A short story about two roommates who didn't exactly intend to be together
|Part 2: Moving Day|
The yellow, oversized cab pulled up to the curb with a notable crackling from its wheels. To Michael, it was as if the rubber was melting off the tires and coating the pavement, ripping itself up as the car moved down the street. It was certainly hot enough.
He craned his neck up to peer out the window to the world beyond, thinking to himself with scorn at his own social shortcomings. When he was hailing a cab, he didn’t think his little foxy gestures would be noticed by the likes of a rhinoceros driver, but once he got off the boat and made his way through customs (and was FINALLY reunited with all his luggage), he was just eager to get to his new home as soon as he possibly could.
Of course, it didn’t help that this rhino was particularly…pushy. Then again, he realized that almost EVERYONE he had met since stepping onto the dock had been pushy: from the lion customs agent to the giraffe woman at the information desk. Heck, even the mammal manning the smoothie kiosk, a fellow FOX no less, seemed curt and eager to get him out of the way.
At the time, he wondered if it was just him- that all these mammals picked him out as a foreigner and thus treated him with some kind of bias. But when he ducked away from the crowds in the safety of a forgotten corner of the port, he looked on and realized that the other denizens were being treated no differently. The only difference between him and them (besides the sometimes daunting differences in height) was that they appeared just as apathetic and bossy as the people behind the desk.
Those people must have been used to all the abuse, but they clearly didn’t look offended by the impatient and upfront customers. In fact, things seemed to go more SMOOTHLY with them; while he stumbled over his words and took his time, these other mammals were in and out of line in a matter of minutes. Evidently, speed was king in the city of Zootopia, and Michael just wasn’t fast enough for their liking.
So after finally being pushed, shoved and nearly stomped on by the crowds as he made is way to the street side of the port, Michael found he didn’t have the strength of will to argue with the very large cab driver. Instead, he piled all his bags in the very large car and did his best to close the door completely behind him, even though it was way too heavy to slam shut and he nearly caught his tail in the process.
No sooner had he sat down and got settled that he heard a gravelly voice from the driver seat ask simply, “Where ya goin’?”
Caught off guard by the apparent lack of concern for his comfort or preparedness, the address that the young arctic fox had memorized for weeks had totally slipped his mind.
His face grew red with a blush, and his heart raced. His mind flashed with bits and pieces of info, but he was so flustered that he couldn’t form them into a single cohesive picture. He looked around, as if the answer would somehow materialize on the backs of the grimy seats. Finally, he looked up, and saw a homogenous pair of brown eyes staring back at him through the rearview mirror.
He wanted to curl up into a ball and die when the driver said “Look, I don’t really care if you gotta walk your furry little butt to where you gotta go. You wanna do that, be my guest; but don’t waste my time, I got places to be.”
Michael looked away and blushed, but in that very instant he remembered that he had an email with his new address on it. He fumbled to fish his phone out of his pocket, and after a few eye rolls from his gigantic chauffer, he finally produced it. He frantically opened up the email app and scrolled through his inbox to find the message he needed.
“Two…..zero two Tundra Lane…..please”
The hulking driver shot Michael an incredulous look, and for an instant the young fox feared that he may have given the wrong address. He reread the line a number of times before finally looking back and raising his eyebrows, unsure of what else to say. Finally, with a few disinterested blinks, the cab driver broke his gaze and returned his attention to the road while simultaneously shifting the monster-sized vehicle into drive.
Scenery sped by outside the window faster then Michael could comprehend. Before he knew it, they were speeding down the road, swerving in and out of traffic along a highway that must have bordered the city proper. In truth, the young fox was hoping to have a nice, relaxing ride to his destination, with plenty of time to gawk at the sights as he passed them by.
But his driver apparently had other ideas. It seemed as though they were accelerating the entire duration of the ride, never once slowing down for anything. There were times were Michael was SURE they had run a red light, but the rhino in the drivers seat apparently didn’t get the memo on how those things worked. Before he knew it, they were in Tundra Town, the arctic subsection of Zootopia. Just based on the brief, streaky glimpses he saw from the bottom edge of his window, the entire area looked absolutely beautiful: glass and steel covered with sparkling ice, the air shimmering with freshly fallen snowflakes. Inside the buildings, warm yellow light glowed, and on the outside billboards and marquis flashed and flickered in all colors of the rainbow, turning into florescent lines as they whizzed past outside.
