Terry nods at me as I walk into the bar. He is busy making drinks for the few human customers that sit in front of him, pouring different-coloured liquids into his Boston Shaker before mixing them furiously. I heard somewhere that the face you make when shaking a cocktail mixer is the one you make during sex. Terry’s grin never leaves his face and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
“Over here, Claire!” I hear a soft voice shout above the hum of the bar. It isn’t hard for me to find Lilly sitting next to a window. She waves at me and beckons me over. Her perfectly curled hair, a deep, chestnut brown, bounces with each movement. Unlike the majority of the people I associate with, there is a genuine happiness in her eyes as I approach.
“Hola,” I flash a smile at her as I sit down. “How’s it going, girl?”
“Same old, same old,” she takes a sip of her drink – some fun martini, undoubtedly. “A lot of people came into emerg last night. Seven people attacked by an animal. It was weird.”
Lilly is my best friend, perhaps my only true friend. I guess I can consider Terry in that category too, but I try not to think about how little I actually know about him. I push the bartender out of my mind and focus on Lilly. I’ve known her ever since I moved to Guelph, back when she was just a student at the university. For a bit we even shared an apartment before she had to move away to become a nurse. She makes me feel normal, which is something I have never felt without her.
I am about to ask her what had sent so many to the emergency room when I see her eyes drift over to the door. I glance in the same direction and see a girl, a few years younger than us, walk through the door to the bar. She is dark-skinned and has the hair on one side of her head buzzed short. Depending on the light, her hair is either black or purple and shimmers between the two as she walks. Her eyes scan the bar, as if looking for someone. When she doesn’t find them, she makes her way to the bar and orders a drink from Terry. Which reminds me that I’m getting thirsty.
“She’s cute,” I say to Lilly.
The most awkward part of mine and Lilly’s friendship was when she had tried to make a move on me a few years ago. I knew she was gay, but had always assumed she knew that I wasn’t. So when she tried to kiss me one night and I turned away, awkwardly giggling, she was too embarrassed to talk to me for a few days. You have to be a real asshole to let something like that ruin what we had, though.
“No,” Lilly says, her eyes boring into the purple-haired girl’s back, “she’s hot. But tonight is about you and me.”
“Well one of us has to get me a drink,” I put a ten dollar bill on the table, “and it would be a real shame if you were just sitting here while I awkwardly stand next to her.”
Lilly snatches the bill from the table and gets out of her chair. “Beer?” she asks while walking away.
“Anything but Pabst,” I half-shout back.
Her floral-patterned summer dress sways in time with her hair as she walks. I laugh as I juxtapose the two of us; Lilly with her incredible beauty, bubbly personality, a real girly-girl. And then there’s me, with my short, black hair, black jeans that are torn in more than one place (black hides bloodstains better), and a Rolling Stones t-shirt.
Lilly orders my drink and then starts chatting and smiling at purple hair. It makes me happy to see her having a good time. Despite our friendship, Lilly knows nothing of what I actually do. She thinks I work overnights at a factory in town, which allows me to work on any contracts when there are less people around. It has been tough, but I have done everything I can to keep her out of my real world. She is too innocent, too happy, to know the truth.
A buzz from my pocket snaps me out of my thoughts. I pull out my phone and open up an email from Rocco. How emails can be sent from the Underworld to here is still a mystery to me. I guess monsters need cat videos and porn too.
Strange animal attacks at the Conservation Area.
Bites filled with bacteria. Tracks unknown. No physical evidence found.
Theories: shapeshifter, hellhound, basilisk.
Fuck Rocco and his signature. He does it just to annoy me, that spectral creep. I sigh and lock my phone. I was really hoping to have a nice, normal, drunken night with Lilly. Suddenly a glass is placed in front of me, two fingers of whiskey inside, nice and neat.
“Terry said you would prefer this,” she smiles at me as she sits back down. I take a sip of the amber liquid. Terry was right.
“So what’s her name?”
“Kayla. She is a post-grad student in art history, loves Renaissance painters, and has a tattoo just above –.”
“I don’t need to know,” I cut her off. “I don’t even want to know how you got that information out of her. But I have some bad news, Lil.”
A frown appears on her face that feels more like a punch to the gut than a look.
“Unfortunately. Some accident, someone got hurt. We aren’t really sure what happened, but they need me to come in and take a look. I’m hoping it only takes an hour or two. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“You’ll owe me a drink,” she says, trying to hide the smile that is normally plastered on her face under a pout.
“More than one,” I promise as I slam back the rest of the whiskey. The burn felt good. “Now go talk to Kayla some more, she should keep you happy while I’m gone. Just let me know if you decide to turn in early.”
“You got it, boss.”
* * *
The life of a contractor has its perks. I can work for a few hours a night and make more than most people would earn in a month. There are no company benefits, but becoming well-known in the Underworld introduces you to some people that can introduce you to some other people, though I use the term people loosely here. As a result, my basement is filled with an entire arsenal of weapons. Some of them of this world – pistols, shotguns, blades, etc. – and some of them a little more specialized.
