It was a few minutes after nine in the morning, and I sat alone on a weathered wooden bench outside of a run-down café. This was a part of the city I hadn’t been to, and quite frankly, I’d never wanted to come here. I was sweltering under the black hoodie I wore, and my mirrored aviator sunglasses hid the strange slight orange color of my eyes.
I didn’t wake Simon before leaving, and I no longer cared if he stayed in my apartment alone. What was he going to do, rob me? I was turning into a werewolf, and I was probably a week away from not being able to hide some of the changes from anyone. Nothing was going to matter.
“Are you gonna come in and order something?” a deep voice called out from a doorway next to me.
I pulled a leather wallet from my back pocket and thumbed through the cash. There was no point in paying this month’s rent because the moment the property managers found out about me, I wouldn’t have long to leave. They also wouldn’t be legally required to return my money or any deposit I’d made.
“Fuck it,” I whispered to myself while eying the tall silver werewolf at the counter through the window. As I made my way inside, several werewolves eyed me suspiciously, most notably the barista. “Could I get a…” I trailed off and glanced at the menu on the wall, but it was kind of hard to see with the sunglasses on, so I removed them and placed them in my front pocket. I’d never really drank coffee; there was nothing about the taste I found appealing. However, since I barely slept last night, I’d make an exception this morning. “Mocha latte?”
“How do you want it?”
“I don’t know. Mocha-y? Surprise me,” I muttered, feeling a strange bit of animosity coming from the beast behind the counter.
The barista got to work on the drink, and I made my way to an empty table on the far end of the café. The place wasn’t quite as derelict from the inside; in fact, it was rather cozy. The walls were brick, purposely half-finished with cracked Tuscan stucco, giving the place an old-world appearance. The chairs were antique and solid oak with decades of scratches and wear, while the tabletops were recently polished. Whoever owned this place obviously took pride in it, going as far as finding furniture that matched the atmosphere.
I lost myself for a moment in the classical, low-volume music trickling through the speakers overhead while staring out the window at the werewolves walking by. There wasn’t a single car on the road, and I wondered if I was even in the same city anymore.
A cup of hot, foamy liquid slid in front of me, pulling me from my trance. The barista wasn’t the same ornery person I’d ordered from moments earlier as he smiled while sniffing the air.
“It’s on the house,” he said, his tail gently swaying from side-to-side. “Can I get you something to eat?”
“Uh, sure,” I replied, a little baffled by the sudden shift in mood. “I’ll have whatever you recommend.”
He pointed to my jacket. “You can take all that off in here. It’s got to be about eighty degrees.”
The werewolves sitting at the other tables caught my eye. They stared, their tails wagging and ears pointing straight up, each one sniffing the air.
“I should probably keep it on.”
“Suit yourself,” he said, disappearing into the back room.
A different werewolf walked up to the table holding a wrinkled sheet of paper in his hand. Three more of them got up from their tables and rushed over to me, each one holding similar sheets of paper.
“What’s your name?” a tall black werewolf asked. The shorter brown one next to him let out a growl before a gray one cut in front. The mood of the place shifted from peaceful to what I could only describe as ‘polite aggression.’
“Art,” I answered, growing more wary of the attention.
“You looking for someone to live with?” the brown one asked.
Simon mentioned something about this last night. Covering up didn’t seem to matter; the werewolves could smell what I was becoming, even if I wasn’t fully showing the signs.
Each one of them slid their papers in front of me and stood around the table, waiting.
“I’ve got a job,” the brown one said with a proud, toothy smirk.
“Pfft.” The gray werewolf pushed brown to the side. “He works one day a week at the quarry, and he doesn’t bathe. I don’t have a job, but I’m clean, and I’ll do anything you want. Nothing’s off-limits.”
When the larger black werewolf shoved them both, and they fell into the third, all of them became more truculent. Snarls tore through the cafe, and claws ripped through fur and flesh, spattering blood on the table in front of me. As the noise in the café grew louder, the door to the back room swung open, and the barista ran out, banging a pan with a wooden spoon.
“Knock it off!”
