Maybe it's a stray cat. Thanks for reading!!
Max sighed, watching as Scrapdragon chewed its liquid morsel back to gas. He wasn’t certain he was really even feeding it—so long as he was touching the bat in the real world, his spirit had his energy on tap. Was it getting extra healing from the treats it ate in spirit trance? Was it smart enough to care? How much of what transpired here was actually happening? Max just didn’t get it, not a bit.
“I get it, man,” Max said, “I really do. You know, we both got put someplace without a dang say in the matter.” He gestured out towards Mayview, Scrapdragon’s next course dangling like a dewdrop from his fingertip. “Me in this town to relive my dad’s childhood, you also in this town but, like, the trash version inside of a baseball bat. Honestly I probably have it worse than you? This seems, like, kind of your thing.”
Max made Scrapdragon nod by waving his spec-snot up and down before releasing it
“Right? Clearly your enclosure’s got mine beat when it comes to enrichment. Mayview’s nice and all,” Max rambled on, “but it’s all just so spread out. I’d have to ask my dad to drive me just to reach the one old skatepark... and even then I’d just be stuck there all alone.” His dad had driven past it on the day they’d first arrived, trying to lift his spirits. The park was dinky and empty and it made him miss the twins, so Max had said something rude about it and their truck had sputtered on.
A pang of guilt spread through him, though Max couldn’t place its source.
“I mean... it’s not so bad,” he found himself saying. “Shred Eagle always said you could find sick places to skate pretty much anywhere, with some imagination and some misdemeanor trespassing. Or sick places to scoot, in my case. I’m a scooter. Scooterer.” Max briefly tried to imagine that Scrapdragon’s eyes were shining with interest in his hobbies, rather than with magnetic malevolence. “Or I was, until the world’s last surviving neanderthal smashed my ride up in a violent courtship ritual. I’ve had a busy last few days.”
Max stared off into the sunset. That strange pang of guilt hit him again.
“...But. You know. It wouldn’t be the same without the twins. Riding around, I mean... the way we always used to.”
His thoughts turned to the friends that he had left behind in Baxborough.
“Damien would be doing sick tricks down your back right now, if our places were switched.” Max smiled. The smaller Day twin had always been the daredevil of their trio. “Scratch that, you would’ve swallowed him. Sam, though... she’d have you eating from her hand. I mean I literally have you doing that, but Sam would make you roll over and beg first.” Sam was the funniest, sharp and sarcastic. Max had honed his wit sparring with her at countless next-door sleepovers... but she was caring when it mattered, too. So was Damien, in his scrappy, slipshod way.
The twins had been his best friends since first grade. Max had spent countless afternoons in their family’s apartment, playing with them while his parents were off trying to make turbulent jobs stick. Val—Agent Day—had enough trouble babysitting two little monsters; with Max mixed in to balance out the pair’s fierce sibling rivalry, they must have been a terrifying triple threat to have to try and herd.
“I wish they were here,” Max said wistfully... but at once felt silly for saying it, like the words were forced or scripted. He glanced sideways at Scrapdragon, suddenly self-conscious.
Why did he feel guilty, complaining like this? He had plenty to be sad about, and his spirit was a harmless captive audience—well, not harmless, but it was at least less daunting to confess his troubles to a horrible snake than it would be to confess them to his dad. Maybe he just felt bad for lying to his father back at Jackpot Junior’s, now that he was acting desperate for the ear that he’d refused. Well, that was still no reason to go blabbing about how stressed he was to his worrywart family. If he really wanted advice, he could reach out to his friends. Isabel or Isaac might—
Then the pang of guilt struck Max again. This time, though, he understood what caused it.
“...I promised when I left that we would always be best friends. Me and Sam and Damien,” Max mumbled softly. “I like to say I don’t make promises, but... I guess that’s just to make mine sound more special
He did miss Sam and Damien. He did. But amidst all the danger and town-ending threats, he’d found a place he’d fit in here already. The self-pity Max had been clinging to, the homesick resentment his dad was still trying his hardest to soothe, had been worn thin before he’d realized it. It felt silly to try and revive it, griping about skateparks and being alone. Was that the best he could offer to the friends he’d left behind? Pretending to be miserable while he laughed with their replacements?
Max hated to see just how flimsy a promise could be... his own more than anyone else’s. So many people had promised him so many things. That they understood. That time would heal all wounds. That they’d never leave, and always be there for him. They were wishes, that was all, made with feelings that would fade. Max stared at the sky, at its red and at its gold. If he promised to find her, would that hope fade too? If he promised to never forget her?
A low hiss brought his heart back from its depths. Max turned to look at Scrapdragon, preparing his next snack. “...You’re a good listener, you know that? Whether you’ve got ears or not.”
But the massive spirit wasn’t facing him, nor demanding further treats. Scrapdragon was staring off—at the sunset, Max thought briefly, but no, the angle was too low for that—and growling with a wary, seething enmity.
Max watched his spirit’s gaze snap from one pile of scrap to the next, as if tracking sudden movement. “...What is it, girl?” he asked, scratching its scales. “You see a squirrel? Rusty traffic light give you the ol’ three-eyed come-slither-hither wink
Max shaded his face, struggling to catch a glimpse of whatever had irritated Scrapdragon through the blurry boiling air on the horizon.