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Cassette-Disk

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Let's give this another shot. I don't feel as though I wrote enough interesting things in this first part so I plan on writing more right away to try and get into more juicy bits and pieces. I've always sucked at beginnings and I think next time I 'start' something, it should be in a less traditional method in order to spice it up a bit. I'm also trying to de-rust so hopefully writing this helps! This story is going to be a coming of age slice of life type of story, so if you're interested in that kind of stuff, here you go.
---
Again

As the consistent railroad tracks rolled under the train's cabin, a young man let out a long, monstrous yawn. He was tired. Not that it was any surprise to him. Looking out the window, Casper saw the red skyline whisk past. Was it already evening? He wondered if had managed to get some sleep for a change during the ride. Casper sat up from his slouched position and saw the upcoming stop on the train's LED display through blurry eyes. Station 219 was next; Ellin was station 221. He was almost to his new how. He rolled his neck which cracked audibly throughout the empty cabin before doing the same with his shoulders in an attempt to energize himself. It sometimes worked, but this wasn't one of those times. Instead, Casper rested his head against the cool glass window and watched the world zip by. He closed his eyes and in an instant, blurred trees raced passed him in a fiery forest. Uncertainty and doubt formed a ball in the bit of his stomach and he stood, shocked, as the world roared through him, leaving Casper behind entirely. He wanted to make a move, to make everything stop and wait for him. Casper reached to to a tree, but it slipped right passed his fingers, leaving only a burning sensation in its wake. He inhaled deeply. If nothing was going to wait for him, there was only one option left to him. A soundless footstep clamped down on the earth. The world kept moving, but this was all he was able to accomplish for now. Casper blinked and the forest disappeared, and in its place was the train interior.
“Dreaming,” he mumbled to himself. Casper rubbed his open fingertips against his heavy eyelids as another yawn escaped him. “I must spend around half my time yawning.” Checking the LED display once again revealed the next stop was his own. Like a newly born fawn, Casper's legs trembled as he stood and he almost instantly fell forward. He had just managed to catch himself on the metallic pole, and growled at himself in annoyance. If it wasn't for the pole, he would have face planted and lost some teeth. Casper slapped himself across the face. This was ridiculous, but it wasn't new. Instead of dwelling on it, he forced himself to stand on his own two feet. A dull green duffel bag was visible under Casper's chair and he idly pulled it out into the open with his foot before reaching down to pick it up, almost toppling himself as he did so. Realizing he'd have to leave soon, Casper forced himself towards the doors by latching on to the safety poles, afraid of falling asleep on his feet. That fear was almost realized as he waited for the train to reach the station. What if he had stood up too early and the train still had plenty of travel time left? At least it would be difficult for him to actually fall asleep standing up, though he had done it before. Twice, in fact. The first time time it happened he fell over and managed to sleep through his crash landing while the second time saw him somehow keeping his balance and sleep with his feet firmly on the ground. Those little thoughts managed to keep him conscious with a stupid grin on his face. It was almost a blessing that the train was completely empty, otherwise someone might have noticed it and asked.

The train finally slowed itself to a halt. The large glass door in front of Caper showed a thin, brightly lit walkway besides another empty lower set of train tracks. The concrete slabs shone against the white ceiling lights placed high above on the thin canopies. It caused an odd sensation flood through him. Was he homesick already? Or was it just loneliness from being in a new world by himself? Casper slung the duffel bag over his shoulder and found that he had nothing to do with his hands. They were completely empty, and felt useless. The door slid open and he gripped the sling of the bag with both hands, resting them against his chest. loneliness, he decided. That was normal though, wasn't it? Being thrust into the world on one's own wasn't easy. Then again, he had done this to himself and had no right to complain. Casper wiped away the sleep from his face and took the first step forward. The brisk autumn air slapped him across the face bitterly, and he pulled his hood up against the chilly night. Each step he took echoed loudly through the empty train station, and they each one pounded painfully against his numb body. His weariness was catching up to him, forcing every vibration to magnify itself across his body. Despite this pain, he made his way into the station's warm interior.
“Oh, there was someone on board after all,” he heard a female say as he entered through the automatic sliding doors. The terminal he had found himself in was small, with a few cushioned waiting chairs and a plain service counter. A woman wearing a navy vest over a white dress shirt stood behind it. Her long, slightly wavy brown hair reached towards her stomach, and her round face looked friendly enough. “Are you Casper?” The woman asked.
“Oh! Yes! Yeah, I'm Casper.” A bit more energized at the sight of another human being, Casper scrambled his way to the counter. The name tag on the woman's chest was turned just enough against her shirt that he couldn't read it.
“You're moving in to Ellen, correct? Your landlord was just here about half an hour ago. She said she wanted to make sure you got your key.” The woman reached under the counter before holding her hand out to Casper. He placed an open palm under her hand, and she dropped a single bronze colored key.
“My landlord was here?”
“Yeah. She wanted to see you herself, but said she had urgent business somewhere tonight.” Casper yawned into the back of his hand as the woman went on. “Oh! Sorry, you must be tired from your trip!”
“No, no,” Casper's yawned continued, “I'm fine. Nothing to worry about.”
“Either way, I shouldn't keep you. Do you know your way to your apartment?” Casper reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He had already set the map to give him directions from the station to his new home.
“Yeah. I made sure to get everything ready before I got on the train. The movers should have already put my furniture and boxes inside.” It was a terrifying thought, having to rely on people he never met before to handle his all-important computer and other electronics. They were, after all, his source of income. Still, there was no way he would have been able to move them all himself and the drive would have been too taxing for him.
“That's wonderful!” She went on as she clasped her hands together. Her bracelet caught Casper's attention as she did so. Though largely plain and silver in color, she had attached a small blue plastic cartoon cat to it. It was originally intended as a cellphone strap, but Casper recognized it with a smile.
“What's that?” He feigned ignorance, pointing at her bracelet.
“Huh? Oh, it's just this...uh...it's from a web comic called 'Deluxe!'. It's super cute, have you heard of it?” Casper's tired smile grew wider. Any other time he would have told her the truth, but at that moment he just wanted to crawl into a bed.
“Yeah, I think I have. I'll be going now, though. Thank you for the key.”
“You're welcome! And thank you for choosing us as your means of transportation!”

The train station was located on the top of a hill, over viewing the town of Ellin. The stars above caught Casper's attention as the city skyline below glimmered with colorful lights. The static stars sat silently against the now black sky while the city lights blinked off and on. The moving car headlights and changing streetlights was a sharp contrast to the calming heavens, and the dirt road he walked through saw him with a heavy heart. He should have gotten a roommate. Someone he could talk to and confide in. Though given his condition, it would be hard to live with another human being. Being awake in pained exhaustion while someone else sleeps peacefully would only make things worse for Casper. As if to cement this idea, Casper let out another sharp yawn as he walked downhill. It wouldn't help, but he wanted a cup of coffee. He checked his phone, which shone brilliantly throughout the darkness, and found a small coffee shop just on the edge of town. His phone estimated the walk would take about ten minutes to get to the coffee shop, and another twenty to make it to his apartment from there. Casper steeled himself for the chilly walk ahead before continuing down the path. About seven minutes later, he paused. A strange noise caught him off guard. It wasn't one he recognized, but it seemed mechanical in nature. It was a whirling sort of noise coming from the line of trees to his right. Through weary eyes, Casper squinted into the darkness. He couldn't see anything, but the noise grew louder. It almost sounded like a small helicopter flying, but that seemed impossible. Still, the unknown sound made him nervous and he wanted to leave as soon as possible. No sooner had he taken a step than something flew out from within the tree line and slammed into the dirt in front of him. Casper let out a high pitched screech he wasn't aware he was capable of making as he fell backwards, crawling away from the downed object as it fiercely circled itself against the ground like a hound chasing it's tail. With shaky hands, Casper turned on his phone's flashlight and pointed it at the object. Two bilateral propellers stuck upwards from a dark base. One of the propellers spun quickly in place, but the other seemed be motionless. Still a little stricken, Casper was hesitant to move. A drone. It was just a remote control drone. Calm down, he told himself. That was easier said than done, however, as the drone continued to spin violently on the dirt like a helicopter in an action movie. It reminded him of a bird that had damaged its wing, while at the same time terrifying him. Maybe it was like a peckish ostrich with a broken leg. Wait, ostriches don't fly. The drone suddenly halted its movements, as if realizing how futile its actions were.
“Hello?” Casper called out into the night, his voice cracking. How far was the range on these things? It seemed pretty big, about the size of a watermelon. Did size correlate with wireless connection? If so, the owner might be very far away. He looked the drone over. Aside from the dust and dirt after doing donuts on the ground, it seemed fine. The right propeller was completely in tact as well. It wasn't until Casper looked at the left propeller did he realize the issue. The fan had been completely tangled with leaves and some kind of vine, forcing the propeller to a standstill. “Uh, hey!” Casper called once again, “If you can hear me, don't turn this thing back on yet!” As if he was sticking his hand into a beehive, Casper carefully reached towards the propeller with his non-dominant hand. “I better not lose any fingers to this thing,” he mumbled as he undid the various foliage. It took about a minute, but Casper found the job easier than he expected and he clapped his hands clean as he stepped away. “Okay! You're good now!” He cried out, his voice much more even than before. For a few seconds, nothing happened. At first, he thought maybe the owner was too far away and didn't realize what had just happened, but then the propellers sprung back to life and the drone lifted itself easily off the ground. Casper could feel the wind it generated as it rose, but it stopped around eye level. Peering at the drone with the flashlight, he noticed a small square box strapped on the bottom with Velcro. A small circular lens stared back at him, next to it was a small red light. He rose his hand towards the drone and waved with a small—but still tired—smile. The drone began to ascend once more before flying towards the brightly lit town. It was out of sight in a matter of minutes, but Casper followed along, making his own way home.

It didn't take long after that to reach town. As he placed his feet on concrete sidewalk, he noticed a small sign with an arrow that pointed back to the train station. There was an alternative route with a road on it, much to his dismay. An easier path was just around the bend if he had simply paid attention. At the very least he could say he helped someone out with the whole drone incident. He shook his exhausted head at the thought and followed the sidewalk's empty street towards the cafe. It was called “Lil' Honey's,” and was a mix of a coffee shop and bookstore, one half of the store served as a coffee shop with stools and tables, while the other half housed many different books and magazines. As he entered, a small bell announced his presence.
“Hey there,” a man said as he entered. He had a full beard with shoulder length hair. His husky build put Casper off at first, but it was obvious from the man's voice he was friendly. He wore a green visor and matching apron, though Casper could see his black shirt actually had a rock band's logo on it, one he didn't recognize. “You need a minute or are you set to order?”
“I, uh, would like to wash my hands first, actually,” Casper told him as he showed off his left hand, covered in dirt and mud from fixing the drone.
“Sure thing. Bathroom's to your right.” Casper nodded and noticed something. The man's apron had various band buttons attached to it, but one of them stood out among them. It was a cartoon dog with the word “Deluxe!” written in the background. Casper smiled once more. Maybe it's popular in this town? After finishing up in the restroom, Casper placed an order for a simple black coffee. He'd need every ounce of caffeine he could get his hands on tonight. After paying, he stepped to the side of the counter and put his duffel bag on the ground. He wasn't going to need his wallet tonight after this, so he decided to put it inside his bag. Casper bent down and unzipped the bag before dropping the wallet inside and zipped it closed. Just as he was about to stand upright, a stack of books waddled towards him. Or at least, that was what he saw. In reality, it was a woman carrying the softcover books right to him.
“Ah, wai--excuse me--” was all Casper could say before they collided together, forcing them both on their backs as the books scattered throughout the floor.
“Oh crap!” The woman cried in terror.
“Sorry, I didn't see you coming towards me.”
“Crapcrapcrapcrap,” The woman went on. She quickly stood and did her best to gather the thick books off the ground. She was shorter than Casper, about a full head difference or so. She had dyed her hair a light red color, and wore dark yellow prescription rimmed glasses against her brown face.
“Hang on, lemme help y--”
“No!” The woman cried, “No, I mean, I couldn't ask you to, it-it-it was my fault after all!”
“I don't mind,” Casper answered as he picked up a book that had fallen open, spine up. He lifted it up and peered inside with curiosity.
“NO! No, don't look!” Casper wish he hadn't. A large two-page black and white spread greeted him of two hand-drawn men in a hot spring. One of them confidently reached into the water towards the other, who seemingly cried out.
“What--” The woman grabbed the magazine away from Casper, her flushed face in tears. “I...sorry, I didn't--”
“It doesn't matter,” she sobbed as she picked up the last magazine before running out of the store, leaving Casper stunned in silence. The employee hung his body over the counter, staring at Casper.
“Did she have those nudity men mags again?”
“You guys sell that kind of stuff here?!”
“Not really. She special orders them though. I think I always see her coming and going at night to pick them up. She's kinda weird. Anyway, your coffee's all set, dude!” Casper only blinked in response.
 
Last edited:

KingdomKey

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I'm hooked. Beyond hooked. I'm dying to read what comes next! <3 And that lady is certainly braver than I would be to pick up something like [I]that[/I]. xD And Casper rolling into town felt real because, it's what I'd imagine riding a train to somewhere new would feel like. And aww, I wish he didn't have to feel lonely. BUT sometimes going somewhere new isn't a bad thing. I doubt he'll be lonely for long. And I like all of the nods towards Deluxe. lol. Seriously. I really can't wait to read more of this! And you're definitely not rusty, CD. :)
 

Max

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Haha this definitely feels like a love letter to fans of Deluxe, I'm very excited to see this keep going. The bravely and the button were nice touches. I found the drone scene amusing too, like a very unlikely but totally plausible story you would tell a friend haha. And Casper's attitude and mannerisms on the train were pretty solid, they felt very realistic.

Keep up the good work, man, I'll be keeping an eye out for new chapters on this one!
 