Each werewolf went still while staring at me expectantly. Their sudden shifts from aggression to pacivity made my neck hair stand.
“I’ve got a roommate,” I said, clearing my throat as they began sitting at the table, one of them pulling another chair up to get closer. I looked down at the papers they placed in front of me earlier. “What’s all this?”
“Stuff about us,” the black werewolf said. “You’re going to need a werewolf roommate.”
“Why?” I asked, picking up one of the wrinkled papers. It was like reading a dating profile and an RPG character sheet smooshed together. There was everything from detailed—and at times graphic—physical description to what they did for fun, and it was typed up in small bulleted font. I looked at the others, and each of these profile sheets followed the same template. “I already have a werewolf roommate.”
“It’s too early to make a decision like that,” the barista said, setting a huge plate of hot apple turnovers in front of me, way more than I could eat alone. “You should at least review a list of candidates first.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Whenever there’s a new half-turned in this part of town, he gets handed these.” The barista pointed to the papers. “You just go through them and pick out which one you like best.”
“You guys just carry these on you all the time?”
The four werewolves nodded in unison.
“Never know when we’ll get a good opportunity like this. So, hopefully you’ll choose me,” the gray werewolf said, flashing his eyebrows. “I put a little something in mine that might spark your interest.”
I looked down at the paper and continued reading until I got to the bold print. “Jesus Christ. That’s kinda gross.”
“I’ll do it, if you want.”
I folded the paper and tossed it with the others. “I’m not that interested; plus I have a roommate already, like I said.”
They all stared in silence, and I had a feeling they knew I was lying. I hadn’t completely made up my mind about the Simon situation, after all.
The barista pulled my hood back.
“Hey,” I said, leaning away from him.
“The guy’s probably bad news.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, taking a bite of one of the turnovers he brought out. “This is really good, by the way.”
“Glad you like it.” He looked at the door when a man walked through—a half-turned werewolf.
He was wearing a black tank top and torn, brown cargo shorts, and something thicker than body hair covered his arms and chest, like short, peppery fur; however, there were places where his dark bare skin showed. The guy had a very young, handsome face, sharp jaw and hair was styled in unruly dreads.
“Perfect timing,” the barista said, waving the customer over.
“Sup?” he grunted before glaring at me.
“Adam, this is…” The barista trailed off. “What’s your name?”
“Art,” I said, extending my hand toward the half-turn.
He didn’t return the gesture.
“What are you doing on Ruskin Street?” He looked down at the turnovers before snatching one off the plate, stuffing part of it in his mouth.
I opened my mouth to speak, but the barista cut me off. “He’s hitting his half-turn soon.” He smacked Adam on the back of the head, before turning back to me. “Adam doesn’t have the best sense of smell.”
The half-turn’s eyes lit up. “Shit, for real?” He glanced at the folded sheets of paper in front of me. “My advice? Be picky as hell when you decide to let one of these fuckers live with you.”
“Show him your kuu,” the barista said, pointing to a dark, metal choker around Adam’s neck.
“Ah yeah, the trap,” he said, tugging at the choker. It shimmered a little more than it should have in the dim, natural light of the café. “At least werewolves won’t keep bothering you after you get one.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“They’re enchanted,” the barista said. “You can only get a kuu from your chosen werewolf, and once you wear it, everyone will know you’re not looking. But—”
“It’s a fucking trap,” Adam interrupted, repeating what he said earlier.
“It’s not a trap. You’re just upset because you were thinking with your dick when you chose your werewolf.”
Adam picked up the folded papers off the table before waving them in front of my face. “Read. These. Carefully!” He turned and glared at the other werewolves. “Don’t put up with their shit, and don’t let one try to sweet-talk you. They’re unnaturally good at that.”
Just when I thought I’d be okay with Simon living with me, hearing him describe the werewolf to a T destroyed it. Something the barista said earlier had me a little weirded out.
“What do you mean by enchanted?” I asked, pointing to the choker. “Why do I need one of these?”