I lift my kula from its place on the wall. Right now the weapon looks like a silver sword, but pushing a hidden button on the guard causes the blade to collapse, becoming a bladed whip made of wicked, barbed segments of blades. I opt for the kula over my silver dagger.
My sickle will be able to kill this thing if it’s a hellhound or a shapeshifter. A basilisk is different, though. Only silver will pierce the hide of a basilisk. I sincerely doubt it’s one of those overgrown salamanders, since they are only supposed to live in Northern Africa and its stinger literally causes the skin and flesh of its prey to melt off. The lizard usually slurps up the human slushie. If it was a basilisk, these people would never make it to the emergency room.
But better safe than sorry.
I carry the kula to my car, wrapped in my leather jacket. The last thing I need is for the neighbours to see me carrying a weapon out of the house again. I toss the bundle into the passenger seat of my Mazda and start the engine. It is a cool evening, but not cold enough to keep the windows up. Nothing relaxes me more than driving with the windows down, some classic rock blaring from my speakers.
The clock in my car reads 10:41 as I pull up to Guelph Lake, a weathered sign marking its entrance. There is a toll booth a little further down that probably has some sort of security, so I pull my car over to the side of the road and hop out. I don’t know the park that well, but I do know where most people camp. This thing, whatever it was, seems to be hunting for sport, so the campground would be a good place to start. Despite the attacks, I guarantee some stupid kids will still choose to sleep with only canvas protecting them.
Sure enough, I stumble upon a group of high school kids sitting around a campfire, roasting hotdogs and drinking. I can see from here that the group is comprised of three guys, each of them with an identical bottle in their hand. Underage and drinking coolers, how counterculture of them.
I decide to sit and wait for ten minutes. There can’t be too many campers around tonight, so I might as well make sure these kids are safe before moving on. There is a slight breeze that gives my exposed arms goosebumps. The clouds above shift, revealing a bright, perfectly-round full moon. I wouldn’t mind camping on a night like tonight, minus the murderous creature roaming around.
As the kids open another drink each, this one a vibrant blue colour, my mind starts to wander. A contractor’s main job is to preserve the balance between this world and the Underworld. If something somehow breaks through, I kill it, simple as that. When it comes to hellhounds and basilisks, however, they aren’t intelligent enough to come through on their own. They either accidentally stumble through a weak point, where the barrier is thin, or are forcibly pushed through by something else. Either way, there are certain creatures that are just doing what they are born to do. Those are my least favourite contracts.
One of the kids gets up and wanders towards the edge of the trees, away from me. Even from here the sound of him unzipping his pants and pissing all over Mother Nature reaches my ears. Drink two and he is already emptying his bladder. He’s in for a long night.
“What the fuck?” I hear him mutter, mixed with the frantic sound of the kid trying to do up his pants. “Fuck, fuck ,fuck!” He turns and runs back to his friends, nearly tripping over one of the tents.
“Calm down, Taylor,” one of the others laughs. “Did you see a chipmunk or something?”
Taylor looks like he would be pissing himself if he hadn’t just done so all over the bushes. I get ready to move, just in case it’s the thing I’m looking for. Taylor grabs one of the metal rods they had been using to roast their food and holds it out in front of him defensively.
“I’m not messing around here, man,” Taylor moves so he is behind one of his friends, the one who hasn’t spoken yet. “I’m telling you, I saw something move.”
The brush where Taylor had relieved himself begins to move. I take two steps forward before stopping myself. A raccoon scurries out until its fear of the three boys overcomes its desire for the food it smelled. I almost laugh out loud. I have to bite my hand to stop myself. Poor Taylor, he will never live this down.
“Run!” The male voice is accompanied by a piercing shriek. From the other side of the campsite appear two more people, a boy and a girl, the same age as Taylor and his friends. They are in nothing but their underwear. “Werewolf!”
There is no such thing as a werewolf, every sup and every contractor knows that. Evidently the others did not believe him either. It is a surprise to us all, then, as a six-foot-something creature steps out from where the couple had come from, looking exactly like a Hollywood werewolf. Its shoulders are as wide as a bodybuilder’s with muscles to match. Its entire body is hidden behind dark grey fur, save for the blood that mats it in places, staining its claws and hair almost black. Its head looks just like a wolf, blood and saliva dripping from its fangs.
The thing – the werewolf – takes in the campsite, as if it has stumbled on some buried treasure. The couple waste no time in getting out of there, abandoning the three boys to their fate. The werewolf smiles, an action that is unnatural on the lupine face, before pouncing at the high schoolers.
I am moving before it does, however. My body erupts into tendrils of shadow and cover as much distance as I can in a fraction of a second. A wave of nausea hits me as I reform. In the Underworld I can shadow step as frequently as I want. In this world, however, my powers are more limited. This world doesn’t like sups.
Still, the one shadow step is enough. I have the kula in my hand already and swing. As I bring the blade around, I hit the release on it, allowing the weapon to extend into a deadly whip. It extends ten feet in front of me, cutting just above Taylor’s head. It is just enough for the last two blade segments to catch the werewolf’s shoulder, embedding themselves into the beast’s arm and knocking its pounce off-course.
“Run!” I shout at the kids who have been petrified by fear. “Get the fuck out of here!”
