The Cardboard Box Woman

	After a long year of heat with no end in sight, it was finally over. The cold winds of December had come. From the nearby mountains where the yetis and ice monster girls lived, a terrible chill had swept through the town. Whether the ice girl’s magics had caused this, we weren’t sure but the snow was a welcome change from the harsh heat of summer that dragged far too long even into autumn. As long as you bundled up, the snow wasn’t too bothersome. Christmas was nearing, two days away in fact, and the season’s spirit was here in full swing. Even the recently arrived monster girls were all in on the Christmas vibes. Red, green, and gold lights were everywhere, strung up on buildings, businesses, and homes. I could only imagine what the festive trees inside said homes looked like. 
	I was out on the town, buying Christmas gifts for my family. Snow was falling and piling up on the roads, naught a car was out. Those that needed a ride would ride horse drawn carriages for romantic rides through the streets. I could hear the festive jingles through the speakers on the outside of a massive department store, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful,” I mumbled along with the music. I turned down a little alley next to the department store and felt a powerful gust of frosty air blow through me. I shuddered, hoping to get to my car soon so I could turn on some heat. I wiped my eyes as snowflakes blew into them, blinding me temporarily. 
My foot kicked against something and sent me plowing into the snow that was piling up on the side of the alley, “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” A woman cried as I pulled myself out of the snow, “Are you okay?”
	Laughing, I shook myself off, “I’m fine, don’t worry about it,” As I wiped the snow out of my eyes, the woman offered me my bags, the things inside only had a bit of snow on them, “Thank you,” I took a closer look at the woman as she trudged away and sat down in the little cardboard box I had tripped over. She was assumedly a monster girl on account of her bright blue hair, but she wasn’t dressed like any monster girl I had ever seen. Most mamano dressed in alluring and revealing clothing, this woman was clothed in dingy and dirty rags. She had a hat on with floppy ear coverings and dirt streaked across her face and hair. I was sure that underneath those dirty clothes she was all skin and bones, “I should be asking if you’re alright.”
	“Me?” She looked shocked, all curled up in her box, that I had even acknowledged her, “I-I’m fine,” She shivered, “R-really.”
	“Are you sure? You look like you need somewhere warm to stay until this weather dies down.”
	“N-no, really. I-I’m f-f-f-fine,” Her teeth chattered in the cold, “Just a bit c-ch-chilly today!”
I frowned, “Its only going to get colder until late January. You don’t have somewhere warm you can go?”
 “Oh, don’t worry about me sir. You can just forget about me… just like everyone else has,” She muttered under her breath, “They closed down the homeless shelter a few months back since no one really needed it, but I’ll be fine here in my little box.”
	She smiled weakly at me, still shivering in her dirty box, “You know… I’ve got some extra space if you need somewhere to warm up,” I offered meekly.
	She looked at me with wide eyes for a few moments, almost like my offer excited her. She visibly stopped herself from saying something, “I-I can’t accept your kindness. But thank you, sir.”
	My shoulders slouched and I sighed wearily. I could feel my heart ache for her, I wanted to do anything I could for her after my own experience. I slowly picked up one of my bags before quickly rummaging through it to the bottom. Within moments I was holding out a bundled up faux fur blanket to the woman, “Then take this at least.”
	“I-I-I can’t--”
	Refusing to take no for an answer, I cut the blanket open and tossed it on top of her, “You need it more than I do. If you need something warm to eat, come find me. I live at the Bark Loop apartments across town. Apartment 302. No one deserves to be living on the street out here, especially not this time of year,” As the woman slowly took the blanket off her face, I wrote my address on the back of a small receipt before handing it to her. 	The woman looked at me as I started to pick up my things. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she wrapped the blanket around her body, “Thank you…” She mewled as she clutched the paper in her hands.
	“Don’t worry about it. Merry Christmas,” I gave her a little wave and trudged away.
	“M-Merry Chri- Christmas!” She called back as she snuggled up in her new blanket with a tiny smile on her face.
	