“I don’t know the details, and I’d have thought it was bullshit until I felt the effects myself. It’s definitely real.” He pulled up a chair and sat at the now crowded table. “It’s something new to help with the homeless werewolf problem. The government was originally supposed to implement a non-discriminatory mandate which allowed werewolves access to more housing and employment opportunities. But those old fucks never let a good opportunity for exploitation to pass them by.
“We’re pigeonholed into doing shitty jobs humans don’t want to do, and these jobs don’t offer any kind of livable wage. Most werewolves would rather not work than slave away for pennies. In this part of town, all businesses are werewolf-owned, and most houses are designated Section-L for half-turns. They’re tiny little shit-holes that only have enough space for two, so in response, our community took matters into its own hands by gaming the system, so to speak.
“When you start to shift into a half-turn, you’re eligible for government assistance and housing. It’s also an unspoken rule that you will have to choose a werewolf to live with until you make the full shift, and you’ll be required to donate half the money you get from the government to the settlement project. The kuu is a way to ensure you comply with this, and after it’s over, you’ll get to live at a werewolf commune, not governed by humans. It’s guaranteed housing and actual career opportunities for both you and your chosen werewolf.”
“That sounds absolutely fucking awful. A commune? And you’re gonna take half my money? Really?”
“It’s not your money, dipshit. It’s what we’re all owed, and this is actually a pretty sweet deal—if you can find a werewolf to live with that isn’t a useless piece of shit,” Adam said begrudgingly, grabbing another turnover before the barista slapped it out of his hand. “What? He can’t eat all this.”
I tore off a corner of one of the pastries and held it to my mouth. “If it’s so sweet, why don’t all the werewolves just live there instead of being homeless here? Why go through all this bureaucracy?”
“Like I said, this is a new system, and it’s… not entirely legal. The communes are still growing, and it takes time and money to build housing. We’re essentially stealing from the government to build hidden, self-sustained communities. Half-turns and their chosen werewolves have first dibs on everything. These communes will spread out all over until they are big enough to incorporate, and since every werewolf still has the right to vote, we’ll gain real power in the government for once. Werewolf mayors, werewolf commissioners… Maybe one day we’ll have a werewolf governor.”
“That sounds a little ‘pie in the sky,'” I said, noting the mood shifting manically between the werewolves. Some were excited while others seemed rather anxious. “I guess it kind of makes sense.”
“The kuu can be any piece of enchanted jewelry, so long as the werewolf picks it out.”
“Why can’t I pick it out?”
“Half-turns aren’t allowed to buy them. They have to be ritualistically attuned to the chosen werewolf before you put it on. The jewelry he picks out needs to be enchanted on the phase of the moon it corresponds with. I don’t remember the details, but it doesn’t matter. One of the elders will collect blood from the werewolf and it all happens behind closed doors. All you have to do is wear it.”
“What happens if I lose it?”
Adam grabbed my hand and pulled it toward the chain he wore. “Try to pull this off.”
“I don’t want to break it.”
“You won’t,” he said.
I gripped the chain and tried to find the fastener, but there wasn’t one. After giving it a firm tug, the metal seemed to come to life in my hand, and I involuntarily let it go.
“It won’t come off until you’re a werewolf,” the barista said. “That’s when the contract ends, and you can both go your separate ways.”
It was around noon when I finally got home, and during the time I was on Ruskin Street I was handed around thirty pieces of paper from random werewolves. On the bus, I managed to go through around ten of them, but there weren’t any particular things that stood out to me. So much of this was obviously embellished.
The apartment was dark and quiet, save for snoring coming from a giant lump under the covers of my bed. How long was he going to stay asleep? I removed my hoodie and tossed it to the floor before collapsing onto the beanbag chair, flipping on the television while sifting through the folded pieces of paper.
I ignored the groaning from the other side of the room as Simon made it obvious I woke him up. The louder he groaned, the louder I cranked the volume until finally the duvet flew off the bed and he jumped out of it, baring his teeth.
“I’m tryin’ to sleep!”
I muted the television. “It’s noon.”
Simon yawned and scratched his head. “Really?” He trudged unsteadily toward the window and peeked through the blinds. “Well shit. Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“I just did,” I muttered, not looking up at him as I scanned the next profile for anything interesting. “Why does every werewolf open with how big his dick is? I don’t give a shit.”