Cassette-Disk

Monotone/Colorful
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Thanks guys, appreciate it! Despite Persona 5 consuming my life, I was devoted to write more these past two days. I wanted to write more, but...Persona... ;-; Here we meet with an older character that I've changed radically for the story. I'll be doing that with at least two other characters so keep an eye out! I'm also having trouble finding my 'voice' as the narrator at the moment. Just something for me to work on, I guess.
---
Casper left the coffee on the counter. After what he experienced, the shock alone was enough to jolt him onto the next level of being awake, though he knew even the strongest cup of coffee could only take him in particular so far. The longest a strong cup has ever given him energy was about two hours before he felt the extreme exhaustion that has always plagued him. At least the cold air was enough to keep him from collapsing on the street. The thought of falling asleep on the sidewalk only to be awoken by a stray dog has always been a fear of his. Then again, he had never thought about being caught in public with a stack of porno mags. Casper let out a quick laugh at the situation as he made his way through the quiet streets. He briefly considered calling for a cab to make the walk easier on him, but the trip went by quickly and without incident. In fact, having to wait for the cab to find him and then take him to the apartment complex would have most likely taken longer than simply walking there on his own. The apartment complex was a familiar sight to him, having seen it multiple times online. The small fenced garden formed an entryway with a proud oak tree on the right hand side of the center pathway that lead into the modern complex. Largely square in structure, the pale building in front of him reminded him of a skyline in and of itself. A thin rectangular section of the building stuck out taller than the rest of the building where the staircases rested, and each top floor room raised the roof by another foot or two while each corner was higher than the center rooftops. Casper smiled to himself. The building would be fun to sketch out when he had time to do so. Tall rounded garden lamps dotted the pathways, softly illuminating the walkway for him. The entrance's glass doors opened easily as he entered, and the right hand wall was lined with mail slots, complete with name plates. He could see his own name already placed on a mailbox at the end of the wall. The left wall had a small security room with a glass pane separating it from the rest of the lobby. A dark skinned man sat on a small swivel chair reading a newspaper. He wore a tan shirt and dark pants, and Casper could see a walkie-talkie sitting on the counter next to him along with a wall of black and white monitors on the wall behind him, surveying the various locations of the apartment complex. The man looked up from his paper as Casper entered, who smiled bashfully as he pulled out the key to his apartment.
“I've just moved in,” he explained. The security guard nodded once before returning to his paper. He seems a little too lax for this position. Instead of fretting on it, Casper walked passed the lobby and towards the first hallway of the complex.

He had lucked out and managed to get a first floor room, which was a great plus for him. The idea of having to climb multiple staircases every day was a torturous one, and he was grateful for being able to dodge that particular bullet. The tile flooring caused Casper's footsteps to tap loudly in the empty hallway as he approached his room. Room 117 stood in a red door frame against the white walls, lined up along with the other red doors beside it. He reached for the door handle and thankfully found it to be locked. Thank god. The movers didn't leave all of his possessions unguarded. Just as Casper reached into his pocket for the key, he heard a door hastily thrown open behind him.
“Stop right there, scumlord!” Turning around, Casper found himself face to face with a scrawny man in a white tank top and black shorts. His face had the beginnings of a beard outlined on it, and the spectacles he wore were large and round, like a literal pair of drinking glasses strapped to some frames. “How dare you try and sneak around into my new neighbor's apartment?! What did you do to him, did you eat him? Take his flesh for your own as a disguise?! Who sent you?!” With each word, the man got closer to Casper until he was pushed up against his room's door, and the man's face was so close, Casper could smell a faint trace of the man's dinner. Or at least, he hoped that was what the cheese smell was.
“What are you talking about?” Casper clawed desperately at his door handle in an attempt to unlock it.

“Hold up a sec,” the man said as he backed away, “is that a duffel bag? You homeless, man? I get that you want a place to stay but you can't just take advantage of an empty apartment.”
“What?! No! No, you've got it all wrong! I'm the guy who's moving in here!”
“Aha! So you did eat my neighbor-to-be! Are you a Skin Walker? You ain't walking in my skin, Skin Walker!”
“A what? No, listen! My name's Casper. I just moved in today!”

“Casper?” The man rubbed his chin in thought. “Well that's the dude's name, yeah. But how do I know you're the real Casper and not a Skin Walker? Or worse, an FBI agent pretending to be him?” Casper didn't answer and instead brought his hands up in a confused shrug. “That's a good point,“ the man responded, “and well made as well.” Casper decided not to tell the man that he never made a point, or even said a word. “So you're Casper, huh? My name's Alex. Alexander Blanket for long. Sorry for grilling you like that. We live in a scary world and gotta be careful, ya know?”
“Uh...” Alex brought his hand up to shake, which Casper grasped carefully, afraid of what might happen when he did so.
“You know why we're gonna be good friends?” Casper almost responded with 'because I'm going to avoid you forever,' but held his tongue. “Two reasons. The first is because you stayed totally calm while I was giving you the third degree. A smart man stays cool and collected during uncertain times. Men like us are hard to find. The second reason is because you've got a firm grip. Very firm. Shows confidence, just like me. Men like us are hard to find.”
“You repeated yourself.” And the only reason my grip is so strong right now is because I'm terrified.

“Repetition is good. Shows the importance of statements. But you knew that already because you're an important man. Like me. Men like us are hard to find.”
“...Right.”

It was then Casper realized they had been shaking hands for over twenty seconds, but he wasn't sure how to disengage.

“You were smart to take the ground floor as a room, you know. Smart. Real smart. like me. Men like us--”
“Are hard to find, yeah.”
“See? Repetition.”
“Why is the ground floor important?”
“It stops the aliens.”
“The...aliens?”
“Yeah, the aliens. Keep up, man. You ever been abducted by aliens?”
“Can't say I have.” They were still shaking hands. Alex's was particularly sweaty, which made Casper nervous, thus made him sweat as well.

“Me neither. Know why? Cuz I always lived in a ground floor apartment. Aliens can only get you if you live in a house by yourself. It makes it easy for them. Of course, they don't mind snagging someone if they live in an apartment, but living on the ground floor makes it harder for them. It's even more difficult when you board up your windows.”
“You boarded up your windows?”
“You don't?! Maybe you're not as smart as me. Like me, rather. You still got a lot to learn I guess.” Casper finally pried his hand away from Alex. He wiped it against his jeans and did his best to keep a neutral expression at the cool air he felt against his wet hand. “Yo, lemme ask. Lizardmen or Molemen?” Casper blinked.

“...Sorry, what?”
“Which one do you think lives under us?”
“I... molemen? I don't know.”
“Interesting. It's because we live near Canada, right?”
“Are you saying Canada hides molemen now? And what was that about aliens?”
“Forget the aliens, man. Keep up. The colder atmosphere of Canada is too harsh for Lizardmen. That's your thought process, right? But it doesn't matter since they live deep underground. You didn't take that into account.”
“...R-right.”
“Either way, I'm gonna find out. I've been digging a tunnel in my room as a bunker for when the inevitable human wars come. That's why I demanded a ground floor apartment, you know.”

“I thought you took a ground floor apartment because of the aliens.”
“I told you to forget about the aliens, man. Keep up.”

“Does the landlord know about your digging? Or did you get a permit or something?”
“Pfft, of course not. What would be the point of a secret bunker if everyone knew? I'm only telling you because you seem smart and I want you to live when it comes to it.”

“So you dug an illegal tunnel is what you're saying.”
“Man, can you really say you're 'free' in this country if you can't even dig a hole without permission?”
“I'm pretty sure one of the reasons you need permission is so you don't hit a septic tank or something.”

“Don't let them brainwash you, dude. Think for yourself. I know you can do it, you're smart. Like me. By the way, I saw some burly dudes coming and going into your apartment earlier today. They your brothers? Boyfriends? All of the above?”
“What the hell is wrong with you, man?” Casper's exhaustion was amplified as the conversation went on, and he was ready to go to bed.
“Hey bro, what you do is your business. I ain't here to judge.”
“They were movers. They were just bringing my stuff in for me... Wait, why didn't you stop them like you stopped me?”
“Cuz they looked super strong, dude. They could probably kick my door down if they wanted to. My window's boarded up so I can't really escape this room if I needed to.”
“Sounds like a fire hazard.”

“You're a fire hazard. Sorry. I didn't mean that. Anyway. I gotta get going. That tunnel won't dig itself and I've got a meeting with someone tonight. Let me know if you need help with anything, yeah? That's what neighbors are for, after all.”
“Right.”
“Just not tonight. Starting tomorrow, let me know if you need anything.”
“Helpful,” Casper rubbed at his tired eyes.

“Peace, man. Keep your eyes peeled.”
“I'll...do that.” Alex retreated back into his own apartment as Casper unlocked the door. Once inside, he slumped against the door and sighed heavily as he slid to the ground. Was this his life now? Living next to a conspiracy theorist? Another yawn escaped his mouth, but Casper knew he wouldn't be able to sleep now. Not for another half an hour, at least if he were lucky. A new location would definitely mess with his sleep schedule. He looked at the living room he had just entered and saw cardboard boxes stacked on top one another. “Might as well do some unpacking before going to sleep,” he told himself.
 

KingdomKey

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I got a good kick out of Casper's new neighbor being a conspiracy theorist. It was hilarious with the third degree Alex was giving him. xD I also enjoy the fact that there's a security guard outside of their apartment complex too. And I wonder if the aliens is a nod towards Appreciate the Invasion? Either way, I enjoyed this new update a whole lot and couldn't get enough. Furthermore, I love the chemistry between Casper and Alex too. Also, I think Casper's new place is awesome based on the description of it too. xD <3

It's kind of hilarious to see all of us wearing Persona avatars right now too. lol. And Persona 5 is addicting. <3
 

Cassette-Disk

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The aliens are from that RP, as well as Alex's first appearance in Simple Stuff from years ago, yeah! I need to try and write more often. I always have fun when I do but it's hard for me to sit down and just do it. Here's another bout of right writes with more to come hopefully soon! I have a decent idea of where to take this story so I'd like to really get the ball rolling!
---
The movers were at least kind enough to place Casper's heavier furniture in the proper places they had discussed beforehand. It had cost a bit extra but he wouldn't have been able to set everything up by himself and having the movers wait for him to help wasn't an option. Casper stood from the doorway and flicked the light switch. The darkness that had encased his living room lifted in an instant, and the brightness revealed his couch and television sitting proudly in their places. A few cardboard boxes sat on the corner, but he ignored them for now and headed into the room to the right. The two-bedroom apartment was chosen specify so Casper could convert one of the rooms into a work office, and as he entered that room his desk was already set up against the wall. All that was missing was the monitor and computer. On the opposing wall from the computer desk was a slanted wooden drawing desk. It's shape and size were perfect for its purpose and he was happy to see it in one piece. More cardboard boxes lined the wall and Casper greedily opened them with the box cutter he had stashed in his bag before the trip started. He peered inside and was satisfied with the condition of his computer, monitor, and drawing tablet. If those key items survived the trip, then there was no doubt his printer and scanner had fared just as well. Instead of opening the rest of the boxes, Casper investigated the rest of the apartment for himself and returned to the living room. This was his home now, but it all felt so alien. The silent stillness of it all was off-putting, and despite having most of his furniture already set up, it still looked eerily empty. It was also obvious the place had just been cleaned, as the sterile odor of cleaning agents was all he could smell. It made him dizzy, like the smell within an overbearing and enclosed new car. Casper opened the window that was on the same wall as the TV to let in some of the night's cold air. As soon as he slid the window upwards, a stiff gust hit his face, and he couldn't help but enjoy the brisk breeze. Casper turned around. The small and narrow kitchen was behind a chest high wall. He would be able to watch television while using the stove, and it reminded him of a bar. Albeit a small and cheap one, with a pantry hidden away in the corner for storage. Opposite of his work office was his own bedroom. The office had a bathroom next to its doorway, but this apartment was seemingly designed with a 'master bedroom' in mind and had a small bathroom attached to it deeper in. Inside the bedroom, his bed had been placed against the wall, with a much smaller television placed opposite of it on top of his dresser.
“So much for a grand tour,” he mumbled. Still, he couldn't help but smile to himself. The apartment was small, but it was all he needed. For now, he needed to start unpacking.

A sudden ring filled the apartment as Casper wiped sweat from his forehead. He had lost track of how long he had been unpacking for, but was surprised with how much he had managed to get done. His ringing phone sat on the coffee table, which he quickly answered happily after seeing the name displayed.
“Hello.” Despite how happy he was to see his sister calling him, his tired nature took priority and Casper couldn't work up any enthusiasm for the greeting.
“Hey, Casper!” Crystal's voice responded through the line, “how's the move coming?” Casper yawned loudly and with purpose. “That bad, huh?”
“It's not terrible, actually. But I can tell it's going to take me a while to get used to this.”
“Mmm. That's how it was for me and Zoey too. Think you'll get any sleep tonight?”

“I'll try but it doesn't look likely,” he answered as he rubbed his eyes. “It's a new place entirely. My body needs time to get used it too.”
“Well I hope you do. You still have those piano CDs, right?”
“Yeah. I'll play them if I can't get any sleep. Hopefully that'll work.”
“Is that Casp?” A third voice asked through the line.

“Ah, yeah it is,” Crystal said, away from the phone.
“Lemme talk to him, lemme talk to him! Hi Casper!” The high pitched voice grew louder with the last two words as Zoey spoke directly into the phone. Casper could mentally see Crystal trying to wrestle the phone back away from her roommate.
“Hey Zoey, what's up?”
“Forget me, what's up with you? How's the place?”
“Quiet, actually.” Zoey made a grunt, one Casper recognized.

“Did my sister tackle you to the ground?”
“She's mean!”

“Give me my phone!” Crystal's voice was in the background and Casper smiled to himself.
“Uh-oh. Gotta go, Casp! Byeeeeee!”
“Hello?” Crystal said, her voice directly in line with the phone.

“Hi, yeah.”
“Sorry about that. Anyway, I'm sure you'll get used to the place soon. We gotta visit you at some point too!”
“I'd like that.”
“Have you made any friends yet? I know it's been less than a day, but still.”

“...Well. I wouldn't really call him a 'friend,' but I ran into my neighbor."
“Oh yeah? Friendly guy?”
“I guess. I think he's a little crazy, but harmless. I hope.”

“What do you mean?”
“He thinks aliens are after him. That's why he lives on the ground floor.”
“...What?”

“Or, wait no, he's looking for molemen? And is digging a tunnel to find them? I'm not sure, he was hard to follow.”
“Sounds creepy. Have fun with that one.”
“I'm sure I will.”
“Alright. I was just calling to check in on you, so I'm gonna let you go.”
“For sure.”
“Call if you need anything, alright?”
“Mm-hmm.”
“Goodnight, bro.”
“I sure hope it will be. Goodnight. Tell Zoey bye for me too.”
“Right. Later.” The phone went quiet after that, and Casper stood up to stretch. He had been unpacking for long enough, and he decided to try and get some sleep. After a quick swap of clothing, Casper pulled the covers off his bed and slid in before closing his eyes. He emptied his mind, and waited. The tiredness he felt from traveling weighed down on him like a ton of bricks. His feet were sore from being cramped behind crowded train seats and cold walks through the night. His arms felt as if they were being pulled down by jugs of water, and his head pounded from lack of sleep. Yet, hours passed and nothing happened. He lay there with his eyes closed, waiting for rest that simply would not come. And he knew it wouldn't. He sat up and reached for the music player he had unpacked. His heavy finger pressed down on the play button and smoothing piano and violin notes filled the room. Again, Casper tried. He flipped the pillow over and placed his head on the cool sheet, letting the waves of music wash over him. Another hour passed with no rest to be found. The music had reached its end twenty minutes ago and began to repeat itself, but Casper knew there was nothing he could do. Instead, he stood in irritation and put a jacket on over his sleeping shirt. Sweatpants and slippers would do for what he had planned. He made his way to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water from the faucet before downing it quickly. Casper grabbed his phone and key before heading out into the building's hallway.


Usually Casper would take walks around the block in this situation. It rarely helped, but was better than suffering in bed. However, his feet hurt too much for that and he didn't know this area well enough anyway, so instead he opted to head to the roof of the apartment complex for a change of scenery. Casper walked down the hallway and was thankful to find an elevator. The idea of walking up stairs pained him and he was happy to take the easy way out. He pressed the button against the wall and was surprised when the doors opened instantly. The elevator was completely empty as Casper entered it, and as it ascended he checked his phone. Three in the morning. Crystal had called him at eleven, which meant he spent four hours trying to sleep. He sighed as the elevator halted, and the doors quickly opened for him. The night sky was still dark, though from here the stars were harder to spot thanks to the city lights. The roof's ledges were walled away by a tall chain link fence, and as stepped into the darkness, another gust of wind struck him.
“Hey, dude,” came a call. Casper raised an eyebrow. There were lamp posts scattered across the rooftop, and a man walked under the light of one.
“Oh, it's you.”

“What's with that greeting, man?!” Alex cried. “You should be happier to see me.”
“Sorry. I'm tired.” Casper walked towards Alex, who sat on a foldable chair before pointing to a stack of them.
“Can't sleep, huh? Pull up a chair, my man.”
“Thanks. And no I can't. Not a wink.” Casper placed his own chair next to Alex's. They were facing the fenced ledge over-viewing the city. The streets were empty, and Casper could see some poor bastard at a red light. There was no other cars or traffic, yet the light refused to turn green for him.
“Weird.”

“...What?”
“I said that's weird. This place is super quiet since we're away from the main road. People never have trouble sleeping here.”

“Mmm.”
“You one of them insomniacs, bro?” Casper sighed heavy as he rubbed his eyes.
“Yeah.”
“Oh, you are? I was bluffing. Thought you were like me.”

“Like you?”
“I take twenty minute naps every two hours. It's the most efficient sleep schedule for humans. Plus it keeps you away from the government's designated sleeping hours so they can't brainwash you.” Casper couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. “I'm serious man. I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to brainwash you but failed. That's probably why you have insomnia, you know. Government diddlyed you over.”

“Whatever. Do me a favor and don't tell anyone, alright?”
“Word. ...wait, why?” Before Casper could answer, the elevator opened once again. “Oh, she's here. I told you I was meeting with someone, didn't I? Don't worry, you can stick around. You're cool enough to pick this up. Cuz you're smart. Like me.” A woman stepped out of the elevator and made her way to the two men. From the limited light available, Casper could see the woman's brown hair was long and straight, though a newsboy cap sat on her head. Her amber eyes pierced through the night as she stared at Alex. “Hello there, miss Chase. How are we this fine evening?”

“Damn it, Alex. I should have known better than to take another job from you,” the woman answered as she pulled out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes from her pocket. She gazed sideways at Casper. “Nice bedhead. Mom couldn't comb your hair?” She said.
“Nice hat,” he snapped back in tired irritation, “sold enough newspapers for that bike yet?” Chase smiled back earnestly.
“Whoa hey, calm down you two,” Alex told them, “Dude, she isn't like us. She needs sleep to function. She gets cranky if she's up this late. And Chase, take it easy, my bro's got amnesia.”
“Insomnia,” Casper corrected him. “And I told you not to tell people that.”
“But why not? No shame, my man!”
“I just don't want to be known as 'that dude with insomnia, alright?”

“Hey!” Chase clapped her hands twice loudly before placing the cigarette in her mouth. “I got a job to do. Alex, what the diddly, man? I thought we agreed no more goose chases?”
“So it was a dead end too, huh?” Alex asked as Chase lit her cigarette. The burning tip glowed in the night's darkness.
“No shit. Hey, 'bro,' you smoke?” Chase tilted her pack towards Casper, but he held his hand in protest.
“Nah. I appreciate it though. And I go by Casper. Casper Donn.”
“I'm Chase Conner. Here, my card.” Chase reached into her back pocket and handed him a slim white card. It read 'Chase Conner, Private Investigator,' and listed her work address and phone number.

“You're a PI?”
“That a problem?”
“No. Actually I think it's kinda cool.”

“It really isn't as glamorous as you think it is. More often than not I just check on cheating spouses or try to find someone's lost cat. Don't even get me started on the jobs this idiot's set up for me.”
“I would
love to hear about the jobs this this idiot's set up for you.”
“Hey man, that's not cool,” Alex interrupted. “What about client confidentiality, huh?”
“Meh,” Chase shrugged, “just as a taste, this last job involved me chasing a squirrel with a tracking chip Alex placed on it.”
“...A squirrel?”

“He thinks aliens domesticated all of Earth's and are using them to steal people's prescription meds. Then the squirrels take the medication to their mothership. By the way, Alex. The squirrel you tagged? I found it dead in a river.”
“Damn it!” Alex hissed, “they were two steps ahead of us!”
“If you know this guy's a nut, why take jobs from him?”
“The first gig he set up was an accidental victory,” Chase responded. “He thought there was an underground mutant flea market or something below the sewers on the outskirts of town. I thought he was full of shit but when I went down there I found a huge drug operation. I reported that to the police and was given a nice reward. From then on I figured he might be lucky and might keep accidentally finding good scoops for me.”
“How's that worked out for you?”
“It hasn't. Speaking of which. Alex?”
“Yeah?”
“I'm blacklisting you. Don't bother calling for a job, cuz I'm not taking anymore from you.”
“Shiiit, really?”
“Yeah, really. Good to meet you, Casper. Give me a call if you need my services.” Casper nodded, and Chase walked towards the staircases, opting to walk down with her cigarette.

“Damn it,” Alex cursed, “the squirrels must have gotten to her.”
 

KingdomKey

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Casper has a really nice place. I also laughed at the part where he greedily opens his cardboard boxes. Although, I understand because, I'd be the same way about wanting to get out my laptop and check on its condition too. Seriously, I want to live with Casper. His apartment sounds awesome. xD Anyways, my favorite part was the phone call with Crystal and Zoey. Crystal tackling Zoey for the phone tickled my funny bone a lot. And Chase! I'm not sure which story she comes from but, she sounds familiar to me a tiny bit. Haha, blacklisted. xD I love this chapter. <3 Always worth the wait. <3
 

Cassette-Disk

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So I've been sitting on this for a week or so now but haven't been wanting to post it because I wanted to add more. I've decided to just write in an acceptable ending to this piece so I can jump back into it easily next time I start writing and just post it up. Because of that, it's a bit shorter of a section than I usually like to post. Sorry if there are any grammar/spelling errors as well. I haven't been doing too good a job of editing through these lol. This part gets a bit weird by the way, but that's whatever. Hopefully I'll be able to start writing again soon so I can keep the story going; I'm really enjoying this. A lot of stuff referenced here is from earlier in the story, but since it's been like, a month since I've last posted, it might not be obvious. Sorry about that!
---
Alex cursed quietly to himself as he left the rooftop, leaving Casper by himself. He yawned once more into the darkness. His fatigue was bearing down on him, yet his body refused to settle down for sleep. He hated it. Everyone always thought of insomnia as a non-issue, especially when they aren't exposed to it. They figure it just means the person suffering from it just has more time during the day since they can't sleep; but the reality is the complete opposite. How many nights had Casper laid in bed for hours on end, too tired to stand, yet unable to sleep? Then once the sun rises he was expected to live the rest of the day just like everyone else despite his total lack of energy? God forbid he try to explain to others why he was so tired. They just saw him as being lazy or that he was up all night partying. It was frustrating. It was unfair.
“It's bullshit,” Casper whispered to himself angrily. He hooked his fingers around the chain fence while leaning forward in his chair, watching the city lights below. Nearly all the buildings had their lights off, no doubt the occupants inside were fast asleep. He couldn't help but feel envious at the thought. Casper shut his bleary eyes as he pressed his head against the cool iron fence. The autumn air was brisk, but no wind was blowing, making for a fresh atmosphere after the warm summer. Casper sighed to himself as his body started feeling heavy, and the world around him seemed to melt away.

The fence Casper had been holding on to leaned forward dangerously. He hadn't noticed until he felt his stomach drop as the fence bended away from the roof, clicking away as the connectors along the poles became undone. Casper let go of the fence, but it was no use as his body had already been pulled forward by gravity. The top of the fence broke away completely and in a moment of momentum, the rest of the fence followed as it began to fall off the roof of the apartment building, with Casper following behind. The rushing wind battered his face as he screamed in terror, grasping his arms out in all directions, desperate for something to cling to. The darkened pavement path within the grass he he had passed through to enter the building was rushing to meet him. The fence collided loudly with the ground in front of him, and a split second later, Casper's body followed. His molecules warped themselves through the chain link fence as he passed through it, as if he were made of liquid. There was no ground beneath the fence, instead, his reconstructed body passed through a tunnel-like hole, hastily dug with a shovel by an obviously inexperienced person. The wind continued to rush past him, though it sounded like distorted piano playing.
“Oh, it's you.” Alex' voice echoed throughout the tunnel as Casper fell, though much deeper than Casper remembered it. He looked at the walls of the tunnel. Monstrous human-like creatures lined every wall. They were covered in fur and resembled moles. “Molemen or Lizard men?” Alex's voice went on. “Which do you think live under us?” Casper brought his attention below him and saw a large pool of water, which he immediately crashed into. The water was warm and deep, though he quickly fought his way to the surface. As his body broke through the surface, he realized his clothes were missing. Two large burly men sat at the water's edge, back to back, the water covering them waist down. They looked towards him as one of them spoke, albeit with Chase's voice:
“I'm blacklisting you. Don't bother asking about a job, because I'm not interested.”
“Why do you think I live on the ground floor?” The second man answered with Alex's voice. A sudden green light covered Casper as the hot springs ran dry. He looked up and saw a flying saucer floating above him.
“Aliens,” he whispered. In an instant, he was surround by grey humanoids with large black eyes and strange heads. One behind him gripped his shoulder tightly and began to shake him.

Casper awoke on the roof with a jolt, his fingers still hooked around the chain link fence. A hand had gripped his shoulder and he quickly turned around to face the person.
“An alien!” Casper shouted, “that should be the next villager for Deluxe! An alien!” A man older than himself was who Casper saw. His tanned skin was wrinkled, and an orange turban sat on the top of his head while a well-groomed beard rested on his chin.
“What?” The man asked in an Indian accent. “You should not sleep on the roof, young sir. It is not safe, you could catch a cold!”
“What?” Casper stood from his chair. The sun was starting to peak out from over the horizon, peering over the buildings around him. “What...time is it?”
“Just passed ten,” the older man answered. “Where you having a bad dream?”
“Yeah. Yeah, kinda. I don't get much sleep but I didn't think I'd pass out up here.”
“Ah, insomnia? You must be Casper.”
How'd you...?
My wife is the landlord, Aruna She's out on another matter and won't return for a few days, but I hope I will suffice. My name is Chandra. I hope you're finding the apartment to your liking?
å¾¹h! Yeah, yeah it's nice. No complaints!
“Excellent! Very good! I just have some papers I would like you to sign if it is not too much trouble.”
“Of course. And thank you for accommodating me with my requests with the movers arriving before me. I know it's usually against your policies.”
“Think nothing of it,” Chandra said as he led Casper towards the elevator. “As a matter of fact, it was the least we could do. My wife, you see, has always been helping others. Always. I believe that is what attracted me to her in the first place.” The elevator doors slid open and the two entered. Chandra pressed the ground floor button. “We moved here from India to find more opportunities. Thankfully, those opportunities came to us in the form of housing. She became a landlord while I help downtown with various small odd jobs. It was difficult at first, of course, but we did well. And now we help whenever we can with our beautiful daughter at our side.”
“Oh, you have a daughter?” Casper asked.
“Yes, yes! Happy and healthy. We had her shortly after moving here. She's been growing into a beautiful woman, but we fear she may be too sheltered. She lives on the third floor, actually.”
“Oh really?” The doors opened once more as the pair arrived at their destination.
“Ah, worry not. She pays her rent just as everyone here does. However, I still worry. Perhaps we should not have let her stay so close to us. It might have been better for her to leave her home, as we did when we were younger. Perhaps not leave the entire country, but at least a city away. To establish independence, yes?” Casper nodded once as they walked down the hall, towards the entrance. As they approached, Casper heard a woman's voice speak out loud, mid-sentence.

