It was two in the afternoon; Simon and I left the house to pick up supplies, leaving Austin and Adam behind to finish unpacking. Downtown was within walking distance from our new place, and Simon was like a dog eager to go to the park. The town certainly lived up to his hype. Every house we passed looked like it had been built over a century ago, and just about every yard had Halloween decorations. It wasn’t at all the cheesy stuff you’d see in department stores; this was much creepier—Blair Witch creepy.
“Ain’t this place somethin’?” Simon said, pointing to a seven-foot-tall skeletal effigy hanging from a tree.
“Uh… yeah,” I replied, trying not to seem put-off by the haunting atmosphere. “I thought there’d be werewolves.”
“You don’t smell ’em?”
I glared at Simon.
“Oh yeah. I forget Yer an oddball. Most half-turns can at least smell other werewolves.” He scratched the messy mane on top of his head. “I don’t remember much from when I was half-turn. Maybe you can only smell werewolves when yer really horny.” He turned and grinned before squeezing the left cheek of my ass. “Since I take care of that, you don’t need to put it to the test.”
“You make it sound like I’m in heat or something.”
Simon gave me a sniff. “Maybe you are. Half-turns give off a skunky smell when they need to be fucked, and you smell like quality weed.”
“What?” I sniffed my armpits. “Oh my God, are you for real? Have I stunk this whole time?”
“I just said you smelled good.”
“You said I smelled skunky!” I took off my shirt and held it to my nose, but couldn’t smell anything aside from laundry detergent. “Do I need to take more showers?”
Simon wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me into him. “Relax. It’s a good stink. It drives werewolves crazy.”
“Do I stink now?”
He laughed. “Yer fine, jeez.”
I slipped back into my t-shirt. “This is so embarrassing.”
“Art, you need to get used to smelling weird, and you can’t do nothing about it. It doesn’t get much better when you turn.” He held up an arm and leaned in, nearly engulfing my face in his pit. My nose instinctively wrinkled and pushed him away.
“God damn it! When’s the last time you bathed?”
“Swimming in the ocean count?”
“You haven’t been swimming in the ocean in about a week.”
He gave a half grin, exposing a sharp tooth. “Well, there’s yer answer.”
My usual response to him being gross was to shake my head and groan.
“That’s a good werewolf stink.” He stepped closer again. “Admit it. You love it, don’t you?”
When I first met Simon, I thought he smelled like dumpster juice mixed with wet dog, but he may have had a point. Somewhere between the night I changed and now, I had actually grown fond of his scent. It wasn’t a bouquet of roses by any means, but it was oddly comforting. Of course, my reaction was opposite to what I felt as I pushed him away again.
“Would ya look at that,” Simon said abruptly, pointing to the group of people on the other side of main street. There were three younger human men, two women and one half-turn laughing among them. He was tall and covered in thicker black body hair. Like Adam, he had a small tail that jutted from the waistband of his sweatpants. “He looks popular.”
“You think he’s…?”
Simon let out a snort in response.
“We’re just the sluttiest sluts, aren’t we?”
“Yer not, obviously.”
“That’s because I’m an oddball.”
“Maybe that came out wrong. Being weird ain’t a bad thing, and neither is enjoying great sex with different people.”
“I guess I was just brought up differently.”
Simon stopped and sniffed, his stomach growling as the scent of smoked meat filled the air.
“Ooo,” he said, making a sharp turn toward the origin.
“We don’t have the money.” I grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Come on, we need to get paint and groceries.”
Simon’s ears fell. “We need to get to work on that OnlyFans idea.”
“That’s your project, you know.”
“Yeah, but I need yer help. Remember? I don’t know nothin’ about computers.” His face brightened for a second. “That reminds me… Was talkin’ to Austin about our little idea—”
“Simon, I swear to God!”
“I was gonna talk to you first before agreeing to anything.”
“If you want a three-way, talk to Adam. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy.”
Simon folded his arms. “Maybe I will.”
“Whatever.” That pissed me off more than it should have. Perhaps I was looking forward to doing this on some level, but I wanted it to be more exclusive.