It wasn’t exactly a world of a difference compared to where he came from, but the differences between Tundratown and his home were enough to make him feel the excitement of living in a new and exotic location. Besides, the other districts were only a short train ride away, according to the information he had compiled. He could visit any time he wanted, then return to his nice, frigid home in the snow and enjoy the time to himself.
Michael gathered his bags and tugged at the strings on his sweatshirt and sweatpants, preparing for the animal at the wheel to finally slow down. According to the maps, Tundra Lane started on the next right and, sure enough, the cab driver banked at the traffic light (not unlike an action movie stunt driver, much to the artic fox’s astonishment) to start down the narrow road. Michael looked up at all the buildings, bending the light of the luminous sun like icicles. Even at this incredible speed, it struck him with awe. He could hardly believe he had finally made it, to the city of his dreams and that soon, he’d be moving into a place of his very own. Containing his excitement, even in the hectic danger of the backseat of the cab, took everything he had.
They drove for minutes on end, and more and more buildings whizzed by. Michael tried to stretch to see the building numbers, but doing so was impossible unless he stood up in his seat; a risk he was NOT willing to take. Finally, the last building flew by and was replaced by the darkness of a service tunnel. They drove through it for some time, causing Michael to furrow his brow in confusion. Where could they possibly be going that had a tunnel this long?
Finally, light cut through the darkness. He didn’t even have enough time to recover from the blindness before the cab stopped hard on the side of the road. Getting to his feet and peering out the window was the first thing Michael did, and he nearly fell back into the filthy seat when he did so.
The view outside his window was distorted with rays of unimaginably high heat, from beyond that, everything was yellow as far as the eye could see. At first, the fine powdery substance brought to mind a field of snow, but judging by the heat that radiated from the windows at his touch, Michael realized horror that it was actually something far worse: sand.
For seemingly miles and miles, rolling dunes of sand stretched out in front of him like waves in the sea, frozen in time so that their crests and valleys remained permanently carved into the surface of the landscape. Beyond that was the highly distorted view of downtown Sahara Square; rising up out of the sunbaked earth was a sparkling building shaped just like a gigantic palm tree. Sunlight shone through its nearly transparent “leaves” to scorch the gaggle of smaller buildings below. On the outskirts and in-between the buildings were patches of blue and green, no doubt a network of scalding waterways and hearty desert plants to give some color to the otherwise barren wasteland of a cityscape.
The horror that seeped into Michael’s chest made him lose his voice. He blinked a few times and took a deep breath, but when he didn’t wake up from this nightmare he was forced to turn around and look at the cabbie. The rhino eyed him with brows held high, voicelessly asking him if there was a problem. Michael gulped under the gaze, but the pressure to speak forced him to whimper out a response regardless.
“I…..uhhhh….this isn’t Tundra Lane…….is it?”
The driver rolled his eyes, and then turned his whole upper section around in order to face the young, obstinate fox in his passenger compartment.
In a voice that sounded like he couldn’t be bothered explaining such ridiculous trite, the massive mammal said, “Yeah, it is. Tundra Lane starts all the way out in TundraTown and runs through to Sahara Square. Haven’t ya ever looked it up on a map before, kid?”
“bu…..but….ummmmm.” Michael whipped out his phone and furiously scrolled through his emails. When he finally came across one from his landlord, he pulled it open and read the address a few dozen times.
Suddenly, a light from outside the cab caught his attention. He looked up and peered past the cab driver. There was an immense multi storied building towering over them on that side, a structure made of golden stone and reflecting light like mirrors from its uncountable number of windows. Right before the impressive front entrance was a single stone slab, shaved flat and marked with some kind of reflective design. Shifting his gaze a bit, Michael was able to make out the gold-leaf etchings as the image of a female gazelle, standing in an opened seashell. A flowing cloak was draped over her body, billowing in the wind along with her long locks of hair. The carved likeness of a wreath, made of some plant Michael couldn’t identify, completely encapsulated the woman, framing her perfectly just above the bold red lettering that must have been the name of the place.
When he read it, Michael’s mouth fell open. To confirm what he had seen, he consulted the message on his phone. With a heartfelt groan, he closed the email and pocketed his cell. There was no doubt about it: this was the Myrtle Crown apartment complex, his new home for the foreseeable future.
