This is a series of short stories, detailing the adventures of Chelsea Childling. You can start with her origin story or pick any story from the index.
In honor of returning to one of my favorite story settings, I want to introduce readers to my main source of Steel City inspiration, Dave Dicello. Dave takes amazing photographs and has been hit hard by the pandemic. He had to close his gallery this spring. However, his prints are available online for purchase. I’ll be adding them to story-links for this chapter.
Now, here’s your story.
Chelsea studied faces as she drank. Years of artistic ambitions hadn’t left her even if she no longer dreamed of painting for a living. She still liked to sketch.
Or she thought so. She hadn’t done much sketching or even photography in months.
Rita’s haunt provided so many different faces though. The epicenter for monster hunting in the Appalachian Mountains drew quite the crowd. She pulled a camera out of her pocket and snapped a few discrete pictures. She wanted references for later.
A chair scraping on the floor drew Chelsea’s attention away from her thoughts. Her current hunting partner, Morgan, had returned from the bar with fresh beers.
One was proffered as Morgan settled into a chair. “Any word on a hunt?”
Chelsea laughed, face heating a little. “Sorry, I forgot. I started thinking about sketching faces and I spaced.”
“Sketching?” Morgan seemed pleasantly surprised at the idea.
“Yeah… before I started doing this, I was going to be an artist. You?”
“I, uh… I had no plans before this.” Morgan studied the black and red label on the beer. “My dad owned a restaurant, before… I guess I was going to do that. But I had no career in mind.”
Chelsea knew a downward spiral when she heard one start. “And yet, here we both are, hunting monsters.”
Morgan met her eyes with a smile and a raised beer bottle. “Here we are.”
Chelsea sipped at her drink. “You know, we’ve been out six nights in a row. Maybe we deserve a night or two off.”
“A night off?” Morgan nodded slowly, mulling over the words. “And do what?”
Chelsea shrugged. “You ever been to Pittsburgh before?”
“Me either.” Chelsea’s face stretched into a wide smile. “So, there’s those duck boat tours?”
“Oh shit.” Morgan’s brown eyes grew wide. “Are you a tourist?”
Chelsea nodded with gleeful abandon.
“Thank God.” Morgan leaned across the table. “I sooo want to do that duck tour.”
“It’s already late though, for non-hunters.” Chelsea sipped at her beer. “So, we should probably head back to the apartment and get to bed early. There’s some museums I want to check out too.”
They lounged and slept. Napping the night away and snacked on leftover food from the bar before heading out the next morning.
Riding the duck boat tour was fun, as was the Duquesne Incline, and the Gateway Clipper. They wandered over the brightly colored houses of the Mexican War Streets and old mansions of Brighton Heights before Chelsea goggled at the Pop Art. As the day lingered, they grabbed Bentley and pastrami sandwiches with French fries for lunch at Point Park.
Chelsea stared out at the water of the three rivers. “This was fun, but I’m feeling peopled out.”
Morgan chuckled around pastrami. “Me too. Think we can skip Rita’s tonight?”
Before Chelsea could answer, her cell phone rang. “Hello, Jack.”
Jackson Hawk’s laughter bloomed through the speaker. “I have missed you, my little nun.”
“Been right here in Pittsburgh, same as yesterday.”
“Yeah, you are hanging out there. Anything important?”
Chelsea bit her lip. Now was the perfect opening to tell him all about Amber and how Chelsea had to find her before she could move on. “Just enjoying the city. Rita’s haunt is amazing for finding work. And my new partner is good people.”
Morgan flashed a grin before taking another bite.
“It’s been a while. I should stop by.”
“You should. What have you been hunting these days?”
“Nothing special. Just some reavers.”
A chill ran through her. Reavers had killed Jackson’s brother. “Be careful.”
“Always, my little nun. But I have to prep for that fight. Take care.”
“You too.” Relief shot through her. He wasn’t going to say it.
“Oh, and I love you.”
She sucked in a deep breath. “Please don’t die.”
His laughter chased her off the phone.
Morgan wiped cole slaw off long fingers. “An old partner?”
