<Previous <First> Next>
I was halfway down the hall, passing by livingroom and on the way to the front door when he called.
"Demon," Bossman said from his position on the couch. "You seem to be forgetting something."
Damn! I'd been hoping he wouldn't notice me. I stopped. Let's see. . . Hat, jacket, bus pass, cards, dagger. . .
"Nope, I'm good." I went for the door again. "But thanks for your consideration."
He'd been playing on his laptop and watching TV. Now he shut the laptop and wriggled around until he could see me over the headrest. "My lunch?"
I shrugged and unlocked the front door. "There's peanut butter. There's bread. You're a smart guy, you know what to do."
"And how long do you intend to be gone?"
Eh? What was up with the fifty questions? "Soon-ish, maybe? Why?"
The laptop was pushed off to the side and he got off the couch. "I don't know if I like this," he said.
"You!" He waved his hands at me. "This new independent you. Going out all the time. People might see you."
"Uh, yeah? I've got my glamour."
He snorted. "Plenty of good that does. I can see bits of you when you turn corners. Don't you have work to do? You made such a fuss about working for me, shouldn't you actually be working?"
Oh no he did not. "Yeah," I said. "Work for. As in, employee. As in, days off. As in I get to have a life outside of this stupid house."
Before he could say another word, I darted out of the house and leapt down the porch steps. The door slammed shut behind me.
"Well fine!" I shouted. How dare he? After all the crap I'd taken from everyone for sticking with him? I stomped up the steps, opened the door, and slammed it shut again. Why? 'Cause. I fumed the whole way down the drive. There was no way on earth I could tell him I was just going to the corner store.
Fifteen minutes and 2.98$ later, I was outside the shop, soda in one hand, gum in the other, bossman's credit card tucked in my pocket and no idea of what to do next. Home? Not an option. There was no way I was going back there, especially after that little hissy-fit of his.
Well, what could I do? What do normal people do on their days off? See a movie? Play golf? I contemplated being social. Not a lot of options on that front; almost everyone I knew was either busy, unreachable, or wanted to kill me.
Come on, I thought. There's gotta be something to do! It was summer, I had someone else's credit card and the whole day to kill. I frowned and sipped at my soda. Freetime was actually a lot harder than I'd imagined.
In the end, I decided to go find one of the few people I know who doesn't want to shiv me in the back and devour my flesh. Pedexyng.
Pedexyng's the patron demon of people darting into traffic. Technically he's all over the world at the same time, helping people from all walks of life walk out of life, but he also hangs out around this one intersection downtown. One of those weird quasi-dimensional things. You know how it goes. Says he likes the food from the diner nearby. Technically, he was working, but maybe he could spare a few minutes to let me vent.
On the way to the crosswalk in question, some asshole nearly trampled me. The suitcase he was carrying caught my face on the backswing.
“Hey," I said, rubbing my cheek. "Watch it, pal!"
He didn’t even bother turning around.
Oh that was just too much! Was every human going to get all uppity with me today?
Ignore me, huh? I thought. Well ignore this. I balled my hands together like I was packing a snowball, pouring out what little trickle of power I had left into it.
Nobody but me could see the ball. By the time I was done, it looked for all the world like a smoking charcoal briquette. I grinned evilly and looked around for Asshole Guy.
Right there, up ahead a little ways. He was at Pedexyng’s crosswalk, yapping on his cellphone. Oooh, it was a clear shot, too! I threw my little plague and- direct hit! Right on the side of his head.
I sighed and wished he could have at least jerked his head or something. Instead, he continued to jabber away. Ah well. I was rewarded with the sight of him scratching his neck once the lights changed, though. My little pestilence had worked. Sweet.
Well, there was nothing to do then but hang around and hope Pedexyng would show up soon. I got myself comfortable, leaning on a bikerack beside the building, and waited.
There was a woman crying a little ways away.
She was sitting on a decorative wall holding up a flowerbed, hunched over and shaking. Her mass of black curls curtained her face and front. Occasionally a car would honk at her. She would ignore it, except maybe to start sobbing a little more loudly. She had some kind of bundle in her arms.