The young arctic fox had barely stepped out into the terrific furnace that was the outside of Sahara Square when he heard the sound of the cab peel away behind him. At once he was alone, surrounded only by his bags and the occasional passerby that ambled down the sidewalk through the oppressive heat. For an agonizing few minutes, Michael just stood there, sweating bullets in his polar garb and flabbergasted by the turn of events. He turned around in circles, as if the waves of heat radiating from the pavement would somehow tell him what the heck he was supposed to do.
Slowly but surely, he felt himself sinking deeper and deeper into a mire of hopelessness. If his plans couldn’t even get off the ground, then what hope did he possibly have of SURVIVING in this exotic place? Forlorn thoughts seemed more and more like plausible arguments as he picked up his bags and made his way into the lobby.
He comforted himself with the fact that, even though it was in the wrong section of town, the place at least seemed fairly nice. Like many of the other buildings in Sahara Square, the Myrtle Crown appeared to have a façade made of some kind of dried, packed mud. The sunbaked earth that was exposed to the elements looked smooth and was colored the same as the sand that surrounded it. On the inside, however, the rock-like natural cement was far darker in coloration, giving the interior of the building the ambiance of a cool desert cave. Sure enough, when Michael looked up, he saw that the celling was adorned with crystalline chandeliers that hung down like stalactites, adding to the cavern-like atmosphere of the entire place.
But what caught Michael’s attention even more was the grandiose centerpiece of the entire lobby, an enormous, two-story statue of a beautiful gazelle standing in a half shell. She held a jug in her industrial pipe-sized arms, which poured forth an endless stream of water into a basin sunken into the floor below her feet. The sound of the water cascading down into the small pool reverberated off the walls in the large, hollowed out space. The echoes built on each other until it sounded like far more water flowed from the fountain then it actually did.
To Michael, it only served to accentuate the feel of the place. As the light from outside reflected off the water, brilliant sparking shapes danced on the surrounding dark walls, making him feel like he had stepped into some kind of secret grotto instead of an apartment building.
At least the pretty sights calmed the fox’s nerves a little. Unfortunately, that was short lived, as a concierge quickly appeared in front of him and ruined his brief moment of sanctuary. In a cheerful voice, the young female panther asked if she could be of any assistance. Of course, this caught Michael so off guard that he fumbled about trying to come up with an answer.
While she stood patiently during the whole embarrassing exchange, Michael couldn’t help but notice how antsy she got as time crept on. Apparently she wasn’t expecting such a drawn out ordeal, even though it had only been a matter of minutes since she approached him. It was a major blow to Michael’s confidence, and only served to make his shyness all the more pronounced.
“…and ya see, I’m from out of town so I don’t really know the area all that well. And well, um, ya see….. I uhhhhhh didn’t realize that this place was…..um, where it was, I guess so….”
Finally, she fluttered her eyes a few times, apparently a signal that she had had enough. She said,
“I’m sorry sir, but do you have a room booked with us, or not?”
“Oh, uhh, yes I do….” Michael produced the phone from his pocket, scrolled through his emails and found the pertinent one. Once he did, he presented it to the concierge with both paws, like a child giving a valentine to an elementary school sweetheart.
She took a cursory glance at it and then said, “Okay, it looks like you do. If you’ll just follow me to the admissions office, we’ll get you set up with your keys and will show you to your room.”
With that, she turned about face, heading off in another direction without even bothering to look back to see if she was being followed. Michael dutifully tailed her with all his bags in tow, cursing her rudeness under his breath as she continued to outpace him at a very steady rate. She ducked behind the corner of a hallway, disappearing from sight in a manner that almost made Michael think that she had ditched him, but once he rounded the bend too, he was relieved and rattled to see her facing him a few paces down the hall. She stood outside of a nearby doorway with poise and professionalism, but Michael could tell by the look on her face that she was growing ever more annoyed with each passing minute. He quickly broke his gaze with her as he shuffled past and into the office she had gestured to.
The office space was small compared to the lavish reception area. A modest wooden desk sat directly across from the doorway and wrapped around the adjacent wall. On it’s surface was a menagerie of papers and folders, strewn about right next to a computer keyboard and monitor. Sitting at the workstation, with eyes glued to whatever picture with displayed on the screen, was an enormously tall giraffe dressed in sharp business attire. The moment he heard Michael enter, he looked up (or down, in this particular case) at his new guest and smiled warmly.