	“One… two… three…” I grunted as I hefted all the bags from my trunk and started to stomp toward my apartment. Like a true man, I HAD to carry every bag at once up the flights of stairs to my third floor apartment. I grit my teeth harder and harder with every step I took. As I panted and groaned from the strain, I was glad none of my neighbors were around. I made it to my apartment and unlocked the door with the key I had strategically left in my hand. There was a package on my doorstep with the Ratatoskr Express logo on it. I ignored it for now, opting to push the door open and deposit my groceries and gifts on my kitchen table. As I turned back to the door, I saw that the box was sitting dead center of my doorway. I frowned, unsure if I was just seeing things. I grabbed the box and felt how strangely damp and light it was. Without another thought, I dumped it in the living room and took a knife to the tape that held it closed. 
	I expected a long distance family member’s gift as I pulled the flaps back, but was met with big, sad, emerald eyes that stared at me. I fell back, startled as a form slowly rose from the box. Wrapped in a familiar blanket, and clothed in dirty rags, a woman stood waist deep in a box that was wholly too small for her to sit in, “Um,” She started sheepishly, “Hi…”
	I blinked at her, “You’re that woman from earlier, right?”
	She nodded slowly, “Yes. I… I didn’t want to bother you, but after you gave me this blanket… I…” She trailed off and stared at the floor, “Oh, this is stupid,” Her box seemed to stretch out so she could sit down and hug her knees in it, “I’m sorry, I’ll just go.”
	I shook my head, “I promised you food, lady. I’ll start making dinner soon. Go take a shower and I’ll find you some clean clothes.”
	“A-are you sure? I pretty much broke into your house…”
	I smirked. “You’d be surprised how many times that’s happened. You also didn’t try to rip my pants off so you scored some points there,” I pointed to the end of the hallway, "Bathroom is on the left. Just leave your clothes in the hall and I’ll try to clean them the best I can.”
	The woman looked up at me with a confused look on her tear stained face, “Y-You know you don’t have to do this, right? You don’t even know my name.”
	“Okay, then what is it?”
	“...Grace…” She sighed in defeat.
“And I’m Anon, nice to meet you.”
Grace gave me another strange look, “But why are you being nice like this?”
	I paused for a moment, trying to pick my words, “Well. ‘Tis the season, right?” I shrugged half heartedly as I helped her to her feet. She looked like she might cry again, “Come on, don’t cry. Go clean up,” I gave her a gentle push toward the bathroom and she slowly trudged that way, glancing back over her shoulder as she went. I frowned, Grace had taken the dirty box with her. I was hoping to toss it, but she seemed strangely attached to it, like it was attached to her. I shrugged and cleaned the floor where she had tracked mud in and switched the fireplace on. I heard the shower come on and saw that Grace had left her clothes but not the box out in the hallway. I looked over the tattered, dirty clothes and was unsure I could do anything for them. With a shrug, I put them in the wash on gentle. 

