Chapter 8:


Are You Real?

A gentle violet, beneath the dense fuzz on her muzzle. Despite the generous helping of graphite eyeliner, Kiro couldn’t help but notice the gentle, transparent violet of bags under her eyes.

She kept one fist on his desk.

“I know where you were.”

Maybe gentle wasn’t the best choice of words.

Kiro looked around as if to ask “me?”


Mad Dog banged her knuckles against his desk like a gavel.

“One more chance. If ya don’t take this seriously, I will.”

Kiro sunk into his seat.

“You say nothing, ‘cause you saw nothing.” She continued, her angular, black eyes staring him down. “Got it, ‘Professor Lovecleft’?”

He gulped. “Y-you got it, Mad Dog.”

“Good. And tell that to your girlfriend too. She ran off before she got the message.”

“You-” Kiro’s fingers clutched the underside of his desk. “Talked to Ai?”

“I told her that if she’s gonna stay out of my way, I’ll stay out of her’s.”

Was the reason Ai didn’t come to lunch-?

Kiro clenched his teeth. “What did you do to her?”

He could’ve sworn he saw Mad Dog’s expression waver. But only for the briefest moment, before she growled.

“I just happened to bump into her. She ran off before we could set things straight. What do you think I am, some kind of monster?”


Kiro thought back to how Ai was shaking the last time he saw her. The feeling of her quaking hand on his shoulder in the rain.

“Look.” Mad Dog unfurled her fists into palms. “You get the same deal. I want nothing to do with a squirt like you. No chicken, no beef. Capiche?”

“Yeah. No lamb, no rice.”

Mad Dog snorted. “Got a real comedian over here.”

Shoving her hands into her pockets, Mad Dog turned and went to grab her bag. Lovecleft met her at the door. They exchanged a silent gaze, him concerned and her agitated. Mad Dog let out a huff and tweaked her neck in Kiro’s direction. Lovecleft nodded and passed her a packet of papers from his desk. He watched her disappear down the hall with a sigh.

The remedial session resumed, a river of antique quotes drowning any sentient thought in the chamber. Kiro was just grateful the pair-work session passed without him adding another wound to his collection. The wall clock mounted just tragically outside the room ticked away with a steady rhythm. As Lovecleft snapped his fat little language bible shut, it rang.

Kiro knew he wasn’t going to make it out of the room without a talking-to. So he surrendered. As all the students in the class filed out, the boy buried his face in his turtleneck and approached the desk at the front.

“Glad to see you made it.” Lovecleft offered a wiggle of his mouth-tentacles that Kiro took for a smile.

“Yeah.” Kiro nodded. “Thanks for doing this for us and stuff.”

Lovecleft’s tentacled hand slid onto the boy’s shoulder. “I’m happy that my efforts are appreciated, but I don’t hold these classes for myself, you know.”

Kiro’s eyes met those crimson orbs behind Lovecleft’s glasses. Then, like a magic trick, something sharp and squarey prodded Kiro’s hand. The boy looked down.

Green sparkles, red splotches, and a blue, scaly gradient. Lovecleft’s tentacled hand was wrapped gingerly around its spiral binding, obscuring the words scrawled into the square label on the front. But the boy didn’t even need to read them to know what this was.

The Monsterpedia.”

“Err, indeed,” Lovecleft replied, handing the book over. “I figured this was on your mind during my special lesson. I waited until now to give it back so you wouldn’t be distracted.”


“People can surprise you sometimes. That is, if you give them the chance.” Lovecleft turned his head towards the door. “Despite appearances, Maia tries her best to catch up to her studies.”

Kiro followed Lovecleft’s gaze. His eyes widened in realization.

She couldn’t have-

Kiro flipped through the pages with the tender panic of a motherly instinct. Spotless, as if it never left his hands in the first place.

“I like the way you drew my mouth feelers, by the way. Very retro.”

Kiro’s stomach caved in. “Th-thanks.”

The teacher’s tentacles moved to either bump of his own prominent chin. Lovecleft stared poignantly into space as he spoke. “As an artist myself, I get the sense that you’ve truly taken many strides to find your style.”

You do art?

Kiro stopped himself milliseconds before the thought could escape into words.

“In fact,” Lovecleft continued, his attention shifting back to his pupil. “I wouldn’t mind discussing the teleological principles behind your avant-garde design theory sometime.”

Kiro had to collect his glazed-over eyes from the floor before responding. “Uh, sure thing. Your art is very…”

He glanced at the vast cardboard diorama surrounding them. Kiro fished for the biggest art buzzword he knew.

“Very post-impressionistic in nature,” he added, with a dignified observer’s nod.

The second after-school bell went off, putting the last dregs of the day out of their misery.

“I’ll have to look that period up,” Lovecleft said, before hastily shoving a packet into Kiro’s hands. “Just don’t allow your own artistic vision to distract yourself from the other things that matter, alright?”

One of Lovecleft’s mouth-tentacles went up in a scholarly manner of inquiry.

“I’ll… try my best.”


That was weird.

His pencil hovered over the page.

This whole day was weird, really.