“...God, Gary. It was the most embarrassing thing in the world! I thought I was going to die!”
“Oh relax,” a gruff male answered, “I'm sure it weren't that bad. 'Sides, it's not like you'll ever see that dude again. Just forget about it.”
“I guess you're right...ugh...”
Casper and Chandra turned the corner towards the main entrance. To their right was the glassed off security station, where the same security guard from last night sitting inside. Casper gasped when he saw the woman he was talking to. Dyed red hair. Yellow rimmed glasses. An exaggerated facial reaction when she saw Casper. There was no doubt about it, this was the same woman he had run into in the coffee shop just the night before. Casper still vividly remembered picture he saw on her magazine as he accidental bumped into her, and obviously she remembered too. “Wha!!” The woman cried as the security guard—Gary—silently slid away his own book off the counter and into a drawer.
“Casper,” Chandra said, “I'd like you to meet my daughter. Her given name is Ashwini but we call her Ashley. As a vow to our love for her, we gave her the middle name 'Oath', an unwavering vow of love and devotion!” Chandra broke away from his small monologue as he suddenly realized the tension in the hallway. Ashley was in obvious shock with her widened eyes and both hands clasping at her mouth. Likewise, Casper had taken a step back and a visible drop of sweat had formed on his forehead and had slid down to his cheek.
“...This the guy?” Gary asked quietly. Ashley nodded in response.
“He caught me during my yaoi run!” She squeaked, her voice almost almost an octave higher than normal.
“Is something the matter?” Chandra asked, “What's a yaoi run, habibi?”
“Nothing! Don't...don't worry about it!”
“This...is your daughter?” Casper asked.
“Yes! Lovely, isn't she?” Casper didn't answer, completely caught off guard and frozen. “Oh ho! I see, I see! You're stricken! Is that it?” Chandra laughed to himself.
“It's not that...it's just that....we've uh...met.”
“Oh, is that so? I'm sure you two will get along splendidly then! Gary has the forms you need to fill out. Feel free to ask him if you need help with any of them. Unfortunately, I must be going. I have another errand to run. Habibi, will you be joining me for dinner tonight?” Ashwini only nodded. “Excellent! I will be waiting!” Then Chandra left, leaving Casper alone with Gary the security guard and the weirdo girl he met only the night before.
 

KingdomKey

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I burst out laughing about the aliens and featuring them in deluxe next. And the references, gawd, do I love them so much. <3 I knew the moment the landlord met up with Casper something was going down. xD Oh, Oh, you really had me going and in shock when you made it seem like Casper literally fall off the roof and into a pool. I can't believe it was just a dream! And aww, poor Casper with his insomnia. I know what that can be like at times. Love coming age and slice of life stories. You write the best ones, CD. <3 Forever your biggest fan! <3 Unless Max wants to do an epic rock, paper, scissors for it. xD
 

Cassette-Disk

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An awkward silence passed through the hallway for what felt like hours.
“Um,” Casper started, “so I--”
“I don't believe this!” The girl yelled out.
“This is the guy you were telling me about?” Gary the security guard asked.
“Yes! He's the one! He knocked my new stash over when I was walking out of the store and saw the middle fold with my husbandos!”
“Your...what?”
“Her husbandos, man!” Gary slammed two open palms against his desk as he stood. “The very essence of this young girl's love has been violated by your intrusive and peering eyes.”
“Her love? Are those guys in the magazines drawn versions of real people?”
“They're called doujins!” Ash cried back, “and no,they're not 'real people!' I'm not interested in three dimensional, pig disgusting men!” Casper blinked. What the diddly was she talking about? Did people like this actually exist?
“Am...Am I being pranked?” He asked hopelessly.
“A normie like you wouldn't understand.”
“Tell her, girl!” the security egged her on while he pumped a fist into the air. Casper raised his hand in front of him in protest before things got out of hand.
“Hold on. If I'm a 'normie,' then what are you?”
“I'm a N.E.E.T.!” She answered triumphantly.
“A...what?”
“A N.E.E.T.! You know, No Experience, Education, or Training.”
“Oh. So you're a weeaboo loser.” Both Ashwini and Gary winced, as if Casper had thrown a punch to their arm. “...Are you the same, mister security guard?” Gary only nodded.
“Th-that's a damn rude way of putting it!” Ash yelled.
“Yeah, bro. That was a hella low blow!”
“You owe us an apology!”
“Sorry,” Casper said simply.
“At least try and pretend that you mean it!” Casper sighed in his usual tired irritation as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. He didn't know what time he fell asleep last night, but the fact that it was on the roof while sitting on a folding chair did him no favors. His back was aching and it felt as if he hadn't slept a wink. He wanted to lay down, far away from the loud chaos these two brought.
“I'm sorry,” Casper repeated.
“Is that all you have to say for--”
“Do you want me to diddlying bow?!” he snapped. Casper's sudden comment caused the girl to wince again, but this was far different from last time. Back then she had almost taken it as a joke, as if a friend were teasing her. Now her shocked stance held anxious fear. Casper could see Gary's body language was different as well. He was leaned forward, ready to dart out of his chair at a moment's notice. “I-I'm sorry.” Casper ran his fingers through his hair nervously. They landed at the back of his neck where he rubbed his hand against it. “I'm tired. And I haven't slept well the past few days. I've only been awake for a few minutes and haven't fully settled in yet. I haven't even been here a full day, after all. I'm...I'm not usually like that. You see, I have...”

Casper trailed off. He wasn't about to tell them he had insomnia. He wasn't going to let himself use it as an excuse for his shitty behavior. “...Nevermind. Can I sign those papers? I'll get out of your hair after.” Gary eased himself back into his chair and pulled three documents from his drawer.
“Sign down here, at the bottom of the pages,” he said. Casper nodded as he pulled the papers from the open slot on the bottom of the glass. “Hold on, I'll grab you a pen.”
“I got one,” Casper told him. He always had a pen and a small sketchpad on him. Both were tiny in comparison to their normal counterparts, but they worked whenever inspiration struck him. He clicked the top of the small pen and scribbled his signature on the papers, one after the other.
“I'll get these to Chandra. Thanks.” Casper nodded.
“Sorry again. I...just need time.”
“Don't worry about it.” Though Gary's words were forgiving, his tone was not. Dear diary: day two and I've already diddlyed up and burned a bridge.
“Um. Casper?” Ash asked. Make that two bridges. And to top it off, she was the daughter of the landlord. Great going, Casp. “About your pen...” Casper held his pen out. He had gotten so used to it, he had forgotten it was a pen made for a convention he had attended last year. He had his own table to sell merchandise, including the small pen which had various images of his characters from his comics.
“Oh,” he yawned, “these guys are from a webcomic.”
“Animals Deluxe! I knew it! Do you read it?!” He blinked. Maybe he could use this to win back some points he had lost from his outburst earlier.
“I'm the creator,” he said. It was rare he got to meet anyone in the real world who knew of his work, but in the span of 24 hours he had encountered three people who knew of his comic.
“Bullshit!” Ash and Gary said at the same time.
“Do you read it too?” Casper asked Gary.
“Never heard of it, but that sounds like a lie.”
“Okay,” Casper pulled out his phone and opened his pictures before showing the screen the to both of them. “This is me at my table during Emerald City Expo. This same picture was featured on my site for a while too.” The picture was a simple one where he and a male fan stood next to each other in front of a table filled with merchandise for his comic. They both smiled broadly and held their hands out in the peace sign. Casper's eyes still had dark circles under them, even back then.
“No way!” Ash cried out. “That's awesome! Have you thought about incorporating a more Eastern style into your artwork?”
“...You know, it's always nice to meet a fan, but I think that's the first time someone's suggested something like that right out of the gate.”
“I just think the animals would look better in a chibi style.” Casper brought a hand under his chin.
“I did that once for some stickers, actually. It wasn't too bad but I wouldn't want to incorporate it entirely into my comic. The sudden shift would be strange as well.” He rubbed his eyes. “Listen, I'm gonna try and get some sleep. I feel like I haven't gotten any all night.”
“Wait up a sec, before you go, can I show you something?”

An elevator ride and a short walk later found Casper in front of Ash's apartment door.
“Should I be worried?” He asked.
“Why?” She taunted, “Don't tell me you've never been in a girl's room before?”
“This feels like the start of a horror movie. Like the room is going to be covered in plastic wrap from carpet to ceiling, Dexter style. Then I wander in, confused and Gary jumps out from behind the sofa with a baseball bat with nails in it, swinging at me. Then you two eat my body and bleach out any blood that got on the wrapping and furniture.” Ash stared at Casper, shocked.
“Wh...what kind of comics do you draw again?”
“I had a phase where I wanted to work with more thrilling genres.”
“You uh, have the imagination for it. I think.” Ash opened the door to her apartment, but the inside was mostly dark, causing Casper to take a step back.
“Holy shit, you really are going to kill me!”
“That's right! Stabby stabby!” Ash jabbed Casper in the back with her index and middle finger which made him yell out in a high pitched, hollow cry as he jumped against the wall next to the door, completely caught off guard. It wasn't until he heard Ash laughing did he finally calm down. She had bent over, holding on to her knees for support. “I'm sorry! I've never heard a guy make a noise like that before!”
“I'm going to bed,” Casper huffed as he turned around.
“No wait come back!” She grabbed his shoulder just before he started to walk away. “There really is something I want to show you! Come on! Pleeeeaaaaase?” The face Ash was giving him reminded him of his sister's best friend.
“Fine, fine. What is it?”
“A surprise. Come on in. Lemme turn on the lights.” The beige walls were plastered with various posters of different animated shows and movies. A large TV sat on a table opposite the door, with a tall shelf showcasing various different anime figures, most of which were women with different hair colors and large robots. Casper pointed to the largest poster he could see. It showed a red headed girl in a black bikini sitting on the arm of a large mech with a younger boy standing above her.
“I'm noticing the pattern that most of these women aren't wearing a lot of clothing.”
“Yeah don't worry about that. Come on, it's in my bedroom.” Casper raised an eyebrow, remembering the 'yaoi husbando' nonsense he had experienced downstairs.
“...What kind of anime are you into again?”
“Don't be weird, come on.” He wanted to turn around and run back to his apartment. Just because she wasn't going to kill him didn't mean he was completely home free. He should have brought a witness, like Alex. He was weird as hell but wouldn't let her try anything funny with him. Hell, he'd probably say anime was a Japanese propaganda tool laced with subliminal messages. Casper mentally shook his head and steeled himself as he followed the otaku to her room. It was definitely bigger than the master bedroom in his own apartment, and she had used the extra space to store her computer on one side of the room, her bed in the middle, and another television on the other wall. Just like the living room, the walls had posters all around, but they were less prominent here. The bed itself was surprisingly normal as well. Casper fully expected the bedspread to have images sewed into it as well, like children comforters did. Without an explanation, Ash had turned on the television and was fiddling with different on-screen menus.
“So what were you gonna show me?”
“Let me find it real quick, hang on.”
“Find it? You're basically channel surfing. ...Wait, did you bring me up her to make me watch anime?”
“Uh-huh! There's a series that's similar to your comic that might help―Wait don't leave!” Casper had turned around and was already making his way back to the living room.
“Look, I'm tired, alright? I have...sleeping issues.”
“Okay, I get that, but come on! Just one episode? Please?!” Casper sighed for what felt like the 50th time.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Huh?”
“Why aren't you pissed at me? I acted really shitty to you and Gary down there. If it were me, I would have thrown a fit back.”
“Dude, look at this place,” Ash threw her arms open, showing off her living quarters, “Do you think this is normal? It's like, dysfunctional or something. I can't just walk down the street and ask them what kind of hentai they're into, you know? I never give off the best first impressions, so I can't be mad if the guy that just moved here got irritated at the overbearing weeb.”
Casper laughed. “You really did make a crappy first impression back at the book store.”
“The book―aw damn it I had forgotten about that. I pushed it out of my memory.” Tiredness forced Casper to rub his eyes again.
“So how long's an episode, then?”
“They're split into two separate 10 minute stories per episode, so about 20ish if we skip the opening.”
“Let's skip the opening, then,” he told her as he sat against her bed.
 

KingdomKey

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I won't lie, I actually flinched at Casper's outburst. Dayum. He's scary when he's irritable and lacking proper sleep. (I know a little of what that's like, cause I need my sleep too. Just not on Casper's level. xD And oh man, what a man he is for not using an excuse for his behavior. He gets brownie points from me. <3) On the other hand, I absolutely loved this chapter. I like how Ash is willing to overlook his irritation and watch an anime with him. (I wonder what anime it'll be.) I also love, LOVE the fact that Casper makes webcomics. <3 Animal Deluxe, man. <3 And I laughed at Gary backing Ash up on being otaku or N.E.E.T. I wasn't expecting that at all. This chapter was awesome and really worth the wait. I can't get over it, cause it's just so awesome, and I wanna read more of it. (Might go back and read it again from the beginning later. <3)
 