Clothes, I thought. Recently homeless? I tried to ignore her. It was none of my business what these humans did to one another. Just because I wasn't currently working for the forces of darkness didn't mean I needed to go out and be good, right? Besides, it was my day off. Just ignore it. Pedexyng will get here soon.
He didn't. Fifteen minutes later and I was still waiting. Normally he would have shown up by then. It was another five minutes after that before I broke. She was just crying so damned loudly. It was pathetic.
"What?" I said, walking up beside her. "What's wrong?"
Red-rimmed eyes looked over at me. I would like to say she looked 'up' at me, but all she had to do was turn her neck in my direction to be eye-level.
She was also very, very pregnant. Obnoxiously pregnant. Obtrusively, undeniably pregnant.
She wrinkled her nose when she saw me, but stopped crying long enough to say.
"I am looking for my mate. The trail is gone cold, and," She looked up at the sky. "The air smells of rain. It covers the trail." Her English- though clearly enunciated- was halting. Broken. The way her mouth moved made it seem like she wasn't used to talking- her teeth clacked, her lips lifted oddly, and I'm pretty sure I saw her bite her tongue once or twice.
"Well," I said, feeling a little uncomfortable. "Do you know his name? Or where he's staying?"
She shook her head. "No. He left afterwards." Her eyes filled. "Why did he leave? I do not understand."
Ugh. Drama. "Well, that's really . . . unfortunate?" I hazarded. "I'm sorry to hear that." But can you please stop crying so loudly and go someplace else?
"I traveled so far," she said. "I am so tired." She sniffed. "And the moon is almost gone. I've no den. No pack."
"We are mates!" she sobbed. I could tell she was trying not to, but it just broke out of her. "Mates for life. That is how it is supposed to go!"
I patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. How did this 'comforting' thing go again? "There there," I said flatly. "There there."
That only seemed to make things worse. The bawling got even louder than before. Before I could move, she turned and wrapped her arms around me and burrowed her face into my shoulder.
"There?" I said again. "There?" I looked around frantically while she clung to my neck. People on the sidewalk were shuffling past us awkwardly, trying their best not to notice.
Why isn't this working?
"Do you have a name?"
She sniffed. "I cannot say here," she said. "No tail to move." She put the base of her hands onto the top of her head and flicked them around. "No good ears."
Tail? Crap. I crossed my eyes and let my mind wander.
Some people call it the second sight. I don't. This is my first sight: it's how I used to see the world, once upon a time. Shadowed over the very pregnant woman was the figure of a very pregnant wolf. Its dark fur was the same shade of black as her hair had been.
"You're. . . not human."
I squinted. "Not a werewolf, either." She didn't have the right look for one. She was a photonegative of a werewolf.
"It was winter," she said. Her face took on that dreamy expression of someone remembering better days. "Winter. There was snow. My family had separated for the rutting. I was unpaired. I wandered." She flushed. "I found him. He was strange. We-"
She sniffed. "He- he left. I followed his scent- such a strange scent! But I only found this." She held up the jacket. The universe decreed just that second that just then would be a perfect moment for one of those late spring showers. It began to sprinkle. Quickly, she clutched the jacket back to her chest. If it got wet, she'd lose the smell for good.
It was obvious what had happened. She'd gone off at her time of the month and found herself a human loverboy. A pretty naked woman coming out of the woods? The bastard probably didn't stop to ask questions. Watching her through the different light, it occurred to me that she was, even by wolf standards, quite young.
This would not stand. It was time to gather up all the otherworldly forces and strike a blow at the heart of human kind! Kill all humans! Take the world! But first things first.
"I can help you find him," I said.
Big brown eyes looked my way, shadowed over by slightly larger, wilder brown eyes. "You will?"
I nodded. "I can get you a place to stay tonight, too." As every great civil movement starts with a single protester, so the supernatural uprising will start with one selfless act of otherworldly camaraderie. And a sleepover.
I helped her to her feet. "Lupe," I said. "I'm gonna call you Lupe now, okay? Lupe, why would you want to find this guy anyway? I don't know much about, ah, wolf culture, but don't you have a pack to help? Shouldn't you be in a den somewhere?"