“An old partner.” Chelsea paused. “And maybe a future one. If we can ever get on the same page.”
“There is. But it’s long and torrid, and I’m having too much fun with you to deal with it.”
“Torrid, huh?” The tone was more playful than anything Morgan had ever shown.
But Chelsea shook her head. “No drama today. Just fun.”
Morgan’s laugh echoed off the water and Chelsea joined in. The warm weather and the mud scent of the rivers made for a pleasant walk back to the car. Bentley ran all around, never farther than the ball Chelsea threw.
The pained look he gave the car had Chelsea promising to take him to parks once a day. Morgan laughed and wiped at tears when the dog refused to get into the car until she crossed her heart. “Does he actually understand you?”
Chelsea headed for their apartment. “From what I can tell, yes.”
The tiny, white apartment sat warm in the early evening humidity. Chelsea called Mike the doorman at Rita’s, and got him to promise to bring a pizza before his shift started. With dinner taken care of, Chelsea got out her sketchpad.
She drew a few faces, the regulars at Rita’s, Bart and George, the owner herself, some others. Morgan joined her, silent but attentive, obviously content just to watch. Chelsea filled a page and flipped the next, considering drawing Morgan. Wondering why she was hesitating… and awoke to knocking on the door.
An unfamiliar weight on her legs pinned her to the couch. Morgan’s head sat on Chelsea’s thighs. She brushed lightly at the messy curls. “Hey, wake up.”
“Hmm.” Morgan’s hand slid up Chelsea’s leg. Warm and comfortable, Chelsea relaxed into it.
The curls under her fingers were soft. “Mike’s here with the pizza.”
Morgan shot upright, eyes wide and face pale. “Oh, um, sorry.”
Chelsea’s pounding heart hurt with sympathetic fear. “No, it’s okay.”
What the hell?
Wanting to put the moment behind them, Chelsea hurried over the door, turning on the lights. “C’mon in.”
Mike carried several white takeout boxes and a six-pack. “Nana swears the cooks just had this stuff lying around.” He winked as he grabbed plates.
Giggling, Chelsea joined him, glad for the relief of a distraction. Morgan sat on the couch staring at the wall, too stiff. Chelsea grabbed a hamburger and leaned over the couch. “Eat. Please.”
“Thank you.” Still too stiff, Morgan’s head rested against Chelsea’s. “Really, I mean it.”
Chelsea lowered her voice. “Snuggle Bentley. It helps. I promise.” The big mutt clamored up on the couch and pushed his giant head between them.
Morgan laughed and took Chelsea’s advice. Her partner taken care of, Chelsea grabbed a beer and plate full of wings. “Your Nana have any information for me?”
Mike shook his head. “I checked the message boards too, but nothing came up.”
“And here I thought Rita could find just about anything a hunter wanted or needed.”
Mike laughed. “And I’m loving it. This is killing her, just so you know. Her ego is taking a huge hit.”
Chelsea laughed and let go of Amber for the moment. She’d find the woman, but not tonight. For tonight, she’d hang out with some friends. But once Mike headed off to work, Chelsea found herself at a loss.
Morgan seemed similarly unsure what to say. They pulled out the day bed and changed into pajamas in silence. Finally, Chelsea settled into bed, notebook in hand.
Without really considering the consequences, she sketched Morgan. Messy brown curls shading brown eyes set in a round face. Round cheeks, the slight double chin, and the dimples.
“Do I really look like that?” Some hurt shaded Morgan’s voice.
“Yeah. That’s you.” Chelsea reached out a hand. Morgan shied away, eyes on the walls. “Are you–”
“I’m fine.” Morgan sighed. “I just…”
“It’s okay.” Chelsea rubbed at her eyes. “I don’t like to talk either. So… unless if affects your fighting, I’m not going to bring it up. And if you’re not comfortable being more than hunting buddies, I’m cool with that too.”
Tension rushed out of Morgan. “Thanks.”
“But that means I get to Bentley on my side of the bed and I don’t have to share.”
Wiping away tears, Morgan turned off the lights. “Deal.”
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