my shoulders and down my torso to my legs. “It makes me feel weird Benny. I got these for me, not for anyone else.”
Benny started to reply but paused as the model came out of the bathroom, thankfully fully clothed. I listened absently to their soft chatter before turning on the TV and picking up my game controller. The door closed, and Benny sat back down to watch me cut a swath through a horde of enemies.
“Long day?” she asked. “Must have been, the way you’re going after those Uruks.”
“Had to come home a different way today,” I said with a yawn. “Police had the roads closed for some reason. The security guard didn’t show up last night either, so I spent most of the day cleaning up graffiti.” A police siren screamed outside and I gestured to the window. “See, that’s like the fifth time today. Is it always like this? Have I just never noticed it before?”
Benny shook her head. “No, now that you mention it, there are more sirens than normal. I wonder what’s going on.”
She got up and peered out the window before shooting me a mischievous grin. “Maybe it’s the start of a zombie apocalypse. Be great for you wouldn’t it? Isn’t that what you gamers have been training for?”
“I’ve played Dead Space and the Last of Us,” I snorted. “Trust me, if zombies start running around, it won’t end well for anyone.”
“Well, if I become a zombie, make sure you shoot me okay,” Benny said, picking up her stuff. “I don’t do rags and dirt. See you tomorrow Misty.”
I waved over my shoulder and she started to leave, only to stop at the doorway.
“You sure you don’t want to move with me?” she asked. “My apartment at the studio is big enough for you too.”
“Too far away from the Complex,” I replied, pausing my game. “I wouldn’t be able to board there.”
My friend rolled her eyes. “Y’know, most people are willing to take the subway.”
I made a face. “It’s too crowded down there, too claustrophobic.”
“Have it your way.”
“Hey,” I said. “Thanks for the offer. Really.”
Benny smiled. “No prob. Stop by anytime okay?”
“I will. And if you ever need some…” I blinked and glanced at the plain walls. “Fine brickwork for your photography, just give me a call.”
Sharon Bennet, better known as Benny, grinned and left. The sudden quiet and emptiness was still a shock and I dove back into my game, hiding from the unfamiliar silence and ignoring the pull of the empty notebook on my desk. My phone chimed and I gave the screen a passing glance. An email. I recognized the address and my heart sank. It was a reply from a literary agent, doubtless another rejection to add to the growing mountain I kept in the darkest corners of my mind.
I almost put the controller down, pulled by a flicker of hope that this might finally be the letter. The cold, empty feeling in my stomach told me otherwise.
“I’ll deal with you tomorrow,” I muttered. “I don’t think I can handle you tonight. At least tomorrow’s my day off.” I smiled as a tough orc fell beneath my character’s spinning blades. “Then I can vent on you guys instead of the drywall I have to do.”
I didn’t know whether it was the shrill ring of my phone or the muffled shouts from down the hall that woke me first. I moaned wearily and reached for the offending device.
“This is Misty Owens,” I said, cursing silently at the croak in my voice. “Oh, hey Mr. Ellis.”
“Sorry to call you like this, but Marcus didn’t show up and Ryan called in sick. I know it’s your day off Misty, but could you come in and be on call?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah sure. I’ll be in as soon as I can.”
“Thanks Misty. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
“The Complex would fall apart that’s what,” I muttered as the line went dead.
I yawned and switched off the TV on the way to my bedroom. The Complex was fifteen minutes away using my modified skateboard, a shorter commute than any of my co-workers, but Mr. Ellis sounded desperate and I didn’t want to waste any time. In three and a half years, he had only ever called me in on my day off once.
The shouting from down the hall changed its tone as I scrambled into clean clothes and then ended abruptly as a door slammed.
“Maybe I should move,” I grumbled as I tried unsuccessfully to tame my unruly hair. “No hair products to steal and angry neighbors as an alarm clock.” Finally, I gave up and pulled my shoulder length tangle back into an untidy bun.
The clock taunted me, and I decided to skip breakfast, stuffing my feet into my work boots and snatching up my wallet, keys, and long board as I ducked out the door. I paused by the elevator, listening. It wasn’t the first time my neighbors had fought. The police had even shown up once or twice. I wondered why Mrs. Jackson hadn’t just up and left yet. My heart sank as I heard what might have been sobs from behind the closed door.
I was still troubled as I reached the streets, but the crowded roads soon distracted me. It was hectic, even for a Saturday. I had moved to the city eight years ago for college but still wasn’t used to the aggressive pace of life. People were always quick to anger and seemed ready to shout at the smallest provocation. Today was even worse than normal and the tension was palpable enough to give me an instant headache. The day was bright and clear however and the feeling of wind on my face helped immensely. My power board was fully charged and I felt a pinch of regret when the Complex finally came into view.
“Oh, I wish I could just keep going,” I said as I ducked through the parking office.
“Tell me about it,” chuckled Thomas, the ancient parking supervisor. “Hey, wait a minute, isn’t today your day off Misty?”
“It was supposed to be, but Marcus didn’t show up and Ryan’s sick.”
The old man shook his head. “Well, hopefully Marcus didn’t get caught in that business down on Ninth. I almost didn’t make it in today either.”
I cocked my head to the side. “What happened on Ninth?”
“Some animal mauled a couple of people I guess,” Thomas replied. “Some pea brain had a pet tiger or a bear or something and it got loose. Police swarming all over the place.”
He stopped and scratched his chin. “Hold on a minute. I could have sworn I saw Marcus down by the breakroom.” His bony fingers twisted his white hair. “Don’t get old kid. It messes with your head. See you later.”