Cassette-Disk

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I won't lie, I actually flinched at Casper's outburst. Dayum. He's scary when he's irritable and lacking proper sleep. (I know a little of what that's like, cause I need my sleep too. Just not on Casper's level. xD And oh man, what a man he is for not using an excuse for his behavior. He gets brownie points from me. <3) On the other hand, I absolutely loved this chapter. I like how Ash is willing to overlook his irritation and watch an anime with him. (I wonder what anime it'll be.) I also love, LOVE the fact that Casper makes webcomics. <3 Animal Deluxe, man. <3 And I laughed at Gary backing Ash up on being otaku or N.E.E.T. I wasn't expecting that at all. This chapter was awesome and really worth the wait. I can't get over it, cause it's just so awesome, and I wanna read more of it. (Might go back and read it again from the beginning later. <3)
Casper's got a bit of attitude problem at times due to his lack of sleep, unfortunately. The anime in question would be Polar Bear's Cafe and I didn't just choose that because it's the only anime I could think of that had talking animals, I swear.
by the way do you like dialogue? cuz I diddlying love dialogue. Here, have a bunch of dialogue. This part was so much fun to write. Especially the ending. You'll see.
---
Noises of a tapping keyboard filled the room. Casper's shoulder was painfully stiff, and he shifted himself so his entire body's weight wasn't on it. This lead to him laying on his stomach instead of side, which also eased a pain in his back that he had been suffering as it had been leaning against a metal bed frame. He heard soft and high pitched voices in a language he couldn't understand as he rubbed his head against the carpet. There was something small and hard on his cheek. It smelled like watermelon but he ignored it. The sound of the tapping keyboard caught his attention again.
“Crystal,” he said without thinking. No, that wasn't right. Crystal's electric piano had a heavier sound to it when she used it. Whenever she used headphones while playing, Casper could clearly hear the heavy keys as they pressed into place as she played to herself. She always did complain that an electric keyboard wasn't as good as the real deal. Something about how real pianos have a certain depth to them. You could press them lightly for a soft sound or harshly for a loud one. Piano Forte. The tapping had stopped. Casper opened his eyes. The TV in front of him showed a colorful scene of a flower-filled backdrop as animals with ridiculously silly proportions danced in a circle as Japanese font scrolled down the screen. “Credits.” He sat up and nearly toppled over himself as he did so. Casper pulled the watermelon-scented object that had stuck to his face and found it to be a Jolly Rancher. Unfazed, he tossed it back to the ground and rubbed his cheek clean with his sleeve. Casper grabbed the bed for support, though he heard a woman's quick cry as he leaned over it. On the other side of the bed sat Ash by her computer, looking terrified. Casper yawned. Ash pulled a stuffed turtle over her face in response. “Hi. I slept through the episode. Sorry.”
“Y-you! You s-slept through a ton of episodes! L-like, the entire season!” Ash pulled down the turtle as she said this, and Casper could clearly see her face reddening. Whoops. He shrunk behind the bed and made himself look as small as possible.
“Bad time?” He could only guess what she was looking at. While he slept on her floor. Talk about creepy.
“Wh-wh-what do you mean?”
“I know what kind of uh...'genres' of this stuff you watch when you're alone, so--”
“What?! You really think I'd watch yaoi while someone else was in the room?!”
“I mean, you bought the stuff in a public store, so why not?”
“No! I'm writing a review!” Casper stood and walked towards the computer. His legs cracked audibly as he moved. Floors were always too stiff for a good rest.
“Review for wh--?”
“Ahaaa! Stay...don't get too close please...!” Casper stopped as he reached the corner of the bed closest to her.
“What?”
“I...I have anxiety.”
“Anxiety?”
“Yeah. I'm...I-I'm anxious. About you being here, I think.”
“Really? Why?” Ash was flabbergasted.
“Why am I anxious?! Because I have anxiety!”
“No, I--” Casper's palm landed squarely on his face. “I mean why are you weirded out by me now?”
Ash's voice suddenly became high pitched, “Because a guy I've only known for a few minutes fell asleep in my room and just woke up from like, a five hour nap!” Casper's ears rang. Her voice could make a puppy howl as if it had heard a dog whistle.
“But you were fine inviting me in?”
“For one episode! I didn't realize you'd fall asleep here!” Casper sat on the bed's corner.
“Yeah sorry, I--”
“Off the bed! Please!” She added as Casper shot upwards. “Guy. On my bed. Gives me...scary and not-so-good thoughts.” Casper rubbed his forehead, unsure of anything that was going on. This felt like one of his sleep deprived dreams.
“I-I'm not gonna do anything to you!”
“I know! I think? No, I don't know! I've only known you for like, thirty waking minutes!”
“Okay, okay. Bed's off limits. Got it.” He sighed. At least he wasn't as tired as he was earlier. That nap seemed to have done the trick for the moment. “So what are you reviewing?”
“Huh? Oh, I-I review Japanese media. Like, anime, manga, drama shows, that kind of thing.” Casper peered into the monitor.

{Kayabashi} : [THERE'S A GUY ASLEEP IN MY ROOM WHAT DO I DOOOO Σ(°△°|||)]
{Kuma Kona} : [what? That sounds like the start of a doujin]
{Kayabashi} : [DON'T MAKE THIS WEIRDER THAN IT ALREADY IS I HAVE A REAL PROBLEM!!!]
{Kuma Kona}: [suck his **** lol :p]
{Kayabashi} : [NOOOOOOOoooo y u do this. ur no help. 。・゚゚*(>д<)*゚゚・。 ]

Casper covered his mouth and and stifled a laugh as he read the first few lines of the messenger on the screen. Ash followed his gaze and screamed as she covered the monitor with her hands.
“Don't look at that! Oh my god, how much of that did you read?!”
“Enough to know it wasn't a review. What's a doujin?”
“Don't act like you don't know!” Casper let out a legitimate laugh as Ashley tapped the off button. The monitor went black immediately, leaving only the few streaks of sunlight that broke through the closed blinds as the sole light source. “I'm gonna have a panic attack,” she said.
“...I'm sorry,” Casper told her. “Really. I didn't mean to be a dick when I woke up. I...also didn't mean to fall asleep in the first place. Whoops.”
“Nooo... It's fine.” Ash pulled her feet on her chair and hugged her knees, blocking half her face from Casper. “I messed up and should have let you go home to sleep. Sorry.” Casper ran his fingers through his hair nervously. ...What now? “Who's Crystal?”
“Huh? Oh, Crystal's—”
“diddly, that was nosy. Sorry, you mumbled it when you were asleep but that was so nosy of me sorry sorry—”
“No, it's fine. Really. She's my sister. Twin sister. Here, look.” Casper pulled out his phone and showed Ash his lock screen. He had set it to a picture of himself, his sister Crystal, and her best friend Zoey. Like Casper, Crystal shared his tanned skin and black hair. However while Casper's eyes were a dull brown, Crystal's were an impossible purple color.
“Oh my god her eyes are so pretty! Are those contacts? Does she cosplay?!”
“No nothing like that. She was just born with purple eyes. We always joke that she has Alexandria's Genesis, but the doctors said she just had some lucky mutation or something? I don't know, it's complicated science stuff that never makes sense to me.”
“But you're twins, right? Where are your purple eyes?”
“I left them in my other pants, what do you think? I wasn't lucky enough to get them. Hell, we're lucky that mutation or whatever didn't blind her. That's our friend Zoey in the picture. My sister plays the piano and Zoey plays the violin. They moved out a few months ago to try and get a career going. Last time I asked they were playing at different coffee shops.” Casper smiled sadly. “Somehow I don't think that was what they had planned.”
“So you both moved out and left your parents, huh?”
“Well, our mom, yeah. Dad passed away when I was young.”
“Oh! S-sorry, I didn't know...”
Casper held his hand up, but all he said was, “Don't worry about it.”
“O...okay. Um...I'm unlocking your tragic backstory, right?”

Casper blinked.
“...What?”
“This is...this is how it works, right?” Ash stood up and took a step towards Casper. “In all the visual novels and manga. A new person moves in and interrupts the normal flow of everyday life for one person. They get to know each other and learn about their sad pasts, and at the end they...” Ash trailed off as she took another step. “But I want to skip past all that.” Casper stepped backwards. Every step she made, he countered with one of his own.
“Uh-huh... Sorry, I'm lost. What are we talking ab--”
“Jasper! Be my boyfriend!” There was a long awkward silence as Casper's brain caught up. As soon as it did, it fell flat and had to start over. “Please!”
“No.” The word struck Ashley like a baseball crashing through a window.
“What?! Why not?!”
“There are a million reasons!”
“Name one!”
“My name isn't 'Jasper!'”
“What.”
“It's Casper! You don't even know my name!" Casper counted off his fingers as he went on: "We've only known each other for half an hour, I think your hobby has taken over your life in a creepy manner, and I think we'd barely get along as friends! You know that outburst from this morning? Yeah, that's not the first one I've had and it sure as shit ain't gonna be the last.”
“Why don't you think we'd be friends?!” Ash had fallen forwards, gripping Casper's shirt. He grabbed her fingers to try and pry her off, though she misread it as him trying to hold her hands. Once she tried to weave their fingers together, he let go and dropped her.
“That's the part that bothers you? Not the life-destroying hobby part?!”
“Tell me what I can do! What's your type?! Tsundere? I can do that! Starting tomorrow I can act like that!”
“What the DIDDLY are you talking about?” Casper started walking out of the room, but Ash grabbed his right foot and was dragged along.
“What about yandere? Is that what you're into?”
“I don't even know what that one is!”
“Give me something, Casper! WORK WITH ME HERE!” Her sobs filled the room as Casper forced his way towards the front door.
“This isn't some shitty graphic novel!" He grunted. “There's no 'story' going on here and if there was, my story wouldn't be a love story!”
“What kind of story would it be then?!”
“One where I'm better than her!” He cried as Ash shifted her weight to slow Casper down.
“Her?! Her who?”
“Who do you th—oh forget it. Listen, if you want someone to like you, you can't just look for shortcuts. You just act normal!”
“I DON'T KNOW HOW TO ACT NORMAL.”
“YEAH I KNOW. I figured that out just a while ago, thanks! Just be yourself!”
“BUT MYSELF IS AN IDIOT.”
“YEAH I KNOW THAT TOO!” Casper had reached the front door and had opened it. The afternoon light poured into the darkened apartment. “You know what I think?” He said as he shook her off his foot. “I think you've gone too deep with this anime stuff. You can't see reality from fantasy anymore and need a wake up call.” With that, Casper walked out the door and slammed it closed, leaving Ash sobbing on the ground.

Casper walked up another flight of stairs.
“Jesus diddlying Christ,” he muttered to himself. What the hell was up with these people? First a conspiracy nut and now this? What was next, an ex-animal trainer with a pet lion? Casper gripped the railing as he made his way up. He was going to pay Chandra a visit and tell him about the encounter he had with his daughter. Surely this wasn't the first time she had done something like this, maybe her dad could straighten her out. Just as Casper reached the third floor above Ash's apartment, he ran into Chandra himself.
“Ah, young Casper! How do you do?” The land owner asked as he held one hand over the other.
“Yeah, hey how's it going. Listen, we gotta talk. I was just with Ash a bit ago--”
“Ah, my sweet habibi. I hope you two are getting along.”
“That's the thing, I--”
“Oh forgive me. I must hurry to see her. She has forgotten her medication, you see.”
“Her...wait, her medication?”
“Yes, she—oops. Perhaps I shouldn't have said that.” Chandra moved his hands to reveal a transparent orange bottle filled with small round pills inside them. “I shouldn't go into details, but she hasn't taken them in a few days. I am not sure if she's simply forgotten, but I found them in my area. I suspect she's been without them for a while. Without them she has...unhealthy thoughts.” Casper froze. She mentioned she had anxiety, but what if there was something else? He didn't know anything about her, what if she had depression on top of that? Or some kind of disease?
“Oh shit.” He suddenly remembered how he had let her fall to the ground. How he had left her crying and sobbing as he walked away. Ice filled his veins as he stiffened. What if. What if she had been standing on an edge. What if the medication was her safety rail. And he had just given her a shove. “Oh no. Oh shit, no.”
“Young Casper? Are you--” Casper yanked the pill bottle from Chandra's hands and raced down the stairs.
“No no no no no.” He jumped down the last three steps and collided with the opposing wall before jolting down the next staircase. Images of Ash holding a knife flooded his brain. Blood. Lots of blood. “No, please god no.” And it'd be on his hands. He would have driven her to this. Another flight of stairs came and went and Casper darted down the hallway. The sunlight that bathed the room through the large windows cast tall shadows into the hall, one of which covered Ash's doorway. “Oh diddly. Please no. Please no, I'm sorry, please,” Casper panted as he ran towards the darkened door. Without a second's hesitation, he burst into the room, terrified what he would discover. “Ashley?! Ashley!” The living room was empty and dark. Just like before, the windows were covered by the shutter blinds. “I'm sorry. Please be okay, oh god.” The kitchen was empty, though Casper saw a single drawer filled with kitchen utensils—including knives—was left open. “Oh my god, no no no no.” Artificial computer light streamed from Ash's door, which was left ajar. Without wasting any time, Casper rushed into the room and slammed it open. “Ashley!” She was in the computer chair, knife pointed downwards, towards her chest. “Stop! Don't do it! I'm sorry, please!” Ash's eyebrow rose as the chair swiveled around. In her other hand, close her chest, was an apple. Freshly sliced.
“Don't do what?” She asked. The room was silent, save for Casper's labored breaths as he bent forward, trying to catch his breath.
“Christ. Thank diddly. You're okay.”
“...Why wouldn't I be?” Casper held the orange pill bottle in the air and shook it. Ash reached into a nearby drawer and pulled out another bottle, filled with the exact same pills. She shook it in a matter-of-fact manner, confused. Casper collapsed against the wall.
“You suck,” he wheezed. “You suck so much. You don't...you don't even know how much...hah...pfft hahah.” He couldn't help it. Casper burst into laughter as Chandra entered the room.
“Is...is everything alright?” He asked. Ash only shrugged, obviously confused at the whole situation. Casper didn't help any as he continued his laughing fit. He handed the orange bottle back to Chandra.
“Everything's daijoubu.”
 
Last edited:

KingdomKey

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I can't tell if what you said was sarcasm about the dialogue, but I FREAKING LOVED THIS CHAPTER. LIKE, OMG, IT'S SO FREAKING AWESOME! I had to stifle my laughter because, it was hilarious how Ash kept trying to be Casper's special "type" to make him date her. And Casper has grown a lot on me because, I like how he stands up for himself and doesn't let someone else's whims persuade him any. And awww, he actually cares about Ashley to go through all that trouble. Furthermore, Ash having anxiety for having Casper asleep on her floor for five hours is totally understandable. xD But for realz, this story makes my day every time I read it. I wish it could be turned into an anime or graphic novel, cause I'd buy it. lol. <3
 

Cassette-Disk

Monotone/Colorful
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hi its been a while have this unedited piece and expect more soon hopefully maybe idk
---
“Young Casper, is everything okay? Are you in need of assistance?” Chandra held his arm out to Casper, who had finished his laughing fit. He took hold of Chandra's hand and stood, still panting from his run.
“It's fine. All you need to know is that I have an overactive imagination. And I'm out of shape.”
“What's going on?” Ash placed the plate of apple slices on her computer desk.
“Oh, habibi, have you been taking your medication?” Chandra handed the orange bottle to her. “I found this one in my office so I became worried.”
“I'm taking them. I thought I lost them so I went to get another refill. It was a pain in the ass, but I manged to get them fine.”
“I'll just be going now,” Casper said. He wanted to get out as soon as possible and was already inching towards the door.
“Wait, why did you burst in here?”
Casper sighed. “I thought...I don't know. I thought you forgot those meds and that they were like...” he trailed off. How could he say he thought she was going to commit suicide? “I was just worried.”
“What, did you think I was gonna off myself or something? They're just anxiety pills. They help with panic attacks and stuff.”
“Yeah well, I didn't know that.” Casper reached the door and walked through when he heard Ash's footsteps rush up to him. Oh boy, here we go. Sure enough, she grabbed his arm and spoke up.
“Wait! Wait wait, did you really think I'd try and kill myself?”
Chandra easily pulled Ash off of Casper, “Now habibi. Young Casper was just worried and was being a good neighbor. Do not read into it too deeply.”
“But dad! We have a real connection! I can feel it!”
“That's what you said about the last person that moved in. And you ended up driving them out with your antics.”
“Wait, what?” Casper turned around to face the two. “What do you mean she ending up 'driving them out?'
“D-don't worry about that!” Ash said as Chandra sighed to himself. “Look, Casper's already made it farther than the other guy did! And Casper's single.”
“No I'm not,” Casper lied, “I have a girlfriend.” Ash's face went pale.
“W-why didn't you say that in the first place?!” It was a pathetic lie, but if it kept her out of Casper's hair for a while he'd be able to live with it. “What's her name, then?”
“Now habibi, don't pry into Casper's personal life like this.”
“Zoey,” Casper said, pulling up the first name he could think of. Well, the second name, actually. The first name was his sister's, and he wasn't about to claim to be dating his sister.
“Zoey? You mean the girl on your lock screen?”
“That's right. W-why do you think she's on my lock screen?”
“I thought it was because it was your sister's picture...But why didn't you mention you two were dating when you showed me the picture the first time?” Shit!
“Ah...well, you know...” Casper covered his face from view with both hands. “It's embarrassing, you know? I can't talk about her with a straight face so I tried to brush her off!” Ash wasn't having any of it.
“If that's the case then why'd you move here instead of with her and your sister?! It doesn't make--”
Chandra stepped in. “Now now, habibi. Young Casper has his reasons for his decisions. Speaking of which, now that I see you're fine with your medication, Casper and I have a few last things to discuss about his staying here. Would you join me outside, Casper?” Casper only nodded a silent thank you for the escape.

Once more, Casper found himself in the hallway, three floors above Ash's room. The afternoon light had already begun to evaporate, and in its place were the slowly darkening skies. There was just a sliver of sunlight reaching past the horizon and though there was enough visible light left, the hallways were already illuminated by the automated ceiling lights. This was now Casper's home but the artificially lit hallway reminded him more of a hotel than a long-lasting living space.
“Correct me if I'm wrong, young Casper,” Chandra said, “but you are not currently in a relationship, are you?” Casper looked towards the stairway, making sure Ash hadn't followed them.
“No. Sorry I lied. Don't tell her, alright?”
“I understand. My poor habibi has an overbearing personality at times. We've tried to talk to her but nothing's gone through. Maybe we should just accept her for who she is instead of trying to change her. Either way, I hope you can still get along with her.” Casper couldn't help but smile.
“I think I've seen the worst of her at this point, so that should be fine...Or rather, I hope I've seen the worst of her.” Casper heard a soft whirring noise outside. Looking up, he saw a drone fly near the apartment building. “Are those things popular here? I saw one yesterday too.”
“Hmm?” Chandra followed Casper's gaze. “Ah, the flying drone? No, though I do believe I see one flying around every so often. It would be fair to say there is probably one enthusiast in the city, but nothing beyond that.”
“Oh. Alright. Hey, did you actually need to talk to me about something or was that just to help me get out of Ash's room?”
“Hmm? Ah yes. Did you sign the papers this morning?”
“Yeah. Gary should have them, I think.”
“Then everything is perfect, young Casper. Please enjoy your stay. Here, allow me to give you small gift to welcome you.” Chandra pulled out his wallet and produced a small slip of purple paper folded into an envelope before handing it to Casper.
“What's this?” Casper asked as he undid the flap. Inside was a plastic card, the same shade of purple as the envelope in came in. Written on it were two words in whimsical font: Coff-Coff.
“It's a gift card for the coffee shop down the street. It isn't much, I'll admit—only five dollars—but I always feel the need to get something like this for people moving in. Considering your insomnia, I hope it does not offend you that I chose a coffee shop. I did so without realizing, you see. If it's a problem I can replace it with something else. Or perhaps a different--”
“No no, this is fine! Really, don't worry about it. Thanks, Chandra. I appreciate it. In fact, I think I'm feeling a little thirsty right about now.”
“Oh! Yes yes of course, please by all means! I have a few things I must take care of as well. Please take care, young Casper. Night is falling, after all!”

A few seconds after Casper pressed the elevator's call button, the doors slid open for him. A pair of blue eyes looked up at him.
“Oh, good evening,” the man said, “I haven't seen you before. Are you visiting someone?” The man standing in the elevator was tall and lean with pale skin and spoke in a British accent. He wore a dress shirt and slacks, and his black shoes shone in the elevator's light. Casper rubbed his fingers through his black hair, comparing it to the man's light brown hair. He was clean shaven while Casper sported stubble from his already growing beard. The fact Casper wore a a simple v neck shirt and hoodie with jeans while the other man was dressed in a more formal manner made Casper feel as if he was inadequately dressed.
He stepped into the elevator. “N-no. No, I just moved in last night. Do you live here too?”
“No. I was visiting my cousin, but he seems to be out, which is rare. I even checked the roof as he likes to spend some time there, but found nothing. Ground floor?”
“Yeah, thanks.” Casper noted the man had already pressed that particular button as the doors began to close. “So who's your cousin, if you don't mind me asking?”
“He lives on the first floor. Maybe you've met him, his name is Alexander.” Casper stared at the man, shocked.
“You're related to him?! But you're so normal!” The man laughed.
“Yes, I get that a lot. Alexander is...very eccentric and pursues strange hobbies.”
“Hobbies, huh?” The man laughed quietly to himself but said nothing for a few seconds. Casper expected him to talk about Alex but instead said a single word that surprised him again.
“Insomnia?”
“Wh...what?”
“I'm asking if you have insomnia. I can see the dark circles in your eyes despite looking as if you've slept more than the majority of the day.”
“...Just a rough night's sleep.”
“More like a rough couple of year's worth of sleep, but if you say so. I won't pry any further. My name is Richard, by the way. Richard Cain.” He held out his hand, which Casper hesitantly shook.
“Casper Donn. Local insomniac.” Richard laughed again as the elevator reached the ground floor and opened once more.
“Where are you off to then, Casper?”
“This place called Coff-Coff.” He held up the gift card in between to fingers to show Richard. “Every been there?”
“Yes I have. In fact, that was my next stop. Would you like me to join you?” Casper looked Richard over once more. They seemed to come from two different worlds; Richard dressed as if he was ready to head into a party while Casper looked as if he was about to get busted for smoking weed.
“...Should I get changed first? What's the atmosphere like?”
“Hm? Oh! No no, please you're fine as-is! If anything I'm over dressed. I'm just very used to this type of attire.” The pair walked passed the the security office where Gary eyed them for a moment before returning to his book. Casper could clearly see Gary had placed a Japanese manga over the book's pages and pretended to read the book while secretly reading his graphic novel instead. “I work at the local bank, you see. I spend a lot of time there and my closet has been filled with more dress-wear than casual clothing before I had realized it.”
“Oh. Well, at least you're always looking fly, right?” Richard chuckled again as he exited the apartment building. Darkness had taken over the town, and the concrete walkway leading out of the lot was brightened by lamps that dotted the area. Casper looked towards the sky but saw only darkness. There were no stars to be seen in the city. Instead he brought his gaze forward. The streets were bathed in artificial light and the noises of passing cars in the distance filled the air.
“So where do you work, if you don't mind me asking? Did you have a job lined up in this city before moving in?”
“Huh? Oh, I uh, make a webcomic called Animals! Deluxe.”
Richard rubbed his chin. “I'm sorry to say I haven't read it.” This time it was Casper's turn to laugh.
“Don't worry about it. To be honest it'd be even weirder if someone like you had said you were a big fan of it.”
“Is that so?”
“You don't seem like the kind of person who'd read cutesy comics, you know?”
“And you don't seem like the kind of person to produce cutesy comics. You seem a bit more on the rougher side.”
“That's just me being grumpy from not getting any sleep.”
“Speaking of. I find it hard to believe an insomniac would go to a coffee shop, much less during the night.”
“I like hot chocolate,” Casper defended himself.
 

KingdomKey

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I like hot chocolate. Oh Casper, you're adorable. <3 I absolutely admire Casper's quick thinking to get out of Ash's prying questions because, I dare say he might of got stuck with her as his girlfriend when it was over. lol. And it probably helps Chandra was able to help out with that some. Even if he's friendly, I still find him a bit suspicious. On the other hand, the flying drone... RETURNS! So mysterious! And hey, a new familiar face! Gosh, do I love this story so much. If I had the artistic ability, I'd turn it into a graphic novel. xD And aw, Gary wanting to pretend he isn't reading manga is cute. <3
 

Cassette-Disk

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It didn't take long for them to reach the coffee shop. The interior was dim and warm, especially against the cool fall weather outside. There was soft jazzy music playing from the speakers that were hanging around the walls of the shop. It took Casper a second to realize the jazz was originating from a small circular stage at the far end of the coffee shop. There were three people on the stage wearing suits and hats, playing different instruments. One played a piano, the second a saxophone, and the third a trumpet he muffled periodically with a small red ball. Despite the late evening, the cafe only had a small number of customers sitting along the tables. Richard led him to the long counter on the opposite side from the stage. After placing their orders and sitting at an empty table, Casper couldn't help but watch the musicians. They made him wonder how his sister was doing and if she was happy in her new life.
"Can I ask you something, Casper?" Richard's question snapped Casper out of his daze, and he rubbed his eyes wearily.
"What's up?"
"I was just wondering why you decided to move. Besides the obvious reasons of wanting to have independence, I mean. You could have had that if you just moved out of your parents' house but stayed in the same town. Instead you took a train here, right? Why the drastic shift?" The question made sense, given how little information Casper had given Richard on the short walk to the coffee shop. Initially, Casper held up some resistance against the question and didn't want to answer. He had only met Richard a few minutes ago, after all. It wasn't any of his business. And yet, he was the most normal person around his age he had really met so far. Maybe this would spark a decent friendship in the long haul? Compared to the extremely bizarre nature of the two neighbors he had met so far, Casper would much rather be around someone like Richard. His internal debate must have been obvious, as Richard held his hand up. "Nevermind. It was a bit insensitive of me to--"
"I have a twin sister," Casper interrupted. The jazz music climbed up a scale as the piano took precedence. "She and her best friend moved out of town a few months ago to make a name for themselves. They left me, and though I didn't have the same level of skill they did, I couldn't help but feel as though I had something to prove. She was a musical prodigy ever since we were kids, but me? I always lagged behind. I hate to admit it, but I've always felt like I lived in her shadow."
"So you left. To somewhere no one knew either one of you. If you stayed, everyone would still compare you to her, and if you moved near her, you'd have the same problem as before."
"Pretty much." A waiter came and placed their drinks on the table. Casper shifted and mumbled a thanks while Richard held eye contacted with the waiter, thanking him in a firmer tone. The fat round mug on Casper's end held a welcoming brown liquid while Richard's was a transparent and refreshing green tea. "I still feel that way, though. The only reason I acted and moved in the first place was because of her. If she hadn't left, I would still be in the same place I was before." The jazz group stepped down from the stage, as the next performer prepared to take their place.
"I don't think that would have mattered," Richard said, eying the next performer.
"What?"
"It wouldn’t have mattered if you never moved. Everyone moves at their own pace. Who cares if your sister overshadows you? You have your own inherit worth that can't be taken away. If you hadn’t moved, you would still be making your webcomics for the world to see, wouldn’t you? The same goes for anyone in the world. We all have something to offer, even if it's something small or if it's only for a small amount of time."

Casper was taken aback. He wasn't sure how to respond and only stared, dumbfounded. Before he could collect himself, the speakers came alive as a woman's gentle voice sang out from them. She had taken the stage without his realizing, and was already at the microphone, wasting no time in starting her song. She was accompanied by a soft piano that escalated and declined down the scales. Her voice was lovely and hit a beautiful high tone, though her song was an odd mix of optimism and melancholy. It was bittersweet. Casper couldn't help but stare at the woman: she was tall in stature--probably even taller than he was-- and her long blonde hair reached down passed her back while the bright stage lights magnified the contrast of her red lipstick and black eye liner against her pale skin. The song hit its chorus as Casper gaped.
"Let's dance tonight, to the clock burning every second away..."
"She's very pretty, isn't she?" Richard whispered. Casper only nodded. He couldn't take his eyes off her as she continued her song. The lyrics interested Casper, but he found it hard to concentrate on them as he mainly focused on the person singing them. It wasn't a particularity happy song, but Casper still found the lyrics hopeful. Once the song was winding down, Richard leaned towards Casper, who was obviously captivated.
"Would you like to meet her?" He asked. Casper froze, unsure of what path to take. The idea of meeting the singer onstage terrified him. The song ended, and as the woman walked down the steps, Richard waved at her, standing from his seat.
"What the diddly are you doing?!" Casper hissed. It was too late for his protests, as the singer noticed and made her way to their table with a smile on her face. Casper shifted uncomfortably in his chair as she approached. What the hell was he going to say? What was Richard thinking?!
"Good evening, boys," the woman said as she reached them. Her dress fit her tightly and Casper forced himself to look into her eyes. Don't be creepy. Just play it cool!
"Hi!" Casper's voice cracked, causing both Richard and the singer to chuckle lightly. This, of course, made Casper's face burn red in embarrassment. Richard took over.
"My friend her was just telling me how much he enjoyed your singing and how much he wanted to complement you."
"Is that a fact?" She rested her palm under her chin as she sat at the table, in between the two.
"Uh' y-yeah! You were fantastic up there. Y-you see, my sister is a pianist. She usually accompanies a violinist but sometimes joins a songstress, and you reminded me of those moments. B-but your singing was far beyond those other people!"
The woman giggled, "Richard, where did you find this man? He's a nice one!" Casper blinked as the woman put her hand on the table, palm up. Richard smiled as he placed his own hand over her's, interlocking their fingers together. The pin dropped in Casper's mind as he laughed to himself.
"You guys suck!" The two couldn't help but join him.
"I'm sorry. She was the reason I was heading her in the first place. Lucky I made it in time. Casper, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Isabelle. Isabelle, this is Casper. He just moved in to the apartment across the hall from Alex." Isabelle burrowed her brows.
"Have fun with that one," she said. Casper couldn't help but feel his heart beat just a bit faster.
"I'm sure I will. I've only talked with him twice but i can tell hes going to be a handful."
"Come off it, you two, he isn't that bad." Casper turned to Richard:
"He's been blacklisted by a private detective, you know." Isabelle let out a laugh that made Casper's heart soar as Richard rubbed his forehead in frustration.
"Damn it, Alex," he whispered.

