Mia walked soberly across scraggly yellow grass. She scraped the bottom of her feet with each step that made a sound like someone chewing on granola cereal.
The early morning smelled of dry earth and a colorless warm breeze. The faint wind itself granted no relief for Mia’s prickling skin, a touch like lukewarm milk being poured over sunburns. Everything always burned the morning after, itching like she was swallowing Pop Rocks in her entire body.
Her vision was boneless and strange, senses came back to Mia in a fuddled mix of colors and sounds. The reds and greens returned in a slow bloody dawn, her nerves lit up one by one from the depths of numbness, and the scents of the world slowly dried up and left her. The sharpest feeling of all though, was the hunger.
The hunger was inevitable. Perfectly ruthless and all-consuming, distracting her from any thoughts of exhaustion or a shower with soap. Ache gnawed at her insides and rumbled with the force of thunder and stampedes.
Mia pushed forward.
The sun was just a suggestion on the horizon, the faintest brushes of light across the treetops. The trees were thin and closely knit together; their eyes seemed to watch her warily, perhaps they had tolerated the wolf, but her human feet were not welcome.
She staggered away from them through a dried field, dark, bleak, and wrung out, her eyes trained on the only light in the whole unfriendly area: a yellow neon sign. It blared in the distance, the color of American cheese that was 50% chemicals and the teeth of evil witches in fairy tales.
The eerie neon reminded her of some desolate cyberpunk world that existed exclusively around a single diner in the middle of nowhere. Mia followed the sign like a beacon to wise men looking for saviors or very drunk men seeking toilets.
An empty road sat next to it, a strip of quiet grey with a faded line in the center and a promise of miles of the same.
When a young woman comes lumbering out of the forest with twigs in her hair, bare skin, and moonlight to her back, poets might write romantic lyrics about the glory of innocent womanhood and nature. Or something. The dried blood and mud coating her skin probably ruined the effect.
Mia had tried to clean herself up as best she could. She scrubbed her face, secured her ragged pants and scraps of shirt, located her wallet still tucked deep in her pockets, and wiped her hands down. She became as person-passing as she was going to get that night.
The light of the sign drew closer and closer, Mia steadied herself, her system flooded with thoughts of “hungry” and “aaaaaagh.” She was used to both feelings.
Mia faltered into the lit parking lot, crossing the boundary between the world of poets and broken brittle grass and into the glow of a squat, long building. It had giant glass windows peering in at a spotless wrap-around counter with fixed stools and overstuffed napkin holders. Red shiny booths sat along the walls, their material sparkly and no doubt squeaky when you sat. Black and white photos cluttered the walls, depicting smiling pictures of famous people in the genre of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
The whole place was a clear imitation of classic diners that the 1950’s would have spit out by the dozen.
It was empty at this time except for a single customer. A solitary man with a knit cap and slumped back was wearing a pair of sagging pants that could only be described as “doing their best.” Mia assumed he was a late-night trucker drinking coffee and forgetting the world. The restaurant was bright, alien, and a little cheap looking.
Mia didn’t care how it looked. It was roughly five in the morning and this was the only thing open, the only option really. She tucked her head down and steeled her nerves, hyper aware of her dirty bare feet and the fact she looked like she wrestled the sludge-monster from a Ghibli film to get here.
Her stomach complained again, noisy as a garbage disposal, the transformation took more calories than she liked to count. Bodies demanded payment for their fancy parlor tricks.
Mia took a deep breath, looked down at herself, cringed, and then pushed the door open. A bell dinged gently, and she blinked into the blaring white fluorescent lights. She shuffled inside, feeling the cool tiles against her toes and her whole body shrinking down. The room smelled of grease and black coffee, faint bleach and the slightest hint of perfume. The perfume in particular reminded her of sunscreen and sugar.
There was a simple kiosk by the door that Mia approached cautiously as a woman stood there with her back turned. She wore a blue collared shirt, fitted jeans, and a red company apron tied around her waist.
“Booth for one,” Mia said automatically, quick and as pleasant as she could.
The waitress turned.
The young woman had exceptionally wide eyes, owl-like and appearing prone to looks such as shock or confusion. Her cheeks were delicate, chin softly rounded, and fine mouth smeared with splotchy lip-gloss. Long copper hair piled high on her head and freckles speckled across every piece of vacant skin.
She caught sight of Mia and made a face that could be summarized as “an atheist meeting God and being deeply unimpressed.”
It’s not my fault. Mia wanted to plead. It’s just been a long night. A long life. A lot more fur and fangs than I originally signed up for. She couldn’t say any of that of course.
Mia sighed internally; it might be a long month in Nolan, West Virginia.