She shook her head. "No. They say-" she frowned. "They tell me I smell wrong. That I am not packmate anymore. I must find my mate so that we can make a new pack."
This was a problem. There was no telling what that kid would be. Could she give birth to a litter of puppies while human? A human baby while wolfy? A litter of human babies. . .
"Come on," I said. "We won't be able to do anything in the rain."
What else could I do? I lead her home.
* * * *
It was pouring by the time we made it to the house. She stood there, huddling the jacket close while I unlocked the door.
"You just stay here," I said, showing her into the livingroom. "I'll go let bossman know what's going on. Are you hungry?"
She shook her head and sat down gratefully onto the sofa. "No. I killed sheep outside of the city. Before this. . . ." She held up her arms and indicated herself. Ah, humanity. "Your alpha, he will let me stay?"
I let the alpha comment slide. "'A 'course he will." And if he doesn't, well, it's a big house. I'm sure he wont notice if one of the bedrooms gets used up over night. How hard can it be to smuggle a pregnant woman?
He was in the study, pouring over one of his many, many books. I tucked my hands into my pockets and sauntered over.
"Whatcha doin'?" I said, trying to peek over the edge of the podium.
He turned a page. "Looking up your name."
"Huh. That's nice. Hey, is it okay if a homeless wolfwere crashes out on our couch tonight?"
Another page turn here. "Sounds fine."
"Thanks." I left before he could change his mind.
It took about thirty seconds and ten feet worth of hallway before it registered what he had said. I turned and ran back to the room. He had already thrown open the door.
"What?" we both said simultaneously.
"Why do you want my name?"
"Why is there a werewolf in my house?"
"She needs a place to stay while we look for her boyfriend. Why do you want my name?"
He sniffed and tried to regain composure. "After your little tantrum this morning-"
"I thought it best to hire you on via more traditional methods."
It took a second for that to sink in. "You- you're going to summon me? Like, with the goat blood and burnt offerings and stuff?" Bossman had never actually summoned me before. Way back when, he made a deal with my old bosses, saying he was in the market for a minion. Now that I don’t work for them anymore, he had to start doing things by the book.
"Yes." He crossed his arms and gave me one of his Smug Bastard looks. "What have you got to say to that?"
I stared at him for about thirty seconds. There were so many ways I could react to this. Anger, shock, rage. In the end, all of those were swamped and swept away by something much more powerful. It bubbled in my chest and forced its way out with no input from any higher-functioning utilities.
I threw my head back and howled.
"What?" he said. "What's so funny?"
"You-" I wheezed. "You think you'll find me in those?" I pointed to the stacks of musty tomes he'd splayed out over the desk behind him. Then I promptly fell to the floor, clutching my stomach.
“What?” he said. “These books have the names of every demon of note. The finest array, from archdemons to household imps. I-“
“I’m not in there.” And I wasn’t. I’d gone through them all to make doubly sure, way back on my first day. I needn't have bothered. Nobody’s ever gotten me down on paper before; even Enoch decided to save page space for more interesting characters.
"Good luck, dude," I said between chuckles. "I mean it."
He slammed the book shut. “I don't want any of your demonic companions infesting my house."
"She's not demonic! There's nothing demonic about her. She's a wolfwere and she's been trod upon by the mortal oppressors."
He stared. "What?"
"You heard me!" I straitened up as much as I could and tried to sound inspirational. "For too long mortals have been stomping on the freedoms of-"
He went over to the shelf and set the book back into its spot. "I don't want you staging a coup in my house."
I deflated. "But you didn't let me finish. I've got a whole big speech and everything. At the end of it I hold up a severed human head and toss it into the crowd."
"I'm not a crowd, and were fresh out of severed heads."
"Please? Can't I just have one sleepover?"
He headed out the door. I hurried to keep up with him. "My God, it's like talking to a child."
“Why can't she stay? She’s only got a couple more days ‘till the moon peters out. It’s not like she’s gonna spray the furniture or something-“
"I'm sorry but she- she. . . " He stopped in the doorway of the livingroom, his eyes on Lupe. He blinked a few times.
She was sitting on the sofa, dead asleep. Her tell-tale bulge was unmistakable.