	Grace emerged from the bathroom dressed in a pair of ill fitting sweats and one of my old shirts that said ‘you are on skateboard’ in a blocky, washed out, pixelated font. She wore her box around her waist, but it looked a lot cleaner than before. Her freshly brushed hair fell on her shoulders, “There,” I gave her a little smile, “Feeling better?”
	“I’m…  a little chilly,” She sheepishly admitted.
	“No, that’s a little chili,” I pointed to the meal I had prepared. Grace gave me a blank look and after a moment of silence I cracked, snorting at my own dumb joke,, “It’ll heat you up,” I gestured to the table, “Food’ll be ready soon.”
	“Thank you, Anon,” She smiled and took a seat. I set the table and started to lay out the meal, “Do you cook often?”
	“I try to. But Monster Burger is so damn good it's hard not to pop in there every once in a while,” I patted my gut, “Gotta work extra hard to burn those burgers off.”
	She giggled, “Well, I think it smells wonderful. But everything smells wonderful to me. Since I’m so hungry all the time.”
	I glanced at her as she brushed her hair over her shoulder, revealing her pointed, elf-like ears. I must have stared at her for too long because she started to shrink away from me as I wondered what kind of monster she was, “Sorry,” I dished us both up, “Eat up. It's not often I get to cook for people.”
	Grace cocked her head, “Why not?”
	“I just… don’t know a lot of people, really. Work from home, don’t go out much, that kind of thing,” I shrugged, “Feels like a lot of guys are like that now.”
	“Well, I’ll come over and eat your cooking. Until you get bored of me…” She sighed, “Or forget me. Or--”
	“Cut that out,” I spat, pinching the bridge of my nose, “Just eat.”
	“O-okay…” She picked up the spoon and ate a spoonful of my chili then nibbled on some cornbread, “You’re a really good cook, Anon.”
	“Thank you,” I nodded, “I try my best.”
	Moments passed in silence as we ate, the only sound to accompany us was the cutlery hitting the ceramic bowls, “Can I ask you something?” Grace suddenly asked, putting her spoon down.
	“You just did.”
	“Ha ha. Very funny, Anon,” She had a little smile on her face, “Why are you doing this for me? A total stranger?”
	“T-the season,” I weakly answered, folding my arms.
	“Bullshit,” She gave me a knowing look, “I’ve never had anyone give me much charity, doesn’t matter how hot or cold it got. There has to be something else.”
	I frowned, “If I answer, I’m gonna ask you a question too. How’s that sound?”
	“A fair trade. Now answer, come on, I’m all excited to hear the answer now!”
	I shook my head, “I grew up very poor. Didn’t have the money to eat at school some days. Mom and dad hardly scraped by. I got lucky and they didn’t split up, even through thick and thin.”
	“O-oh…”
	“It's not all bad. I made it, right? Well, I didn’t really get out of poverty until monster girls showed up. Mom and dad got better jobs, I was a young man at this point and I got a decent job too, helped them pay off some debts and moved out on my own. Mom monsterized a few years back too,” I stared the sheepish looking woman down in the friendliest manner I could, “I guess what I’m saying is that I was in your shoes once and now I’m paying my prosperity forward.”
	Grace frowned at me, it wasn’t an upset frown, more like she was sad after I told my little tale. She stared at the chili then back up at me, “Um, you can ask your question now.”
	“Right,” I tried to figure out the best way to say it for a moment. I knew some monsters got a little touchy when asked about their species but others could gush for hours about it, “The box,” I pointed to the box she still had around her waist, “What’s the deal with that?”
	“Oh!” Grace adjusted her ‘outfit,’ “I’m a mimic. That’s really it.”
	“A mimic? I thought you guys hid in, well, chests, not cardboard boxes,” I chuckled.
	She smiled back, “Mimics used to. Hidden in chests within dungeons, castles, any other places that you might find treasure and adventurers would tread,” Grace explained, “But in this world, there’s no adventurers or treasure to be taken. So we changed.”
	“You changed into a box?”
	“You get it! Boxes are so much more inconspicuous, hm? We can hide in the back rooms of stores, storage closets… on the street. But there’s only so long you can go without being found by store employees. A lot of them aren’t too happy to have a mimic living in the back room, shooing us out and claiming that their male employees are all married or claimed or whatever. It's tough just finding a home. Living in someone else's home-- uninvited of course-- is a bit frowned upon. Unless that home is the dungeon of something like an echidna or other dungeon dwelling monster.”
	I nodded, “I see. You’re welcome to stay here, Grace.”
	“R-really?” She nearly choked on the cornbread she was chewing, resorting to painfully swallowing it down and washing it down with her soda, “Anon… I don’t know if I can take you up on that.”
	“Grace, do you have someone to spend Christmas day with?” I asked, feeling like I already knew the answer.
	“N-no…”
	“Well, I really don’t either. My family is a few states away,” I explained, "I happen to have an old futon I can sleep on if you wanna take the bed."
	She stared at me before shaking her head, “I-I couldn't possibly-"
“You’re going to die out on those streets if I let you go back out there. Temperatures are dropping and a big storm is on the way, Grace.” 
To prove my point I picked up the remote and turned on the TV. I flipped to the weather channel where a raiju stood completely bundled up out in the snow in the middle of town. She gestured to the snow around her, “...and we’re going to see more of this until it reaches nearly a whole foot high, Hazel and Hank! This is gonna be a record breaking Christmas! Make sure you’re prepared for a few days of being stuck in your house, 'cause we'll be snowed in soon!"
The camera cut to two people, a ratatoskr and a human, who sat behind a long desk plastered with ‘CHANNEL 8 NEWS.’ Both were well dressed. The man smirked, “Well, that’s quite the… shocking news, huh Hazel?”
	The squirrel girl laughed, “Oh, you’re lucky you’re cute, Hank. Now over to Mahogany Brown with sports news,” As the feed cut to a hellhound wearing a cowboy hat, I turned off the TV before she could harm me with her southern drawl. 
	I put the remote down, wondering if I just had some kind of premonition or something to actually go to a news channel right as the weather came on. Shuddering, wondering if my life was becoming a sitcom suddenly, I dropped the remote back on the coffee table. Grace had gotten up from the table and stood right next to me, “A-are you sure I won’t be a burden?”
	“You’re fine. I’m more than happy to host company. Especially one that’s in need,” I smiled before flopping onto the couch and sighing, finally feeling relaxed, “Movie? Or do you prefer games?”
	“Um. A movie might be nice… but I haven’t played a video game before,” She sat on the couch next to me, giving me a bit of space as she curled up in her blanket, “Anon…” 
	I turned to her as I got Mario Galaxy set up, “What’s up?”
	“N-nothing. This blanket is just really warm.”
	“Good. You’ll need it. The heat here is probably going to die,” I sighed, “Damn landlord needs to fix that. The A C has been out for a while too, not that I’d want that right now.”
	I sat back on the couch with Grace and she draped her blanket over me, “You need to stay warm too.”
	“Thanks, Grace. Here,” I put the controllers in her hands despite how confused she looked, “I’ll help you, don’t worry.”