I could feel Simon staring at me. “You’ll understand when you start turning. What’s all that?”
“Details of sexual positions and dick sizes, apparently.” I folded the paper and set it aside. “They’re werewolf roommate candidates.”
“Aw come on, Arthur!” I gave him a glare. “I mean, Art. Yer still on the fence with me? Even after our heart-to-heart last night?”
I fanned the stack of papers at him. “You’ve been trying to pull one over on me since we met. Apparently, there’s a procedure you have to follow for this stuff.” I dropped the stack in front of me. “You conveniently left out the whole kuu thing.”
“Well, looks like you’ve been busy today,” Simon muttered as he sauntered toward the kitchen. “Can I make you something to eat?”
“I ate already,” I said before scrambling to my feet to follow him. “I didn’t care so much until people started mentioning cursed jewelry that doesn’t come off. That’s kind of something you should have mentioned.”
“Listen, if you wanna break the contract, it’s not like you die or anything. You just lose out on a place to live and get a scarlet letter. You can be a homeless werewolf like the rest of us. How’s that sound?”
I let out a sigh, pushing past him to the fridge. Simon had made a pitcher of iced tea which I pulled out and poured into a glass. “When did you make this?”
“Last night when you went to sleep. You said you liked tea with lemon, so I made some.”
I put the pitcher back and moved to the counter. “When were you going to tell me about all of the weird stuff that comes along with being your roommate?”
“After I got them.”
Simon grinned. “I was thinkin’ you’d look pretty hot in a pair of earrings.”
“I don’t have pierced ears, and I don’t plan on getting them pierced.”
“Yet,” he said, his tail fanning behind him. “I know a guy—”
He stepped closer and grabbed my waist. “C’mon. You ever see a half-turn’s ears? You’d look really good.”
“I said no.” As I turned away, his hand caught my chin.
“Well, if yer gonna be a baby about it…”
“That’s not going to work,” I said, pretending not to be fazed by that remark. “I met a half-turn today, and he didn’t have earrings.”
“So?” Simon’s tongue ran along my neck. “For fuck’s sake, live a little.” He pulled away. “Yer about to go half-turned, and you need to learn how to loosen up or yer gonna get aggressive.”
“Bodily mutilation is not something that will make me loosen up.”
“Mutil—Dude. It’s a fucking hole in your ear.” His gut shook as he laughed. “Yer such a little nerd.”
I broke away and walked in front of the television, picking up the stack of papers I threw on the floor earlier.
“Oh come on,” he whined, following me. “I’m just poking fun. That’s what buddies do.” He snatched the papers out of my hand.
“Listen, you don’t gotta wear the earrings. I can have them make something else. What do you want?”
“A necklace is fine.”
“What about a collar?”
“A cock ring?”
“A neck—” I gave him a confused look. “Why the fuck would anyone wear a permanent cock ring?”
“It was a joke. Why are you so boring?”
“You’re not really good at this whole ‘ass kissing’ thing, are you?”
Simon tossed the papers into the trash can and leaned against the counter. “You think any of those guys I just threw away are gonna be real with you? No, they’re gonna pretend, put on their little shows, and then yer stuck with them. I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not. I’m too old for that shit. Hell, I don’t even wear pants. I like being able to scratch my balls whenever and give my fingers a good sniff.”
My nose wrinkled as I gave him an openmouthed, disgusted look.
“Oh don’t pretend you don’t do it too.”
I let out a sigh. “I guess you have a point—about the roommate situation, not the ball-sniffing. God you’re so gross.”
“Are you sure this time? I swear yer giving me anxiety.”
“Do we have any more of that weed?” I asked, eying the nightstand next to the bed.
“You sure you want some? I mean, if you’re scared of two little holes in yer ear….”
“Christ,” I muttered under my breath.
“While you’re at it, maybe you should stop drinkin’ booze too. You’re mutilating your liver.”
“You know what?” I slammed my hand on the counter. “Fine. I’ll get my ears pierced so you’ll shut the hell up.”