He glared at me accusingly. "You didn't mention that part."
"So she can stay?"
He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his node. "For tonight, yes."
"And you'll help us track down her baby-daddy?"
He rubbed his temples. "Fine. Yes. Am I correct when I assume the men's coat she ostensibly isn't wearing belongs to him?"
He went over and delicately took it from her. "I’ll need it for the tracker. Just- don't make a habit of this, will you? I can't afford to be taking in strays."
It was a damned lie, and he knew it, but I was grateful all the same.
* * * *
Night fell without disaster. Bossman and I had reached and agreement: in return for looking up Lupe's boyfriend with the Informational Imp Index of his, I would have to go and do all the chores I'd neglected.
Sometime around midnight, she came into the kitchen and caught me scrubbing the floors.
"Why are you doing that?" she said.
"It's a human thing," I said. "They like the floors of their dens to shine. Are you alright?”
She smiled weakly and sat down in one of the displaced dining chairs. “Yes," she said. "Just tired. This body. I am still not used to it.” She rested her hands on the top of her belly and laced her fingers, then began twiddling her thumbs. “There are new things, and there are old things, but the old things are in strange places. I miss the old things. I know it will not last long, though, and for that I am thankful.”
I went to sit down beside her. "Yeah,” I said. “It takes a bit of getting used to.
“You are not human.” It wasn’t a question.
“I smelled it. Fire,” she said. “Fire and smoke and hurt. I still smell it. Not strongly, though.” She tapped her nose. "It gets weaker as time goes. Oh, time! I did not notice it so much before!”
"Yeah. It's kind of a human thing."
We sat together in silence for a while, each apparently lost in thought.
Eventually, she sighed. "I think," she said, "it is time for sleep again."
I nodded and showed her up to one of the guest bedrooms.
* * * *
Bossman was true to his word. He'd gone to work early, but left a note on the table with detailed directions of where to find loverboy, one Mr. Mathew Brody, at one o’ clock this afternoon. The rest of the morning was spent trying to find clothes and shoes that would fit her (no easy task, partly because nothing would fit her, and partly because she was, as a whole, against clothes), but otherwise uneventful.
Eventually, though, we set out.
It was an old fashioned pub right out of merry old England. At least, it was trying its damndest to be. It was everything stereotypically English crammed into one small-ish dive, from the print of Lizzy on the back wall, to the napkins with pictures of a British crown on them. I half expected the radio in the corner to start belting out God Save The Queen. It was all very bright, very loud, and they must have sold good beer because the place was packed.
"I do not like this," she said, looking around nervously. "There are so many people, and it is such a small space.”
I took a peek at her from the other side and saw the shade of a wolf cowering, tail tucked and teeth bared. “Don’t worry,” I said, taking her by the hand. “He’s in here. Take a whiff, see if you can single him out.”
She nodded, bringing the jacket up to her face and inhaling deeply. “There,” she said, striding ahead. I followed.
"Oy!" said the bartender in a strong cockney accent. "No kids."
I'd like to pretend he was referring to the as of then unborn child Lupe was carrying, but he was looking at me.
Lupe glared and him. A deep rumble rose up from her throat. The wolf was scared, angry, and willing to destroy anything that got in its way.
"We're here to see her husband," I said before she could go for his throat. “My . . . dad. He hasn’t come home in a while.”
Understanding lit up the barman's face. "Ah," he said, dropping the accent and nodding. "Go right ahead." He went back to polishing off shot glasses with his rag.
"Okay," I said. "Let me try to break the ice-"
She breezed past me and made a beeline for the table. I groaned and followed suit.
Life had apparently not been kind to old papa wolf. If the empty glasses next to him were any indication, he hadn't just taken the hair of the dog that bit him but had carefully groomed, combed and styled it as well until it had turned into one of those froofy midget-poodle things rich ladies kept in their purses.
He jerked up when we got close, his nose wrinkled up. His eyes went wide when he saw Lupe. Quickly, he turned his head away, back towards the row of empty glasses.
She stopped a few feet away from the table and began to whimper. In that one small gesture he'd managed to reach in, pull out her heart and just stomp on it.