Unlike all the other smiles he had gotten that day, when he DID get them, of course, this was probably the most welcoming one he had received. It was certainly enough to get him to drop his guard, which he did as he left his bags at the door and entered the office. He took a seat in the proffered chair and let out a contented sigh. In fact, he was so relaxed that he even started the conversation this time.
“Hello, my name is Michael Gabriella. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
The admissions director stretched out a long, slender hand across the desk. “Pleasure to meet you Michael.”
After the young fox took his hand and shook it, the other mammal continued. “What can I do for you today?”
“Umm, yes…I was told this is where I would receive the keys to my room. I’m moving in today.”
Just then, the giraffe stood to his full height, towering over his foxy guest. Though instead of looming over him like a bad omen, he seemed rather jolly; the smile on his face had widened considerably, and he held his arms out like he was ready to give the little mammal a hug.
“Splendid! Welcome to the Myrtle Crown family! You’re going to love it here, Mister Gabriella, I can guarantee you that.”
“Th-thanks very much. I look forward to seeing my room and getting settled in.”
“Oh, of course, where are my manners? You must be exhausted. Excuse me, Stella?” He looked past the boy for a moment and out into the hallway. Michael turned, and when he did, he saw the panther girl’s black furred face peek out from around the corner.
“Yes, Mister Mchumba?”
The tall mammal gestured with a long limb towards Michael. “Please take our new resident’s bags up to his room.” Catching himself in an obvious blunder, he audibly clicked his tongue in disgust.
“Oh dear, where is my head today, I didn’t actually look up your room number yet. Just give me a moment and I’ll find it.”
“That’s not a problem sir,” Michael interjected, as politely as he could manage. “My room number is three zero seven.”
Mr. Mchumba cracked a wry grin as he sat in his desk and typed away on the computer. A minute later he said, “So it is. Stella, could you take those bags there please?”
“Actually, sir I think I’ll hold onto them.” The curious glance that Michael got made him shrink down in his chair. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the panther girl to do her job; it’s just that…well, after what he had seen of her attitude, he just felt better taking the bags to the room himself.
Thankfully, Mr. Mchumba didn’t dwell on the odd reaction for too long, and instead smiled and sent the girl away to take care of whatever other business she was required to do. It took a few minutes of basking in the giraffe’s friendly glow before Michael felt the confidence to speak unprovoked again.
“So, ummm, I think the place is really nice, from what I’ve seen.”
The large mammal turned away from his computer, folding his hands on the desk in front of him as he smiled toothily once again. “I’m certainly glad you think so. Say, this might be an odd question for me to ask but…. you didn’t happen to expect us to be located in the Tundratown district, did you?”
If Michael’s cheeks weren’t totally covered by a thick layer of arctic fur, they would have easily betrayed his utter embarrassment with their crimson glow. He couldn’t help but shift his eyes away from his admissions officer and trace his gaze along the baseboards.
“uhhhhhhh… wh-what makes you say that?”
Rather then call attention to Michael’s odd behavior, Mchumba instead expertly diffused the situation with a friendly chuckle. “I couldn’t help but notice that your attire is rather… unusual for this type of climate.”
That statement caused Michael to instantly look down his belly. Once he did, he realized where all this was coming from; he was wearing a thick hoodie and a matching pair of black sweatpants. In truth, he didn’t even NEED that heavy of clothing, even if he was slated to live in Tundratown, but he just figured he’d wear something comfortable when he moved into his new place. Of course, his arrival at Sahara Square turned these favorite clothes of his into the greatest bother he could think of.
In a desperate attempt to rectify his mistake in the eyes of his audience, Michael took the sleeves of his sweater and started rolling them up his arm. He said. “Well, yeah…. I kinda did. I’m sorry, I didn’t do my research like I thought I did.”
“There’s no need for apologies,” Mchumba said, hand splayed out in the air to stop him from carrying on any further. “Believe it or not, it’s a rather common occurrence, unfortunately. I blame the poor planning in city hall for these kinds of… inaccuracies. I am sorry if it inconvenienced you in any way.”
