With the light of the afternoon sun filtering in past a steely skyline, and her suitcase clutched tightly between her legs, Jay Byrd huddled in the back of the Cross Ton 40 bus, her gaze fixed straight at the textured metal floor.
Only hours before, she had been waiting at the bus station in her home town, shirking off her mother's overly affectionate parting and pocketing the extra cash her dad had slipped her under her mother's nose. Clad in a dark green sweater and jeans, she had prepared for a long wait in the chilly autumn air, watching the bend in the road for any sign of her bus. The one that had picked her up wasn't the 40. No, it was a bus that grumbled towards the coast, stopping in every sleepy community on its way to the big city, Kingston.
She had been on two different buses since boarding the first, and now nervously played with the ends of her maroon scarf, her favorite, the one with cartoon owls embroidered onto the ends. Two distinct factors lead to her present discomfort, and both were equally understandable.
One was that this was her first venture outward. Sure, she had left their small, suburban town of Millerton on occasion. Between vacations and visiting family, she had seen the outside world. She had even walked the streets of Kingston once, for a school trip. This, however, was different. This was no day trip, no scheduled get-away. This was for good.
This was her chance to leave home, at the age of nineteen, and make something for herself. After a year spent moping that she didn't get into the school of her choice, and having not applied to any other colleges in her foolish certainty, she was foregoing all of the normal, costly steps towards freedom and just diving into life headfirst. Though her parents took some convincing, they knew that she was headstrong and wouldn't settle for anything less. She wanted to go to the city to become something, even if she wasn't sure what just yet, and she was going to do it. Within a few months, she had found a place to live, sized up a potential job, and packed all of her things, which were currently en route in a moving truck.
So, along with the anxiety of leaving everything she ever knew, something even greater pressed on her nerves.
She was the only human on the entire bus.
Now, Jay wasn't ignorant. She knew there were others, and they congregated in the city. She heard stories of creatures, some part animal, some endowed with special powers, and she had accepted that she might run into a few. This, however, was different.
Next to her was a tall figure in a dark coat and hat, reading a newspaper. Under the brim of his fedora sprouted a face-full of wriggling tentacles, like some sort of living beard, below a pair of slit-like, solid black eyes, which blinked with more than one pair of eyelids. Every few minutes, it would bring its bony, taloned hand to its face and make a noise like nothing Jay had ever heard before. She assumed it was a cough.
On the her side was a young man, whose face was like that of a fox. A snout was in place of a normal jaw, with short, umber fur covering every exposed inch of him. Two large, twitchy ears sat atop his head, framing a rough of darker hair. He wore a t-shirt and jeans, which seemed a bit light for the weather, but Jay supposed that his fur made up for a lack of warmer clothing.
The entire bus was full of creatures like these. Animals that walked on two legs like a man, people with exotically colored skin and long, pointed ears. A few were completely alien, like the tentacled monster next to her, while others looked almost human, but clearly weren't. A chatter of strange, foreign tongues rose in a din around her, those talking to each other or on cell phones. The whole scene made her uncomfortable, even if they seemed to pay her no special attention.
A few minutes later, the bus finally pulled into the station and the riders began to disembark, pouring out into the terminal and parting ways. Jay waited until everyone else had gotten off as not to risk getting caught up in the rush, and stepped off, onto the sidewalk.
The scene here was just as strange as the bus, but multiplied in the amount of bodies, all clustered into groups. A handful of business men, all with light gray skin and completely yellow eyes walked past with briefcases. A smattering of school girls in uniforms, with furry ears and tails, giggled and strode along. A gang of rough-looking, scaly lizardmen smoked and sneered, leaning against the cement wall of the station. It was frightening and alien, and strangely exciting. And even though there was so much to take in, Jay walked along, not overextending her visit.
Pulling a sheet of folded paper from her pocket, she paused only to figure out where to go from here. The girl who owned the building she would be staying in had given her directions from the station, which she said wasn't too far from the house. Getting her barrings, Jay quickly trotted off, crossing the street and hurrying along.
This area seemed nice, mostly residential with a few scattered shops, but she did notice one thing that stood out: There seemed to be no other humans anywhere. In fact, she couldn't remember seeing even one without something strange to them; animals ears, or fangs, or horns.
Her soon-to-be-roommate was right, and she arrived at the building on Delta street quickly.
The building itself was a thin slice of brick, piled high for more room, and typical of its surroundings. While it would be terrifically expensive were it to be on the market today, or even if it was just apportioned as apartments, Jay was getting a fantastic rate, as the girl who owned the building had gotten from her parents when they moved out of the city for early retirement. Though she had not had it confirmed, Jay got the feeling that the owner came from a very wealthy family.
Not sure of what to do, Jay brought her fist to knock on the door, but instead decided to use the bronze knocker, and rapt a few times before waiting. Standing there, on the stoop, she was suddenly very nervous, realizing she would meet her housemate for the first time in person. They had spoken a few times on the phone, and chatted online quite a bit, but they had never seen each other. Jay tightened her ponytail, which held back her shoulder-length black hair, and took a deep breath, trying to relax.
From within the building, she heard the sound of footsteps, then the lock clicking, until the door finally swung open.
Standing in the doorway was a tall, canine-looking girl in gray sweatpants and a black boatneck sweater. A mop of wavy, light blond hair sat amongst two large, triangular ears, and a thin snout bared a toothy grin below two bright, cheerful eyes. Somewhere behind her, a thick, wooly tail swished, the same color are her body: an ashy brown with scattered, thick black stripes.
"Hello, can I help you?" She asked in a light voice.
"Oh, uh, yeah," Jay stammered, "I'm, um, I'm Jay."
"Oh," the girl said simply. She looked quite flustered herself. "I thought you would be, well, different."
It had become apparent in that instant that they were both surprised to see the other, expecting something quite dissimilar.
"Well," the furry girl cleared her throat, "I guess I should properly introduce myself for the first time then. My name is Malaika, but you can call me Molly."
Molly extended her paw, and Jay shook it cautiously. Her hand was warm and furred, save for the tougher paw pads underneath. Where her nails would be, instead there were dull but pointed claws.
"So, why don't ya come in. I can show you the house."
Jay followed cautiously, keeping her arms clutched closely to her sides, and trailed her rolling suitcase behind her.
She had a feeling that she was in for many more surprises.