“Come on, Lou! Don’t get sad, get pissed.”
She was shaking and doing her best impression of a lawn ornament. Well fine then. My turn. I went up and slapped both hands onto the table.
“Hi, daddy,” I said.
“Oh God,” he said, turning away even farther. “You reek.”
“Not as badly as you do. Shame is a very strong scent.”
“Shame? I’m not ashamed. I didn’t do anything.” He pulled his glass a little closer. There was something in the shifty way he was looking at her - or rather not looking at her- that set off little red flags.
“You can smell me,” I said slowly, looking from him to Lupe.
“How can I not? You reek of-“
“Fire, right? Smoke and hurt, right?”
"You know, don’t you? You know and what’s more-“ I stopped. I quickly checked him from the other view. Still human, then. But there was a tinge of. . . anger? Something small hanging beneath his shirt was glowing and writhing. "Hey, Lupe? Can you show him your shoulder?"
She didn't ask why and pulled down her shirt collar. The scars were bigger than I’d thought. Rougher. In fact, now that I had time to think on it, they looked an awful lot like. . .
I hadn’t meant to scream. The bar's other patrons looked our way. Loverboy hunched up a bit more, like he was trying to bury himself.
"You did that, didn't you? All this time I thought she was the weird one in the equation, but no. You bit her, didn't you?"
"Hey," said the barman, cockney accent at the ready. "You lot. Take it outside, I'm trying to run a business here."
Loverboy groaned. "But Nico-"
"Not hearing it, Matt. Settle this outside."
Together we went outside, with dad dejectedly bringing up the rear. It was cool out. The moon hung smugly above us.
"You're a werewolf,” I said, once we were out.
He nodded. "Yeah." He was trying very hard not to look at Lupe, or her rather prominent belly.
“Then how come you’re not all furry right now?”
He miserably tugged at the chain hanging around his neck. Out came a silvery pendant positively steeped in magic. “This. It’s why I took the trip at all. It stops me from changing . . .“ He shuddered. I haven’t gone ‘furry’ in months.”
Huh. Well that couldn’t be healthy. "So, what? Get bored of humans? You thought you'd get yourself a little fuzzy tail?"
He paced a little. "No! It didn't happen like that! She was just- and the smells. I didn't know what I was doing." He ran a hand through his hair and stared at her. "So that's really- I mean, I-?"
"And you came all the way from- from Washington?”
To me he said, "And it's my fault she's. . . "
"Human? Yeah. Wolfwere bites human, you get werewolf. Other way around and you get this. "
He kept touching his face. Rubbing his cheek, his forehead. I tried to feel some sympathy for him, but it just wasn’t working. I was too ticked off about my whole self-righteous ‘kill all humans’ plan being cut short by the lack of humanity in the equation.
"Fuck," he said.
A long and awkward silence ensued.
Lupe hadn’t spoken through the whole ordeal. She’d just watched him with the strangest look on her face. I tried to imagine what must be going on in her head. Wolf thoughts versus human, maternal instincts of both species dancing around one another. . .
Then, without a word, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. To my surprise, he did the same to her.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Oh God, I’m sorry. Do you have a place to stay?”
Then she was crying and he was crying and it was all getting very soppy. I thought it would stop after a few seconds, but no. They just kept on being mushy. It seemed as good a time to leave as any, so with very little fuss, I did.
* * * *
It’s been about a month, now. Bossman’s still trying to find my name, I’m still laughing at him about it. I haven’t talked to Lupe since.
Tonight, though, while walking home, I caught sight of some wolves. They were all standing on the sidewalk, bold as brass. Three, total; two adults and one little scruff of fur between them I took to be a puppy. The male was impressive looking: large, dignified. Odd that he made a better wolf than human.
The female one was familiar, if more corporeal than the last time I’d seen her. She wagged her tail when she saw me and made a bark-ish, whine-ish noise I took to be a happy one. Around her neck was a silvery pendant steeped in magic.
Well, I thought. I suppose marriage is compromise.
Before I could do or say a thing, they were gone. All three vanished into the brush. Don't hold me to it, but I think they’ll be alright.
<Previous <First> Next>