	Hours passed after Grace forced me to start playing for her. She sat there, sitting and watching me play it. She was mostly silent other than little gasps when I made difficult looking jumps or fought bosses. I stretched and turned the game off, “I think it's time for bed,” I decided.
	She nodded, “Okay.”
	“I’ll set up my bed for you and--”
	“No, no, no,” She shook her head vigorously, “Let me sleep on the futon.”
	I frowned and stood up, “What kind of gentlemen would I be if I made you sleep like that?”
	The mimic stood as well, “What kind of woman would I be if I kept taking and taking from you with nothing given in return!?” Grace’s sudden forcefulness made me flinch, “You’ve been so kind to me, Anon. Please, I have to do something for you,” She stared me in the eyes, “What is it you want?”
	“I-I don’t need anything,” I tried to step past her only for the woman, who was surprisingly strong, to grab my shoulders.
	“I can do house work!”
	“That’s not necessary. You’re my guest. That’s not right.”
	“Then I’ll try to scrape together some money for you.”
	I shook my head again, “I’m just doing what I think is right. I don’t need anything.”
	Extreme frustration crossed her face as she gripped my shirt. She let me go, “Fine,” she said, though I could see on her face that she was far from done. I had never seen anyone so grumpy over something like this, “Can I have the futon, Anon?”
	I decided not to push my luck, “Alright,” I relented and retrieved it from under one of the couches. I gave it a good wipe down before laying it out and draping a blanket or two over it, “There.”
	“Thanks, Anon.”
	“Don’t be surprised if I’m not around in the morning, I want to go out and grab some supplies for this storm. I know I have enough to get us through the week, but I doubt either of us want to eat nothing but rice,” I chuckled, “Good night, Grace.”
	The woman pressed herself against me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders, “Good night, thanks again for everything.”
	Unsure what else to do, I awkwardly hugged her back, being careful not to touch her well combed blue hair, “Y-yeah. No problem.”
	Grace let me go and gave me a little smile, “Come on, get off to bed, Anon.”
	I just nodded and went to my room, my heart still somewhat pounding.

	I checked another item off my list as I dumped it in my cart. My Christmas shopping was all done and they were being sent off. Christmas was tomorrow, but I hadn’t had the time to ship my gifts off earlier, unfortunately. I was buying food for myself and Grace, I had no idea what she liked, but I was sure she’d eat whatever I dished up. I grabbed a few more things, loading them into my shopping cart and heading to the front. As I went, I passed the clothing section. I stared at the women’s clothes for a bit, seeing coats, shirts, and pants that seemed like they would fit Grace. I had a few presents from my family under the tree, but Grace wouldn’t have anything to open tomorrow. Without a moment to hesitate, I grabbed a few warm clothing items and tossed them into my cart.
	Checkout was really slow due to everyone panic buying because of the snow storm. I could see the snow already falling outside. I didn’t have much time before it would be nearly impossible to drive. I bought my things eventually and left, my car struggling on the ice covered roads as I hurried back to my apartment. I pulled up to my spot and started to grab my bags when Grace appeared beside me, “Let me help you with that,” She was already scooping up a few bags in her arms. She looked at me smugly, wearing one of my thick coats that was wholly too big for her. The white snow fell on her and clung to her hair as she shuffled up to the third floor.
	I made sure to grab the bag with clothes in it, “Thanks,” I followed her up and put the clothes in my room before joining Grace in the kitchen, “How’d you sleep?”
	“The best I have in a very long time,” She gave me a big smile as she took my coat off, “I hope your trip wasn’t too hectic.”
	“Nah. People were just trying to prepare mostly. Didn’t get hit or get in a crash, thankfully. Hungry for lunch?” I asked as the two of us finished putting away the groceries.
	Grace nodded and watched me as I began to prepare food. Grilled cheese and ham sandwiches along with some tomato soup. The mimic looked back at the living room, “I like your little Christmas tree,” She commented, “Why don’t you turn the lights on it on?”
	I shrugged, “Not like I have anyone to impress. Well, there’s you now. You can go turn it on if you want.”
	The mimic did just that, walking over to the living room and plugging in the lights, “Oh, you’ve got presents too.”
	“Yeah, just a few. Turn on the fireplace too, would you?”
	“Got it. Your apartment is really cozy, Anon,” She sat by the fire in her box, “I almost don’t want to leave.”
	“Stay as long as you need to, Grace. You’re nice to have around,” I gave her a little smile before turning and taking the near perfectly browned grilled cheese sandwiches off the stove and putting some soup into two bowls, “Food’s hot.”
	“Anon… are you sure there’s nothing I can do to repay your kindness?” She asked, joining me at the table. 
	“I can’t ask anything of you. Keeping me company is enough,” My smile dropped off my face when I saw her pouting look. 
	“I’ll find something, Anon. Mark my words,” Grace started eating and I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not. I grimaced and started eating. To distract myself, I started thinking about the cinnamon rolls I was going to make tomorrow after making the dough today. 