Isabelle asked Casper the same question Richard had: Why he had chosen to move away from home. After telling her about his sister, Isabelle smiled.
"You wanted to be free, then?"
"What?"
"Freedom. Your sister might have opened the door by moving away first, but in the end you were the one who stepped through it. And you did that because you wanted to expand your horizons, just like she did." Casper ran his fingers through his hair.
"I...uh, maybe? I don't know."
"Just agree with her," Richard whispered, "It'll make her feel better."
"I can hear you!" Isabelle cried.
"I guess that's why I moved though, yeah. In a way."
"Too late." Isabelle huffed and folded her arms. She smiled and winked at Richard who returned her smile. Casper chose to ignore them. He was about to ask the two when they met when Isabelle gripped her forehead in pain.
"Isabelle?!" Richard shot up in worry, panicking Casper. "Are you alright?!" She only nodded in pain, keeping her head low. Richard remained on his feet, ready to move at a moment's notice. After what felt like an hour, Isabelle reclaimed herself and gave the two an apologetic smile.
"Sorry for the scare. I...get these headaches every so often. They don't last very long, but they hurt like a bitch." Casper let out a long breath. It was then he realized he was sweating.
"Why don't I take you home?" Richard asked.
"There's no need! I'm fine, Richard, honest."
"You are most definitely NOT fine. You're sweating bullets and your eyes are constricted. It's time for a rest." Casper shuffled his feet. He wasn't sure what to say or do. Though Isabelle put on a brave face, even Casper could tell how winded she was; her face was red, she covered with sweat, and she was even breathing a little heavier than before.
"Richard," she laughed, "I'm fine! Besides, I want to probe our new friend some more!"
"We can chat with him later." Richard reached into his pocket and pulled out a small booklet. He opened it and handed it to Casper, along with a pen. A quick glance told him it was a contact book. This guy was old school. Without being prompted, Casper added his name and phone number in an empty slot. Meanwhile, Isabelle bit her lips, obviously frustrated.
"Fiiiine, fine. Let's go." Casper handed the booklet back to Richard as Isabelle rose from her seat. "Sorry to break this off so soon, Casper."
"Don't worry about it. I know how performing on stage can treat the body. I've met someone who would nearly collapse after every performance." Richard looped his arm around Isabelle's body.
"Goodbye, Casper. We'll text you later, so let us know if you need any help settling in." Casper nodded and the two walked away, leaving Casper alone at the table.

Casper's head was swirling as he entered the apartment lobby. Isabelle on stage left a striking impression on him, one he couldn't shake. The song she had sung was stuck in his mind as well, even though he couldn't remember the lyrics. He couldn't help but hum the tune he could remember as he walked passed the security office. Gary was staring at the monitors with a bored expression on his face, but gazed at Casper quickly. Not that Casper noticed. He was still preoccupied with thoughts of Isabelle. Her voice was fantastic, and though he hadn't spent much time with her, her care free and charming attitude was obvious to him. Casper halted as he reached his apartment. She was with Richard. That was a fact Casper would need to keep his focus on. She and Richard were dating, and yet Casper was smitten by her. He pinched the bridge of his nose lightly. It would be best if he just left those feelings. Forget them--dump them somewhere. It just wasn't going to happen between them. There was a commotion from the staircase and as Casper looked towards them, he saw a woman tumbling down. When she finally landed face down on the ground floor, the artificial redhead pushed herself up. Ashley adjusted her yellow rimmed glasses before sitting upright and rubbed her knee. Despite his better judgment, Casper spoke up.
"..."
...I said: despite his better judgment, Casper spoke up.
"..."
DESPITE HIS BETTER JUDGEMENT, CASPER SPOKE UP. Casper rubbed his eyes wearily. He felt as if someone was trying to force him to do something he didn't want to do, like talk to Ashley. ...Still, she had been rubbing her knee for more than a few seconds and seemed to be in some pain. Besides, who knows how long she had been falling.
"...A-are you alright?" Casper finally spoke up, despite his better judgment. Ash looked at his direction.
"H-hi!" She yelped. Casper figured she must have thought she was alone. "I'm fine! It uh, happens all the time!"
"You fall down the stairs all time?"
"Oh yeah. ALL the time, heh." Why was this the woman that had tried to force him into a relationship? Why wasn't Isabelle the one who had done so instead? Given the choice, he would swap out the two women in a heartbeat. Ash stood on her feet, but stumbled slightly. "See? All good." Casper looked at her shorts. She was visibly shaking and her left knee was dripping with blood.
"You're bleeding." Casper walked toward her as Ash looked down, apparently unaware of the cut.
"O-oh..." She fell towards Casper, who...did nothing but watched her fall once more. At least she managed to break her fall by extending her arms out this time. "You were supposed to catch me!" She cried while making sure none of the droplets landed on the carpet.
"Sorry, I guess?" Casper squatted down and pulled out the few napkins he had pocketed from the coffee shop. "Hold still," he instructed as he dabbed a napkin gently against her knee. "Doesn't look too bad. You should clean it up though. Do you have any peroxide?"
"Yeah, but I don't want to climb the stairs while bleeding." Casper almost told her to take the elevator instead, but only sighed.
"Come on, I have some in my apartment."

Casper had offered Ash his hand to stand, but quickly found that the pain was too much for her to put enough weight on her leg. As a result, Casper begrudgingly flung her arm over his shoulder and acted as a crutch as they entered his apartment. After flipping the lights on, Casper led the two to his bathroom and sat Ash down on the toilet. She had been totally quiet the entire time, besides some heavy breathing as her movement caused the air around them to brush against the wound.
"Your place is kinda boring," Ash said as Casper opened the cabinet under the sink.
"Probably by your standards, yeah."
"I mean, you're an artist, right? You make a webcomic? I expected there to be more posters from other people's work or art of some kind hanging from the walls." Casper shook his head at her after finding the brown bottle.
"I never really cared for that kind of stuff, I guess." He reached further into the cabinet, towards a plastic packet of cotton balls. Once he had popped it open, he sat down on the floor, in front of Ash, who had turned beet red. "...Are you okay?"
"Yes!" Her voice was higher than usual, and she had answered way too quickly. Casper chuckled, though he knew he shouldn't have. "Sorry. I just realized the situation I'm in. I think this is the first time I've been in a bathroom with someone else." Casper frowned.
"Don't say it like that. You make it sound gross."
"S-sorry."
"This is gonna sting a bit, alright?" Ash nodded as Casper opened the bottle. He pressed a cotton ball against the opening and turned the bottle upside down, letting the peroxide cover a side of the ball. After flipping the bottle right side up again and pulling away the cotton ball, Casper noticed the indentation the bottle had left on the ball. He smiled to himself. "It's been a while since I've had to do this," he mumbled.
"What do you mean?"
"When we were younger, Zoey would always get herself hurt and I'd need to help clean her wounds in secret. She didn't want to get in trouble with her parents and since Crystal never wanted to get near any blood, I'd have to do it."
"Zoey. That's your girlfriend, right?" Casper felt his breath stiffen as a pang of guilt hit him. He had forgotten about that lie.
"Yeah... Yeah, that's her. I, uh, I'm gonna apply the peroxide. You ready?" Ash nodded and closed her eyes. Casper smiled again. "Just like Zoey," he whispered as he lightly pressed the cotton ball against Ash's cut. She flinched against his touch and covered her face with both hands. Casper doubted it was because of the pain, but kept his mouth shut. No need to add insult to injury. Ash let out a soft, pain-filled hiss as Casper continued to work, but finally calmed down. "Feeling better?"
"Yeah." Ash had managed too look Casper in the eyes as he gingerly wiped at her knee with a clean cotton ball.
"How'd you fall down the stairs like that anyway?" Ash looked away.
"I was...ummm..." Unable to answer, Ash showed Casper the manga she was holding on to.
"Really? You were reading while going down the stairs?!"
"Don't make fun of me."
"I'm...not. I'm just starting to get worried at this point. You can't even go down the stairs without--Oh."
"'Oh' what? 'Oh' WHAT?! You can't just say 'oh' when doing something like this and not say anything else!"
"Sorry. It's just, there's blood on your socks. It must have dripped down while we were walking or something."
"Oh is that it? Pfft, who cares about--" Ash cut herself off with a quick cry as Casper took her shoe off. "Wh-what do you think you're doing?!" She started kicking, but Casper held firm and grasped at her sock.
"If we don't clean up your foot, the blood will soak into your sock and then into your sneakers."
"So what?!" Casper managed to pull the sock away, just in time for the sole of her bare foot to collide with his forehead. "Sorrynotsorry!" Casper rubbed against the impact site and threw the bag of cotton balls at her.
"Fine, then you clean it!"
"I can't! My leg still hurts so I can't bend down enough to reach my ankle!"
"Then shut up and let me clean it instead." Ash fidgeted, but finally agreed. Casper grabbed her foot, but Ash pulled away instantly.
"Can you do it...without touching me though?" He wanted to sigh, but held himself back. The only other person he had ever helped like this was Zoey, who trusted him completely. Ash had only known him for a day and was taking medication for anxiety. It wouldn't be fair to try and treat her the same way he treated his old friend.
"Okay. Why don't you put your foot on the edge of the bath tub? I'll be able to clean up the blood easier like that."

Instead of trying to use cotton balls, Casper grabbed a small towel and draped it over Ash's leg. It took less than a minute for him to clean the blood off, but Ash refused to meet his eyes.
“You can put your shoe back on.” Casper dumped the towel in the sink and placed the bottle and bag full of cotton back under the sink. Ash stayed quiet as she slipped her sock into place. Casper let out a yawn as he went into the living room. It was already eight in the evening. He had spent a good amount of the day asleep in Ash's room, so it was no surprise that time had slipped away. It wasn't the first time his insomnia forced him to miss out on daylight, and it wouldn't be the last. Ash walked followed behind him and Casper fell onto the couch. “I'd offer you something to drink, but I haven't gone shopping yet. All I have is some bottled water. You can grab one if you want, I guess.”
“I'm fine. I...I-I think I should get going. I was going to meet with Gary before this happened.”
“Oh yeah? That's cool.”
“Um. Here.” Ash placed the book she had brought with her on the table. “Have you read this one?” Casper picked up the manga. It was some kind of high school story, judging by the uniforms the girls on the cover were wearing. He read the title to himself, but shook his head.
“I can't say I have.”
“I'll let you borrow that one. It's the first in the series—I was feeling nostalgic. Once you finish it, let me know and I'll let you borrow the rest. I-if you want, I mean.” He nodded before placing the book back on the table.
“Thanks.”
“No! No, thanks you! I-I mean, thank you. It's a thank you for helping me. I...should go.”
“Riiight.” Casper stood up and walked the weeb to the door. “See ya,” He said as he opened it for her.
“Bye-bye.” She walked out and towards the security station. As she left, Casper felt a bit lonely. He wasn't used to being completely by himself. After closing the door, he laid on the couch and pulled on his phone. After a quick few taps he heard the line start to ring.
“Hello?” The female voice answered.
“Hey, Crys.”
“Casper! What's up?”
“Ah you know. Just chilling. I didn't sleep much last night but I got a solid five hour nap on the floor of some girl's apartment.”
“Damn, bro. Day two and you're already passing out on top of the ladies? I didn't know I grew up alongside a stud.”
“Shut up. That reminds me though. It probably won't happen, but if it does: if someone by the name of Ashley asks, tell her I'm dating Zoey, okay? It was the only way I could think of to escape a stalker situation.” Crystal's laughter filled the line for five seconds.
“Sorry sorry! But are you serious?! Man, you're lucky she's not here right now. She would have loved to have heard that. You know she used to have a crush on you in middle school?” Casper shot up into a sitting position.
“Excuse me?! You wanna run that by me again?!”
“Oh yeah. She thought you were gonna ask her to that one dance and everything.”
“I don't dance. You both know that. Why didn't you tell me back then?”
“I didn't know until recently. What, would you have asked her out back then?” Casper considered it. “...C-Casper? Would you have?”
“Nah, probably not. She reminds me too much of you.”
“And just what the hell does that mean?! You call me up in the middle of the night like this just to insult me?!” Casper laughed.
“I mean she reminds me too much of a sister.”
“Oh.” Crystal huffed out a breath of air, annoyed. “You should have just said that instead.”
“Meh. How are things for you two, anyway? Getting any good gigs?” Crystal sighed. It was a heavy and long sigh, one she rarely used.
“...We'll see. There are a few more venues we should check out, so hopefully those will pay off.”
“I'm sure they will. You two are fantastic at what you do, after all.”
“Mmm. Listen, I was about to hop into the shower--”
“Oh! Yeah sure, no problem. Sorry for disturbing your beauty rest like this. God knows you need it.”
“Yeah yeah, I love you too. See you, Casper.”
“Bye, Crystal.”
 
Last edited:

KingdomKey

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The fourth wall breaking was hilarious. I really loved reading this new chapter, It was hilarious and well worth the wait. I love how long it is because, it's so satisfying. I could read Again for days if this were/ever to become a novel. <3 Ash continues to grow on me and happens to be really cute in this chapter. Of course, my suspicion of her remains when it comes to being kind of boy crazy about Casper. BUT who knows. Maybe something will or won't happen there in the future. Of course, sexy Isabelle. Damn, her and Richard for tricking me and Casper like that! I wasn't expecting that at all. xD Overall, it was awesome. I look forward to more of this as always, CD. <3
 

Roxie1563

Actress/Healer in Persona: Icebound
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I can't help but read this all over again when I get bored. It's just too good! :D

I'm surprised I haven't written any small stories since yours is my inspiration to update my role playing activities. :3 Though, maybe that will change over time?