Michael finished rolling up his sleeves just in time to wave his hands frantically in front of his face. “No, no, no, it’s not your fault. I’m not inconvenienced at all. Besides, the place is beautiful; I like it a lot. Really.”
The young fox silently prayed that his display had hid the severe discomfort he was actually feeling well enough. Evidently it had, since the smile returned to the giraffe’s face as he reached into a drawer next to him. Something rattled inside the drawer, and a moment later he produced a single ring holding dozens of keys.
He stood and said, “Well, I’m glad you think so. But why don’t we save the compliments until AFTER you’ve seen your room, shall we?”
Taking the admissions mammal’s lead, Michael stood from his seat as well, bending over briefly to pick up his bags with one tight pull. “Absolutely! That would be great!”
“Then I’ll lead the way. Come with me.”
The duo passed through the lobby briefly, in order to get to the other main hallway on the other side. The walked without sound, save for the constant clattering of the keys swaying back and forth as Mister Mchumba strode down the hall. It was getting increasingly harder for Michael to keep up, especially while having to tote his heavy bags with him. By the time they made it to the elevator, Michael felt just about ready to collapse onto his luggage.
Thankfully though, he kept on a brave face and entered the elevator with the giraffe. Once he and all his suitcases were inside, Mchumba closed the doors and sent them up.
“So, how did you come to hear about us, Mister Gabriella?” the giraffe said, as the elevator ascended steadily.
“Oh, I just found you guys online. The reviews were great and the room you had posted was well within my price range. I guess it all just sort of clicked for me.”
“That’s fantastic to hear. You must be a really savvy researcher if you did all that on your own. It certainly couldn’t have been easy.”
The compliments, though he knew them only to be polite fluff that didn’t amount to much, nonetheless made Michael blush. He swung his canine foot back and forth like he was kicking something.
“Ah well, it wasn’t that special. In fact, you guys were one of the first places I found. As soon as I saw the room and the price I could get it at, I knew I had to jump at the opportunity. I mean, I’m not really an expert in this sort of thing, but you don’t find rooms like this so cheap.”
The ding of the elevator ended the conversation there. Mchumba waited for Michael to collect his bags before continuing on down the hall, past an endless gallery of identical doors that were only differentiated by the numbers artfully etched into the wood. They walked through the hall for some time, even rounding a bend at one point, before Mister Mchumba spoke up.
“Our rooms are very competitively priced; many mammals wouldn’t exactly wish to LIVE in some of the more extreme climates of Zootopia, you see, save for the native species, of course. Filling up a complex with residents is rough, so we do what we can to keep prices down in order to attract new ones.”
At that moment, they arrived at the door. It was at the very end of the hall, next to a rather large window and facing out into yet another hallway full of more rooms. The window, starting at about Michael’s waist, extended well above his head to the height of Mister Mchumba’s shoulders.
As he stood waiting for the giraffe to rifle through his keys, Michael noticed that the glass wasn’t quite thick enough to shield him from the oppressive heat outside. It was just starting to get uncomfortable when the admissions officer picked a key out of the bunch and stuck it into the doorknob.
But before he turned it, he stopped.
“Oh my, where IS my head today. I nearly forgot to knock first! Silly me.”
Michael’s brow furrowed, and only furrowed deeper as Mchumba slid the key out of it’s hole and rapped on the center of the door. The young fox pondered why this was necessary, to knock on the door of a room that didn’t have any occupants. Perhaps it was a procedural thing, to ensure that no one was loitering in the room.
He clung to the thought even when it became more and more apparent that it was wrong. Seconds ticked by, but they felt like hours. The sun seemed to blaze even hotter then before, though the sweat pouring off of Michael’s brow was probably wasn’t from the heat alone. He prayed mentally, hoping against all hope that what he was expecting to happen didn’t come true.
But with his luck, of course, that wasn’t about to happen. Not today, anyway.
There was a dull click, and then a screech as the door slowly opened. In the doorway stood another mammal, a canine of some sort by the looks of him. He was clad in short, brick red fur, accented with black and white. His sapphire blue eyes met with Michael’s almost immediately, and he gave a polite smile that the arctic fox was far too shocked to return.
“Michael Gabriella,” Mister Mchumba said. “I’d like to introduce you to your new roommate, Mister Louie B. Joel.”