Simon smiled. “You don’t got to. I’m just messin’.”
“Good, because I don’t like needles.”
“Heh,” he clicked his tongue and let out a laugh that kind of pissed me off.
“You take monster dicks up yer ass like it’s nothin’, but one little poke in the ear is just too much for you to handle.”
“You are such a fucking prick!”
I noticed a pattern with Simon: whenever he was about to do or say something that would piss me off, he’d wag his tail.
He grabbed my cell phone off the counter. “Want me to make an appointment?”
“Do I actually have a say?”
“Nope,” he replied while tapping out a number on the screen.
The Next Day
I waited in the tall, sunlit lobby, fidgeting with the aglets dangling from the drawstrings of my hoodie. This was even more nerve wracking than the interview I’d had here two days ago. Perhaps if I had enough experience to be invaluable, the company would work with me; however, this was my first real job. I was barely worth the time it took to apply.
“Mr. Black,” the receptionist called out as she hung up the phone. I shot up from the chair. “Ms. Williams is in conference room three, down the hall to the right, last door on the left.” She stared at me as I walked by, perhaps noticing the creepy color of my eyes. They had turned a darker shade of orange, and my sclera were already darkening.
“Thank you,” I said as she pressed a button to unlock the main doors. Despite how high tech and corporate the building looked, the environment was surprisingly laid back. As I made my way down the hall, the layout of each office was open and bright as employees talked amongst themselves, often laughing or collaborating around a whiteboard or giant flat screens mounted to the walls. I’d always dreamed of starting a career in a place like this, and if I’d come here under different circumstances, I’d be more excited instead of nauseous.
The glass door of conference room three was now in front of me, and I could see the woman I met a couple days ago at the end of a long table staring at her laptop. She was wearing a plum pants suit and gold earrings laced with diamonds that complemented the natural beauty of her ebony complexion. Her hair was a different style today, cut into a bob that gave her even more of a confident, professional presence. After taking a deep breath, I pulled the handle and quietly made my way inside.
“Arthur,” her smile faded when she saw my face. “Oh no. I see why you were so serious over the phone.”
“It’s that obvious, huh?”
“Come, sit,” she said, standing before rolling out a chair for me.
After taking my seat, my mind went blank. I opened my mouth to speak, but instead, I shook my head and looked down at my hands which were folded against the polished wooden tabletop.
“My nephew is a half-turn,” she said, her voice a lot calmer than I thought it would be. “He’s only eighteen, and he started showing when he was a junior in high school. My sister and I discussed how we would handle it, but not even my connections could get him into college. Adam was never really one for academics anyway, and his condition made him more rebellious and moodier than a normal teenager.”
“Did you say Adam?”
“Have you met him?”
“I met an Adam yesterday. Black hair with messy dreads, darker skin, had a bit of an attitude.”
“That’s him,” Williams said with a laugh before sitting. “He ran away from home, and his parents figured it was for the best. He was getting out of control, and I wanted to give him some structure with remote work, but he hated the idea.”
We both sat silently for a moment before I finally said what I didn’t have the guts to earlier.
“Now that you know, I take it the job is off the table.”
She closed her laptop. “That’s up to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Things are going to be more difficult now. You’re going to change physically and mentally, and you’re likely going to be relocated. While I can’t fully understand what you’re going through, this hits close to home.”
I gritted my teeth, already knowing what she was about to say.
“Legally, you can’t work here. No liability insurance covers half-turns, only full-turned werewolves, but there’s nothing that prevents us from allowing you to work remotely. I’m willing to give you the opportunity to prove to the company, and maybe even to people in higher positions, that half-turns are not quite the risk everyone thinks.”
“Really? I can still work for this company?”
She nodded. “This is hush-hush for now until you’ve proven you’re up to the tasks. Working remotely has its own challenges, especially while you’re learning the ropes. Since you’re half-turn, I can’t offer you benefits since you’ll be getting them from the government. However, you will receive a company laptop, phone, and any other equipment you need. We’re also going to need to push your hire date back until you’re in a more stable living condition.”
My face hurt from smiling so hard. I jumped from the chair, extending my hand. “Thank you so much. I swear you won’t regret this.”
She stood, shaking my hand while walking me to the door. “I know I won’t. Do you prefer to be called Arthur?”
“You can call me Art,” I said, reaching for the handle.
“And you can call me Shanice. We have a very casual workplace here, and I like to keep it that way. Any accomodations you need, I’ll make sure you get them. From what I’ve seen, you have a lot of passion, and coming here in person to explain your situation took balls.” She handed me her business card as we stepped into the hallway. “This is my personal cell phone number. Call me when you’re ready to start. I’ll keep the position open for six months. If I don’t hear from you by then, I’ll assume you’ve changed your mind.”
“Don’t worry, I’m definitely calling.”
“See that you do,” she said with a motherly smile. “Try to enjoy the rest of the day. It’s supposed to get cooler later.”
I nodded and began walking back toward the lobby.
“Oh, and if you see Adam again, tell him to stop being a pain in the ass and give his mother a call.”
“You bet,” I said, as she disappeared back into the conference room.
Later that night
The front door was unlocked, and Simon burst into the apartment wearing the creepiest human latex mask I’d ever seen. It had wiery black hair with random bald spots, deep wrinkles around the eyes and mouth, and what made it even more horrifying was the fake nose protruding well past what the material was meant to handle, giving the ‘human’ face an overexaggerated caricature quality. He covered the rest of himself in stitched-together potato sacks which did little to conceal his monstrous shape—oh and his tail was still out and wagging away.
“What the fuck?” I yelled out, running over to the door as an older, white-haired woman ambled unsteadily through the narrow, outside corridor of the complex. She pointed and let out a scream as Simon turned around.
“Jesus, lady–” Before Simon could finish, I slammed the door shut.
“I don’t even know where to begin with this,” I said, my tone exhausted as I pointed at the mask. “Every time I think you can’t get any dumber, you prove me wrong.”
“You like it? The community theater was just throwin’ it away.” He held his arms to the side, his right hand closed as though he was holding something in it. “Give me one of them black frocks and a fedora, and I could give a Derashah at the synagogue downtown.”
My mouth hung open.
“It was a joke.”
“Yeah, and it wasn’t funny.”
He took my hand and placed something metallic into them before backing away and removing the nightmare fuel he wore, letting it all fall on the floor in the corner.
I looked down at what appeared to be gold hoop earrings. “Oh come on. You couldn’t have gotten something a little less flamboyant?”
“They’re ridiculous.” I picked them up with my fingers, and they began to glow. “This is so creepy.”
“You’ll look hot.” Simon walked over to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of beer. “My buddy said to bring you down to his place ASAP before you get too wolfy.”
“I thought we’d do it next week.”
“Can’t. You’re already going to be healing really fast as it is, and he says it’s too much of a pain in the ass if you wait longer. He can’t put studs in like normal, so he’s gotta put yer kuu on directly.”
“I don’t know what any of that means,” I said, feeling a knot in the pit of my stomach. “I really think I should look at more werewolves.”
“Here.” Simon grabbed his dirty, orange hoodie off the floor in the corner of the room and pulled a folded sheet of paper from the pocket. “Since yer so damn anal about everything, I made one.” He handed it to me, and I dropped the kuu earrings on the countertop.
“Alright, let’s see.” My eyes rolled upward the moment I started reading the sloppily-written profile.
Dick reeeeal huge. Like bigger than everyone else.
I like food, beer & sex. Prefer to have them all at the same time.
I jerk off in front of a phone every month, and I kick annoying drunks out of bars for money.
I don’t wear pants and never will.
My baked ziti will make you cum.
I stopped reading. “Prove it.”
“Prove what? You’ve already seen my dick.”
“The thing about the baked ziti.”
Simon flashed a toothy grin, his tail wagging as he walked toward the kitchen. “You sure? Kuu signs are one thing, but this might actually make you fall in love with me.”
“It’s baked ziti, not ambrosia,” I muttered before settling back onto my beanbag chair, flipping through the channels.