I do hope to keep reading on!
 

Cassette-Disk

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Bright stage lights blinded Casper. Besides the shiny wooden floor his feet rested on, he couldn't make out a thing. Somewhere, a distorted piano was playing. The notes were heavy and dull, as if he were underwater. A woman's voice joined the piano, followed by a violin. Casper couldn't hear any of the words, and the playing felt wrong. He looked behind him, but the bright lights surrounded him still. Without warning, a large porcelain mug landed in front of him. It tipped toward him, and the brown liquid within formed a towering wave that rushed toward him. Casper tried to move, but his legs were glued to the spot. The warm liquid consumed him and he could smell chocolate. Within the ocean he found himself in, Casper saw a woman in a dress holding a microphone. She shone like a beacon, but was immediately blocked from his line of sight by a tall man in a dress shirt and slacks. They both managed to hold their ground against the hot chocolate's current while Casper was being swept away. Casper felt his body slide against solid ground as the liquid finally began to drain away. Gasping for breath, Casper stood and came face to face with a redheaded woman, wearing yellow rimmed glasses and covered in blood. She held her arm towards him and it took Casper a second to realize she held a gun in her hand. A loud noise filled Casper's head as his mind exploded.

Casper shot up from the sofa, scrambling in his half awake state. A second gunshot filled the room as he continued to panic, until he fell on the floor.
"That'll be enough of a message to Ol' Chappo. Nyeea, see?" The television set's speakers blurted out. Peering over the coffee table, Casper could see a color-less man in a suit and hat lowering his handgun. Casper must have left the TV on and fell asleep. The black and white movie playing was something about mobsters, though Casper didn't know anything else about it. He could feel his heart beating against his chest as he tried to calm himself. He shut the TV off and headed to the bathroom. A quick check on the clock told him it was nine in the morning. At least he had managed to actually sleep for a change. Maybe it was the hot chocolate? He would have to experiment, but more than likely he just got lucky. Casper reached behind the shower curtain and turned a knob, causing a cascade of water to fall inside the tub. He briefly noted the bloody cotton balls inside the trashcan, but ignored them. He pulled his shirt off his body and caught his reflection on the cabinet mirror. He was skinny. Unhealthily skinny, almost malnourished; so much so his rib cage was just noticeable. Still, it was probably better to be too skinny than it was to be too fat. ...Although he could still stand to gain more than a few pounds. Waiting a few more seconds, Casper stepped into the tub. His mind wandered to the night before, mostly to Isabelle. Her song was still on his mind, though Richard quickly followed up in his mind. Right. They were dating. Casper reached for the bottle of shampoo, but knocked it over. As he picked it up, Casper noticed a ball of cotton stuck in the drain of the tub. Ash was here last night. She had bled a small amount and Casper had helped clean her up. He wasn't sure what to think of her. She was a complete mess in every sense of the word. At first she seemed like a total psychopath-stalker type, but after telling her he was dating someone else, Ash seemed to calm down significantly. In fact, her anxious self seemed to shine more than her crazy-side. Or maybe she was acting crazy because of her anxiety? Casper wasn't an expert and he wasn't about to pretend to know. Maybe she was just immature and didn't know how to act. Add that to her anxiety and you have yourself someone like her. Maybe she should meet Isabelle. Ash could learn a thing or two from her.

A few hours had passed. After showering, Casper spent a while drawing out the next update on his webcomic. The move had caused him to go on a temporary hiatus and he was itching to get back into his old two-day schedule. But in order for him to post something, that something would first need to be drawn out and created, which he was having a hard time doing. It was typical. He had finally gotten a good night's rest and now he couldn't draw or plot to save his life. He knew he wanted to introduce the new alien villager idea soon, but how would he do it? It was a town full of animals! Should it just touch down on a UFO? Should there be some kind of element of mystery behind it? Casper rubbed his hair irritably, unsure of himself. He checked his phone for what felt like the hundredth time. It was well past three in the afternoon by this point. Casper pushed his chair backwards and swayed a bit, pushing backwards and forwards in thought. After a few seconds, his stomach lurched as the chair pushed an inch too far into the point of no return. Casper swung his arms wildly about in a vain attempt to righten himself, but it only took a second for him to crash backwards. His feet had knocked over the desk and threw a few sheets of paper fluttering into the air.
"I bet Crystal doesn't have to deal with anything like this." A small rubber eraser landed on his forehead and rolled itself onto the floor.
---
There was a slight breeze passing through the street as the young woman closed the glass door behind her. She sighed heavily and reached into her pocket to grab her phone. It illuminated at the press of a button, showing her the picture her mother had taken of her, her twin brother, and their best friend. How much longer would she even be able to afford to keep this phone? She and Zoey had made calculations based on how much money they had saved before moving, but their plans had assumed they would have found a job by this point. They were pretty much running on fumes. Crystal reluctantly pulled up her contacts and called her best friend. Zoey picked up on the second ring.
"Hello? Crystal? How'd it go?!" "Um..." was all Crystal could say as she began to walk down the sidewalk.
"Oh."
"Look, that place was a joke. The owner was a dick and the stage was small as crap. You would have fallen off of it and hated it. And the place's menu was ridiculous--they didn't even have any kind of chocolate iced drinks! Just coffee and, and, and--" "It's fine, Crystal. You don't have to try and make me feel better."
"I-I... Sorry, Zo."
"That restaurant was our best bet! What are we gonna do?! I don't wanna be homeless on the street begging for change! I need a constant supply of donuts or I'll die!" Crystal couldn't help but smile. Zoey had a way of doing that to her.
"If worst comes to worst we'll just...pack it all up and go home." "And bail on our sweet apartment? We have a contract thingie though!" "Look--we'll figure something out, alright?" Zoey didn't answer. Even her peppy attitude wouldn't last forever.
"Hey you hungry? I'm on my way home." Do we have enough money for junk food? I mean, we've got food here..." "Zoey Alison Brunt! Are you saying no to a double cheese stack burger and curly fries?" "NO! No, never! I'm just worried!"
"Well don't be. I always have food money."
"Fiiiiine. Just skip the milkshakes this time. I think I'm becoming lactose intolerant." "That sounds like a fate worst than death." Crystal could hear Zoey blowing a raspberry on the other end.
"'S'not funny! What if I can't eat chocolate anymore?!" "I don't think that's how it works." "Whatever. Bring me food. And be safe. Nerd." "I will, I will. See you soon." "Byyyee!"

The late afternoon was quickly giving way to evening as the orange skyline of tall buildings was being replaced by a dark blue hue. Already the streetlights flickered to life as Crystal made her way to the Burger Champion restaurant she and Zoey loved. If only the burger shop had a stage of some kind! Then they might actually find some employment. The last place they played at had gone under so they were out of a job, and every other venue they could find already had more talent then they knew what to do with. The duo had been out of work for about a month now, and their savings were taking a hit. Crystal briefly thought about borrowing money from Casper, but realized how silly that would be. He was probably having money troubles too. The sound of a car zooming down the street besides her broke her concentration and she watched it fly by at what was probably an illegal speed. When it passed by, she noticed a man walking in the same direction as her on the other side of the sidewalk. She couldn't see much but could make out that his hair was mostly black and short, but had a white pony tail that reached somewhere along his waist. He also looked rather rugged and not someone that she should be staring at. Crystal quickly snapped her vision forward and down her sidewalk. It didn't seem as though he even looked her way, but Crystal still pulled her handbag closer to her side and quietly pulled out the tiny bottle of pepper spray, keeping it clenched in her fist. Probably an over reaction, but there were some obvious scars on the man's face and he was keeping pace with her. The man peered in her direction as Crystal realized she had been staring again. She whipped her eyes away once more and kept them low. She just needed to reach a more public space than the sparse and empty street and she'd be fine. The Burger Champion wasn't far now; she picked up the pace.

As soon as Crystal began to walk faster a wall of cloth blocked her path and she collided with the mass of clothing, pushing her back a few steps. Three tall men stood in front of her. The man she had bumped into smiled widely. It was a disturbing grin--one that the other two men shared.
"Whoa there, girly. You should be more careful. Running into me and all that. Any other guy would be offended." Crystal didn't answer. The other two men had flanked her and crowded around either side of her. She felt her grip on the pepper spray tighten but was frozen to the spot. "you know, you should apologize to us. We could have been carrying some drinks or something and spilled them. Actually, we were just on our way to a bar. Why don't you join us?" Crystal shook her head. "What was that?" "...No." Her voice shook, but she managed to get the word out.
"Why not? We're friendly guys! Aren't we boys?" The other two men laughed in response. Crystal took a step back. The three men took a step with her. "C'mon, what do you say? Just one drink?"
"No," Crystal repeated, her tone much more firm.
"Whoa what's with you? We're just trying to be nice here." The man in front of Crystal grabbed her chin. Though she shook her head, she couldn't free herself. "Don't be such a bitch." He said as his fingers squeezed against her. The man on her left grabbed Crystal's arm. In an adrenaline filled panic, Crystal threw her right fist at the man on her right as he started to reach for her. She tightened the can of pepper spray as she did so, causing the punch to have more power behind it. Her unguided blow connected with the man's shoulder, causing him to stagger backwards in surprise. "What the hell are two you doing?" The main in front of her roared as she began to struggle. "Hurry up and grab the slu--" A sudden boot flew into Crystal's vision as it collided with the man's face, knocking him to the ground. As he fell, a rush of white hair followed suit.

The man on Crystal's left only gaped as his downed friend was now being repeatedly punched by another man she had never seen before. His grip on her loosened and after a split second he let go completely and rushed towards the two. Crystal had been stunned silent the entire time but as the man moved forward she managed to find the presence of mind to spray him with the bottle of peppery spray. As she pulled the trigger, a visible and sharp liquid jetted out of the nozzle like a miniature firehouse. Her shaky aim clipped him in the mouth first but the sudden and stinging taste stunned him long enough for her to adjust and gouge both his eyes with the liquid. Crystal could feel her own eyes sting against the blow back and she stepped backwards as the man cried out in pain while coughing violently, leading to a disturbing shriek that morbidly reminded her of a hoarse dog chained up too tightly to his leash. The man fell to the ground, clutching at his eyes. Crystal turned to the other two men. The one that had just arrived and had kicked Crystal's assailant was being held in a kind of reverse bear hug by the one she had managed to push away while the one who had been holding her chin threw a punch at the white and black haired man. Now that she managed to have a look at him, Crystal realized it was the same man who had been walking on the opposite sidewalk as her. The punch connected against Ponytail's cheek. He quickly hopped upwards and kicked with both legs, but only managed to push the man away, though visible blood poured away from his nose as he moved. Nobody seemed to hear the third man crying in pain besides Crystal--or if they did, they didn't care. All that mattered was punishing the guy who had just ruined their fun. Though Crystal had been nearly petrified at the start of this ordeal, adrenaline had begun to course through her blood and she could feel her heart beat uncomfortably fast. Any faster and it would spark fire. She shook the pepper spray bottle dangerously. The liquid resting at the tip from her last spray down flung away from the nozzle, landing on her arm with a slight satisfying hiss. She didn't have the muscle to handle two men, but she definitely had the tools at her disposal.
"Hey diddlyfaces!" The weapon in her hand gave her ungrounded courage and the adrenaline made her feel unexpectedly invincible. All three men stopped and stared at her. Ponytail had blood dripping from his lip and one of his eyes already looked swollen. The man holding him in place seemed unharmed but the one who had been punching looked the worst of the three. The short time Ponytail had landing free shots on him glowed, not to mention the initial kick to the jaw. Crystal pulled the trigger of the pepper spray and showered the first man right between the eyes. The grip on Ponytail seemed to loosen at the sight of the new unexpected attack and it was just enough to free himself and duck down as Crystal redirect the stinging spray at the third and final man, who quickly joined his two friends screaming and rolling on the ground in agony. Ponytail carefully stood up with his arms out in a sarcastic motion.
In an Irish accent he asked, "You weren't plannin' on spraying me with that thing, were you?" A pair of goggles dangled from his neck. One of the lens had a splatter of blood on them. Without giving an answer Crystal ran towards him, grabbed his arm, and led him away from the scene.

"Oh diddly oh shit oh shit," she muttered as they raced down the now slightly darkened streets. The sun by this point had cleared the horizon but orange streaks were still visible throughout the town. The adrenaline that had bolstered her courage early had run dry, leaving Crystal scared, confused, and lightheaded. The man that had helped her continued to cry vulgar protests but was still strung along by the terrified Crystal. "Police!" she finally blurted as her thoughts were able to connect properly. "Gotta go to the police!" "Nope, I don't think so," Ponytail said flatly. "I don't like cops, no need for me to get involved with them." Crystal only growled, her mind refusing to function properly besides one word sentences. It took a few tiresome minutes of running before the two arrived at Crystal's apartment building. "This isn't where you LIVE, is it?" Ponytail asked, his accent continuing to throw Crystal off guard.
"What...about it...?" She was out of breath from all the running and was surprised by how still his breathing was compared to hers, especially as his nose was still stained crimson from the fight. She led the two into the nondescript building and up a few flight of stairs, struggling to catch her breath.
"If those guys have friends and they were following us, they would know exactly where you live!" "Shit." She hadn't thought of that. "I'm calling the police once I calm down. I'll just say I managed to get away if you don't want to be part of the report."
Ponytail sighed. "No, I'll... I'll stick around. If they find the guys they'll ask why they were all bloody and then they'd ask why yo hid the information, and..." He silenced himself as Crystal slid a key into a door. There was movement from within as she pushed the door open and he immediately stood as close to her as he could, ready to throw down again. Instead what was waiting for them was Little Zoey. Though the same age as Crystal, she was half a foot smaller and the colorful hairband she had placed over her brown straight hair gave her a more childish appearance, as did her footy pajamas. Zoey fell backwards.
"Gah! Who is THAT?! He's bleeding! Is he dead? A zombie?! Crystal, I don't think the landlord lets us keep zombies." Ponytail loosened his shoulders.
He said, "My name's Saito, actually. And your friend nearly got herself into a beatdown."
“What?!” Zoey ran up to Crystal and hugged her as tightly as possible.
“I bet Casper doesn't have to deal with anything like this,” Crystal mumbled to herself as she fought back tears from the experience she had just gone through.
 
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