The werewolf roars in anger. That seems to get the kids going, who waste no time in leaving me and the beast alone. I tug the kula and press the button at the same time, tearing it out of the creature and retracting it back to its sword form.
“What kind of asshole are you?” I ask it. The thing doesn’t attack me right away. It knows that I’m not like its other prey.
It howls in response.
“Don’t give me that crap,” I say to it. “Werewolves aren’t real. And even if they were, that silver should have freaked you out. You took that blow like a champ.”
“Why do you have to ruin my fun?” it growls at me.
All of a sudden its body begins to contort, bones snapping and skin tearing as it morphs. Fur disappears and its face is more… human. But not quite. By the time the disgusting sounds are over, I see what looks like a man with no skin. Red muscles and veins are exposed to the night air, but it doesn’t seem to mind. The natural state of a shapeshifter is grotesque.
“I bet you get all the shapeshifter ladies with those looks, don’t you?”
"At least I can change how I look,” he spits as he talks. “You are unfortunate enough to be stuck looking like that.”
We’ve already covered how I feel about people insulting my looks, haven’t we? So I really don’t need to justify it as I conjure my sickle in my hand and rush at the shapeshifter. It is unarmed, so this should be easy. Maybe I’ll even play with him for a bit.
But, faster than I’ve ever seen a shapeshifter change before, the werewolf is back. Its claws are nearly as sharp as my sickle, so I drop to my knees and slide under its horizontal slash. It is fast too, and dodges as I lash out with the kula. Before it can pounce on me, I twist my body and bring the silver weapon around again. Releasing it into the barbed whip, I score another hit on the shapeshifter. This time I feel the blade segments dig into bone.
But the werewolf form that it’s wearing is thick with muscle, enough to protect the kula from doing any real damage. I pull sharply on the handle, trying to knock the thing off balance. It’s too strong, though, and instead grabs one of the blade segments and pulls me towards it, ignoring the blade as it bites into his hand.
I stumble forward and trip into the dirt. The shapeshifter howls in joy, thinking that it has won. I look up just in time to see it barreling towards me, then allow my body to explode into shadows, just for an instant, and reappear behind him. My vision swims, but I manage to lash out with my sickle. It cuts through his flesh and gets caught between two ribs. The werewolf stumbles away with both of my weapons lodged in it.
That was my second shadow step in just a few minutes. In this world, my body can’t handle that. I am hoping that the shapeshifter won’t attack me while I’m throwing up. Out of the corner of my blurred vision, I can see him coming at me again. Conjuring my sickle is significantly easier than teleporting, so I manage to do that, making it materialize in my hand. I stop retching just in time to dodge the werewolf and get my sickle up. The blade is sharper than anything I have ever seen and the momentum of the werewolf is enough to drive the beast into and past the weapon. Unfortunately for the shapeshifter, that meant the sickle cut straight through his shoulder joint. A large, hairy werewolf arm flops to the dusty ground, snapping and twitching until it resembles the shapeshifter’s natural state.
I hear a sound that might be a whimper. When I glance up I see the werewolf grip where its arm used to be. It looks at me, hatred and pain in its eyes, and then turns to run away.
“Not so fast.”
I quickly grab the handle of the kula and hold on tight, driving my heels into the ground. I act as an anchor, forcing the werewolf to twist and fall as it tries to move. I want to shadow step over it, but can’t risk it, not after doing it twice already. So I throw my sickle at it like a boomerang. Only my sickle can do what I need it to do, which is take off the shapeshifter’s head with just the force of my throw.
The eyes are still filled with malice, even as the wolf head rolls away from its body. In a few seconds the whole thing has become the body of a skinless man again. I collect the body parts and toss them into the fire that is still burning from Taylor and his friends. The shapeshifter will crisp, but this fire will not incinerate him. Not without help. So I reach into one of the inner pockets of my jacket and pull out a vial of thick, black liquid. The smell is awful as I pour it onto the fire, like burning tires mixed with a bloated corpse. The flames turn as black as the potion that I had poured on it, but die out a few seconds later. Nothing, not even ash, is left in their place.
* * *
It is almost midnight by the time I get back to the Albion. The girl taking money for everyone’s cover is new and doesn’t recognize me. Instead of making her night rough, I give her a five and walk past her. She’ll realize soon enough that I work here… kind of.
I find Lilly sitting at the same table she was at when I got there earlier this evening. She’s sipping on another martini, this one a pretty pink. She smiles when she sees me.
“I thought you had abandoned me!” she says, then waves to Terry. He nods at us.
“And I thought you would have abandoned me,” I smirk.
“Please, bros before hoes.”
“I’m not sure that’s how this works, Lil.”
“Just go with it,” she winks at me, and I just go with it.
We chat for an hour, about nothing in particular. Terry continues to feed us drink after drink. It all feels so normal, like something you would find any friends doing. I smile and I laugh and I’m happy. All I have to do is ignore the voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me that, sooner or later, I will have to drink a potion to go see a ghost to get paid for killing a shapeshifter that had a werewolf fetish.
I don’t know if it is Lilly, the alcohol, or both, but eventually that voice shuts up.