“I know that look.” He gave me a shake, and I shrugged him off. “You mad at me?”
“Yo!” a male voice shouted from behind. Simon and I turned toward a fit guy in jogging pants running toward us. He was human, but had strange symbols tattooed on both arms, like some kind of Sanskrit, but more… demonic? The pentagrams engulfing them didn’t help lighten my opinion. “Holy shit. New guys!”
“What’s up?” Simon said, extending his hand. The man eagerly grabbed it and started shaking. “Just moved here. The name’s Simon. This here’s Art.”
He turned toward me and grabbed my hand, shaking it more vigorously than he did Simon’s.
“I’m Sean.” He paused, the smile on his face widening. “This is awesome. We don’t have that many half-turns. You’re the third one.”
“Fourth,” I corrected. “There’s another one back home.”
“How many werewolves you got living here?” Simon asked, turning to look at a group of rowdy wolf-men scarfing down what looked like ribs on picnic tables outside the barbeque restaurant we smelled.
“With you, that makes twenty-three.” He turned toward me again. “Half-turns are rare around here. What made you guys decide on Norwich?”
“Desperation,” I muttered, catching myself as Simon shoved my arm. “…and it seemed like a neat place.”
“You guys are gonna love it here. Have you talked to the mayor yet?”
I narrowed my eyes. “And why would we talk to the mayor?”
“It’s required. Anyone who moves to this town needs to know the rules.”
Simon seemed even more taken aback than I was. “Rules? What is this, a giant HOA?”
“No, nothing like that. Norwich is a great place to live, but there’s some really sketchy shit that goes on around the outskirts.” He looked around before lowering his voice. “Just, uh… go to city hall when you can, otherwise they’ll come to you, and you probably would rather they didn’t.” The volume of his voice returned to normal. “Anyway, welcome to Norwich. We all call it Halloween town.” He gave us a quick wave before continuing along the sidewalk, glancing back once.
“What a warm welcome. Not at all suspicious,” I said as I looked around for the hardware store sign. “Or creepy.”
“Hmm,” Simon grunted, scratching at his mane again. It wasn’t like him to be at a loss for words, which was worrying.
“I’m starting to reconsider Derrek’s offer.”
“This place is great,” Simon interrupted, grabbing my hand while tugging me along. “We already knew about the people before we came. It won’t be so weird once we meet more.”
“I wonder what the sketchy shit is he was talking about.”
“Ah jeez, Art. You lived in a crack alley in the worst part of the city, and you felt fine enough to take the bus at night. Redneck sketchy isn’t the same as the hood.”
“I’ve seen redneck, and this isn’t it. This place doesn’t seem like it belongs anywhere.” We passed a gnarled tree that closely resembled a monstrous claw with yellow leaves. “Even the trees look fucked up.”
“I think they look awesome.” Simon stopped and began relieving himself on it.
My face flushed as I scanned our surroundings while moving as fast as I could away from the scene before anyone saw.
“Art,” Simon called after me, but I pretended to ignore him. “Hold up. There’s still a little more in the tank.”
I was at full sprint now, shelter from humiliation mere feet away at the store’s entrance. The doors opened automatically, and I slipped inside as Simon continued shouting my name with a taunting inflection.
The hardware store wasn’t as large as the ones in the city, and the aisles weren’t stocked with much. I slowed my pace, reading the signs to see where I needed to go.
“You left me hangin’,” Simon whispered from behind. It was rather startling how fast he could run, even with a bit of a gut.
“It’s day one and you’re already embarrassing me.”
“Art, every werewolf in town’s pissed on that tree, and I was just adding my name to the roster.”
“How do you know?”
Simon pointed to his nose.
“You don’t know nothin’, yet,” he said, following closely.
I turned right, ambling along the paint aisle while feeling around my jean’s pockets. “Shit. I left the list at home. Do you remember what color Austin said we needed?”
“It’s not rocket science. The walls are white, so just get white paint.” Simon slowed, his ears dropping to the sides of his head as he looked at the color swatches. “Uhh… What the hell is Swiss Coffee? Why are there twenty different shades of white?”
“Maybe it was eggshell,” I said, giving the swatch a closer look. “This looks pretty close, right?”
“You should probably call Austin.”
“I don’t have his number, or Adam’s.”
Simon picked up a can of paint and shrugged. “Eggshell it is.”
An uneasy sensation hit me from all directions, causing every hair on my body to stand up. I scanned the aisle, expecting someone to be watching us, but I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
“What’s wrong?” Simon asked, nudging me with his arm.
“Nothing. Let’s just go home; I don’t feel like going to the grocery store.”
“We got nothing to eat.”
“We’ll order a pizza or something.”
“I thought you said—”
“We’ll get Adam to pay for it. He still owes me,” I said, quickly making my way to the checkout line. “And he just got his check the other day.”
“Sweeeeet,” Simon whispered, licking some of the slobber away from his mouth. “Better yet, I could just go to the store and pick up some stuff to make pizza. I’ve been itching to cook fer a while.”
“Maybe you should make your amazing baked ziti.”
“Oh yeah!” Other customers turned toward us as Simon’s voice echoed through the store.
“Shh.” I grabbed the can of paint from Simon and set it on the counter. “God damn.”
“Did you find everything okay?” the cashier said as he maneuvered the paint can in front of the scanner.
“Yes, thank you,” I replied, reaching into my back pocket.
My stomach dropped. “What? I thought it was fifteen.”
“Fifteen for the quart-sized cans. That’s the gallon.”
“I didn’t see anything smaller,” Simon said.
“That’s because we only carry the gallon.”
“Then why do you have a price for a size you don’t even carry?” I asked, growing more frustrated and anxious as the line grew behind us.
“Must have been a mistake,” the cashier said, his tone growing snottier by the second.
“Do you have anything cheaper?”
“Listen. You’re not going to find paint any cheaper than that in this town.”
I put my wallet away, but something inside snapped. Pins and needles pricked me from all over as the light of the building faded into a red hue. Simon rested his hands on my shoulders, pushing me toward the door.
“Thanks. We’ll get it online,” Simon said, before pulling me the rest of the way outside. “Art…”
“What the hell just happened?”
“I think we had this conversation before, but you didn’t take it seriously.” He examined me as we walked along main street. “You gotta control yer anger. Get mad at me all you want, that’s fine. I love annoying the shit outta you, but the moment you feel yerself lose it in front of humans, you need to get the fuck out.”
“When have you ever known me to throw punches? I was just going to go all Karen on that piece of shit.”
“No. You were ready to rip the guy to pieces, and I don’t mean with yer words.”
“I’m serious. Yer fur got thicker, and yer teeth and claws were growing. When a half-turn does that, it never ends well.”
“I—that doesn’t make any sense. We’re not dangerous like werewolves.”
“Where the hell’d you hear that?”
“Look at me. I’m a glorified fleshlight.”
“Jeez, Art. That’s not it at all. The whole Austin and Adam thing ain’t normal—usually. Is that what you think you are to me?”
I folded my arms but didn’t respond.
“I think of you as my friend. My best friend,” Simon continued, draping his arm over my shoulder. “We just also happen to fuck a lot. That’s normal for us. It keeps you from losing yer mind.”
“Am I dangerous? Is that why there are so many restrictions on half-turns?”
“Yer not dangerous—usually.”
“You said usually like that twice. Just say what you mean and stop pussy-footing.”
“Ever see a toddler throw a temper tantrum?” Simon asked, cracking a grin. “Yer the toddler.”
“I’m serious. The kid doesn’t know why he’s angry, and he doesn’t know how to handle it other than crying, throwing things, and pitching a fit… maybe he’d break his toys. That’s kinda like how half-turns are. They got all these new senses, emotions, abilities, but nothing’s in sync yet. That’s why you need to be around werewolves. If I make you mad, I just fuck the anger away. If a human pisses you off and you don’t know how to handle yerself, you could do some real damage. Yer probably the most repressed piece of work I’ve ever met, and yeah… that makes you kinda dangerous.”
“Are you surprised? You got all weird and embarrassed when I pissed on a tree. That’s like… our thing. We pee on things.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me toward one of those odd-looking gnarled trees that lined the walkway. “Pee on it.”
“I’m not peeing on a tree in front of the whole damn town,” I hissed quietly through my teeth.
“See? Uptight. Ashamed. Repressed. So worried about what everyone thinks.”
“This is different. You know what they call guys that whip their dicks out in public? SEX OFFENDERS.”
“You think that tree’s gonna get all offended?” He laughed and patted the trunk. “Hell, look at it. It likes being peed on.”
“Don’t be a smart-ass. There are a lot of other trees in more private places. You don’t have to make a show of it, and I know you do that shit on purpose.”
“It’s great bein’ a werewolf, but it’s also pretty sweet being a half-turn. We can get away with shit humans can’t. If you wanna pee on this tree, no one’s gonna care.”
I began walking along the sidewalk again, with Simon following close. “Common decency, Simon. No one wants to see that shit.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“Not everyone wants to be fucked by you, Simon.”
“Whoa. Where’s this coming from?”
Honestly? I kind of knew, but it wasn’t something I wanted to argue about. It was stupid, anyway.
“It’s nothing. I just want to get home so Austin can bitch at us for not having paint.”
Simon and I didn’t speak for an uncomfortable few minutes before he finally spoke up.
“I’m glad I met you.”
At first, I thought he was being sarcastic, but his face was sincere.
“I just thought you needed to hear that.”
His tail wagged, which was usually an indicator he was going to say or do something to piss me off. However, as another minute passed and nothing else was said, a slight smile reluctantly made an appearance.
“I’m glad I met you, too.”
The two of us walked up the driveway as Austin watched from the front porch with a frustrated grimace. He was sitting alone on the wooden steps while digging one of his claws into the weathered railing.
“Paint was too expensive,” I said, making my way up the steps, brushing past the werewolf. “We’ll have to get it online.”
“Oh well,” Austin muttered. “This house is gonna be a project, and we’ll need money.”
“You know we’re only renting, right? I don’t want to sink thousands of dollars into a place I don’t even own.”
“And I don’t wanna live in a dump.” Austin sighed. “Do we even know who the landlord is?”
“Everything is handled through the bureau. If we have complaints, I have to make them there and they’ll work with the owner to make the repairs. I think.”
“Forget it. Don’t get ’em involved,” Austin said, looking over at Simon. “That porn idea of yours… it’s good money, right?”
“Uh…” Simon swayed nervously. “It can be. Depends on what yer willing to do.”
“I’m not doing shit. Not going to risk putting my face out on the internet, but Adam will do just about anything you want. I’ll rent him out to you.”
I was about to walk into the house, but stopped, slamming the door behind me. “You piece of—”
“Wait a minute now,” Simon said calmly, putting his hand up. “That wasn’t the deal. I’d only do it if Adam agreed to it.”
“He’ll agree to it.”
“No, he won’t,” I interjected.
“Stay out of our business. What, do you think you’re better than the rest of us because you’re gonna work corporate? We need money.”
“Then grind your own ass for it. Adam’s not your meal ticket.”
Austin climbed to his feet and stood over me, but Simon pushed his way between us.
“Things are gettin’ a little heated. Both of you need to calm down.” He turned to Austin. “I’ve been trying to keep the peace between us, but we need to have a talk… just the two of us.”
The hackles on Austin’s neck rose. “Is that a challenge? Are you challenging me, old man?”
“No.” Simon put his hand on the other werewolf’s shoulder and nodded for me to go inside. “Just need to talk.”
I let out a calming breath before slipping inside the house, letting the door rest quietly against the frame. Simon looked like he knew what he was doing, but I was a bit worried. I didn’t know what Austin was capable of; in fact, it probably wasn’t wise of me to argue with him the way I did.
“Adam?” I called out, noticing the living room furniture neatly arranged, but the half-turn wasn’t there. There wasn’t a response, so I walked into the hall and opened their bedroom door. He wasn’t there either.
As I made my way back out into the living room, a soft snore reverberated from my bedroom. Adam was sound asleep on my side of the bed, wearing nothing but a pair of navy blue briefs with a hole in it for his tail and a black tank top that had been shredded along the back.
It wasn’t exactly a mystery whose claw marks those were.
I made a few creaky paces through the bedroom and sat on the mattress before giving him a light shake.
Adam groaned and turned away before falling back to sleep.
“Wake up,” I said a little louder.
“Go away. I’m tired.”
“It’s my bed. I’ll do what I want.” I stood up on the mattress and began jumping in an attempt to annoy him, but the cheap mattress was springier than I had anticipated. The force launched Adam about four feet into the air before the half-turn shouted a curse word as he came to a hard rest on the floor. “Oh my God! Are you okay?”
Adam moaned at first before the fur on his neck stuck straight out.
“Okay, I know you’re pissed, but hear me out,” I said, reaching down to help him off the floor.
Adam slapped my hand away. “Does it look like I’m in the mood to play around?”
“Does it ever?”
He glared up at me, now sitting cross-legged on the floor.
“Did he hurt you?”
“He always hurts me,” Adam said. “This is not news, Art.”
“Alright, we need to do something about him, especially if he’s physically abusing you.”
“Stay out of it. And he’s not physically abusing me. He may be a monster, but he has his limits.” He rubbed the bump on his head from the hard landing earlier. “It’s weird. He always seems like he’s going to cross that line, but he never does. He just likes to emotionally torment me.”
“Same shit, just in a new place. If I don’t turn soon, I’m gonna break my kuu. I don’t care about the future anymore because I can’t keep living like this. What’s more infuriating is he pretends to be somewhat decent toward me around you guys, but the moment you leave, he starts treating me like his chew toy.”
“Simon’s talking to him now.”
“He’s gonna get creamed if he pisses Austin off.”
I shrugged. “Well, good thing werewolves heal fast then.”
“Is it possible to hate and love someone at the same time?” Adam asked.
“I don’t know. I would think not.”
“Then I guess I’m an anomaly.” He lifted his clawed hands in front of his face. “I want to wrap these around his neck and force him into submission. Derrek told me something a while ago that stuck with me. It made a lot of sense.”
Adam grinned. “Austin took on a role he wasn’t meant for, and it makes him miserable. He wants to be this ‘alpha male’, but he knows he can’t live up to that. So he overcompensates by picking fights with people for no reason. Now Derrek… He’s a natural leader, and he makes people feel safe, not intimidated. That’s what a real alpha is, and it pisses Austin off because he knows he could never be like that. So he makes me feel smaller so he can keep feeling big.”
“Would you feel comfortable taking up that role?”
Adam climbed to his feet and sat next to me on the bed. “Maybe. Derrek told me I’d know my role in werewolf society and my relationships when I was close to going full-turn.” He kept an intense gaze as he spoke. “I think it’s gonna happen soon. I’ve never been more ready, but I’ve also never been sadder.”
“I dunno. There’s just something sad about knowing the person you were might change for good.”
“But… it’ll be for good. I thought you wanted to leave Austin when you turned.”
Adam shrugged. “I do… but I love him. I don’t know why. It’s not like he has many redeeming qualities, but I get sick thinking about life without him. Isn’t that fucked up? Maybe he’s messed with my head too much.”
“I—I don’t know. I’m not good at relationship stuff, but a lot of people have been in this position. If you’re in love with someone, even if they’re toxic as fuck, it’s hard to change that.”
“I’m gonna do something… pretty risky the night I turn. I never told you what Derrek and I really fought about that night, but I did apologize—and I got the info I wanted.”
“Oh?” I waited for him to elaborate, but he simply smiled and stood up. “What, you’re gonna leave me hanging? Why even bring it up?”
“It’s painful, isn’t it?” he said, rubbing the knot on his forehead. “Maybe next time you won’t launch me off the bed.”
He padded out of the bedroom, leaving me to grind my teeth.
“It was an accident!”