	I lay awake in bed, keeping myself awake with my phone. It was midnight, my eyelids were heavy, and my mind was clouded with weariness. I decided it was late enough so I rolled out of bed and grabbed the presents that I had wrapped a little earlier. I tiptoed out into the living room where Grace slept peacefully on the floor wrapped in a few blankets. I carefully put her presents under the tree and made my way back to my room after taking a moment to check if the cinnamon roll dough was rising. I nodded with satisfaction and went to bed.

	My clock read seven AM when I woke up. It wasn’t until seven thirty that I decided to get out of bed. I sat up and stretched, glancing around my dark room. I could see the glint of something red and green in what little light there was around the room. I turned on the lamp on my nightstand and saw a masterfully wrapped gift at the foot of my bed. ‘OPEN ME FIRST’ the label on it read in big letters. I sighed, wondering if Grace was up to something. I couldn’t disobey the label. I took the glittering red ribbon on the top and undid the bow. With a deep breath, I pulled the lid off the top of the box. I had seen this before, beautiful emerald eyes staring at me from the depths of an impossibly deep box. Grace climbed out, her hair done in cute braids and her otherwise nude body wrapped in gold and red ribbon with a big bow covering her impressive, shapely rack. I sat still in awe as she climbed out and presented herself, front and back to me.
	“Merry Christmas, Anon,” She giggled at my stunned expression.
	“G-Grace…?” I stammered.
	“Hm?” She scooted the box off my bed and crawled up me until she was face to face with mine, “Seems I’ve finally got you on the back foot!” A swift kiss was planted on my cheek.
	“W-what are you doing?”
	“This is my last option to pay you back,” She straddled me and ran her hands down her shapely form then down my chest, “I’m giving myself to you.”
	“Y-you don’t need to do that…”
	“Anon,” She sounded exasperated as she leaned over me, grabbing my shoulders and holding me down, “If it wasn’t for you, I’d be dead out there. You clothed me, fed me, you saved my life, and even bought me Christmas presents!” She laughed and moved her hands to my face, “I’m madly in love with you, Anon. I can’t see myself with anyone now and three days ago I couldn’t see myself with anyone at all!”
	“I…” I stared at her beautiful, shining face as she looked down at me with a big smile. I could only smile back and reach up to run my hands down her sides. She shuddered and panted at just my touch. I helped her get under the blankets with me, “I’m not good with my feelings, Grace. But I think I’m in love with you too.”
	She forced me onto my back again and caressed my hair, “I’m so happy you feel the same. Oh, Anon, look at that!” She pointed to the ceiling where a tiny plant hung from a string, “It's mistletoe! You know what that means, right?” I didn’t even get the words out of my mouth before she gave me a big, wet kiss on the lips, “Come on! Unwrap me!” She sat up again and forced my hands to her ribbon. I sighed and relented, letting her take the lead.

	I sat on the couch with Grace, a big blanket wrapped around the both of us as we cuddled quietly. The snow fell outside in beautiful dances, glittering in what little sunlight there was. The fireplace was on, wrapping paper was strewn all over the floor, our bellies were full of the delicious cinnamon rolls I had made, and my hips hurt a little bit. Grace kissed me on the cheek again, “I’m so happy,” She whispered.
	I pulled her a little closer, “This is probably my favorite Christmas so far.”
	“I wonder how great next year’s will be.”
	“Dunno if it’ll top this,” I smirked and gave her a kiss, “You wanna do anything?”
	“Can you play more of that game? With the funny red man?”
	I sighed and chuckled, “Anything for you.”

3 responses to “The Cardboard Box Woman”

  1. I’m not sure I’d want to eat at a monster girl ran restaurant because I’d assume there was aphrodisiacs in the food and I have stuff to do and can’t spend all day with a boner. So maybe just a weekend thing.

    Like

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