First, his father didn’t burn the eggs and toast for once. Then, of all times, his phone died just as he was about to reach a stop in Packetman: Grow. He tried his best, he really did, but he couldn’t catch a wink of sleep in any of his classes. And then, there was lunch…

Kiro etched one more half-hearted line into the tangle of hair he’d concocted before setting his materials down. His bed was a perpetually-upturned nest covered in a thick, sedimentary layer of well-worn art implements, half-read comics, and doodle-riddled homework. The desk right beside it, however, was squeaky clean. On it sat a diminutive, ancient pc and an oversized monitor. The display went to sleep, sending the ad-infested streaming site that was plastered on it into the void.

He glanced at his brick of a phone. Still dead, as it had been all day. Captured in its blank, black mirror was the golden crown of the sun. The warm light filtering into the room came in through two windows with a view of the street. His walls were a shade of blue that seemed to melt seamlessly into the sky on clear, bright days like this. Naturally, his eyes were drawn to the world outside.

Kiro saw the jagged, reflective skyscrapers of the city rise in the distance over a soup of suburban roofs. He was grateful for the view, and no less grateful for the shelf-fulls of Megatroids, G.I.: Janes, and Scouter Rangers keeping a watchful eye on him over his shoulder.

Kiro picked the phone up, shaking it. Hearing only the usual light clatter, he checked his messages.

It’s not broken. She just didn’t say anything.

He couldn’t help but wince as he opened up their message history. He missed her message last night because his phone died, and he forgot to charge it until lunch. The moment it powered on, he frantically messaged her like, five times to apologize and ask how she was doing. But by that point, he already had the sinking feeling that Ai wasn’t going to show up.

Kiro threw himself onto his bed.

What if I never see her again?

He shook his head.

No. She probably has her reasons. Right?

The bed was wracked with a brief, but vigorous rumble. Scrambling like a puppy in mud, Kiro clawed his way through the bedsheets to grab his phone:

“Sorry, I wasn’t feeling well.”

It’s her!

With maybe a little too much enthusiasm, he darted his thumbs around the keyboard in a flurry of digital clicks:

“That’s okay, haha! It’s been a stressful week so I’m glad you got the extra rest! We all have days like those, right?”

That… wasn’t too much right?

Before he could give her five seconds to reply, Kiro pressed his phone to his face, groaning. Of course it was too much! One line could’ve gotten the same point across without making him look so desperate for an answer. Stupid, stupid-!

Kiro’s phone buzzed again. He quickly pored over the new message:

“I feel bad, though.”

Guilt washed over any embarrassment in Kiro’s head. On one hand, it was somewhat comforting to know she felt the same as him. On the other… she was forcing herself, wasn’t she?

What did Mad Dog do to her?

Kiro looked at the Monsterpedia, still thinking about how the pages were returned to him unscathed.

Did Mad Dog do anything at all?

His curiosity burned at him enough to make him type his next reply:

“Hey, there’s something I wanna ask you.”

The door to his room flew open. Kiro yelped, scrambling to hide his phone under his pillow.

“Heya, champ!” Richard Lane’s voice was like a foghorn.

Kiro laid on his side, propped up on one elbow with his hand supporting his head. “H-hey dad!”

Still grinning ear to ear, Richard raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t interrupt anything, did I?”

“N-not at all, pops!”

A very audible buzz came from under Kiro’s arm. He let out a hollow laugh.

“So I was thinkin’, sport,'' his father continued as if he’d heard nothing. “You and me haven’t had a good ol’ father-son bonding session in a loooong time. Whaddya say we hit up the arcade this weekend?”

“This weekend?”

Right, it was Friday. With everything that happened in the past few days, it had totally slipped his mind.

“Actually,” Kiro rubbed the back of his neck. “Can I get back to you on that? I need to plan… uh, something.”

“Oh, no worries there, champ.” Richard’s smile only widened. “Good luck, I’m rootin’ for ya.”

And, just as abruptly as he popped in, Richard Lane was already rumbling off halfway down the hall. Kiro sighed. Then, without giving himself the chance to overthink, he pulled his phone from under his pillow and read Ai’s message:

“Sure. What’s up?”

Did Mad Dog do anything-

Kiro stopped typing. After everything, would Ai feel happy talking about this just as the weekend’s about to start?

In the three run-ins they’ve had so far, have any been happy enough for them to reminisce about?

That last thought made him nervous enough to delete his half-complete reply. And in its place:

I want to take you somewhere nice tomorrow.”

Ai’s reply took a little longer than usual:

“Not another field study, I presume?”

Kiro let out a small laugh.

“Nah. I think you’ll like what I have in mind.”

Thankfully, her reply came before he was sent into another existential crisis:

“It’s a date! (≧◡≦)

Like an archaeologist who just found the dig of the century, Kiro traced every stroke of the strange emoji with his finger. That wasn’t just a normal smiley; that was a double blush smiley. That must’ve taken effort to make, which meant-

I’m so smooth.

He stared at her message for several minutes until reality sunk in.

D-did I just plan a date?

Kiro clenched his fist.


Across three walls, he could hear Richard shout “woo-hoo” back in support. Kiro felt like cringing so hard that he’d fold in half and disappear.

The only problem now was…

Where am I gonna take her?

He’d figure that out later. Right now, he had to Spoogle every forum post explaining the hidden meaning behind a double-blush emoji.

Pope Evaristus
Other Slater
Steward McOy
Pelinal Whitestrake
Kya Hon
MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon