My name is James.
I'll admit I made mistakes. Okay, a lot of mistakes, but I'm only human, right? Or at least, I was.
When I was 17, I got my girlfriend, Cindy, pregnant. I was a little panicked, but I loved Cindy and I wanted to get through it with her. So I dropped out of school, got a job, and asked her to marry me. She accepted and for two years, I really thought we were gonna make it. I was happier than I'd ever been in my life.
But remember how I make mistakes?
I had a . . . small drinking problem. I wasn't wasting my money on beer. Of course not! All the money I made went to Cindy and our little girl and besides, I was too young to go out and buy beer on my own. But I had a few friends. I wasn't really sure where they got it all, but I wasn't complaining. Sometimes I'd forget to come home. But Cindy . . . Cindy would always forgive me. I loved Cindy.
One night, me and my friends were drunk as dogs, roaming the streets and making too much noise. We ran into a group of guys.
We've gotten ourselves in fights before, most of them our own fault, but this was different. We realized too late that whatever we were fighting . . . it wasn't - they weren't - human. I remember one of my friends going down and not getting up again. Lots of blood. I don't remember much, though, and for that I'm glad. I don't think I could live if I saw what those monsters did to my friends. Before I lost consciousness, I remembered looking up into these eyes.
My arm was crushed in its teeth; no chance of escaping, then. I heard a voice asking if I survived, would I like to join them? I remember saying, "Screw you," or at least trying to. My voice wasn't working right.
Then I lost consciousness.
I don't know how long I was out of it. I think I was out for maybe 15 hours, because the sun was just about to set when I started for home. I'd expected my arm to be busted when I woke, but it was good as new. I fact, I didn't have a scratch on me, just a huge headache. I thought I must've gotten too drunk and hallucinated the whole thing.
Cindy freaked. She always did when I'd been gone longer than 12 hours. Usually I just waited for her to cool down and things were all right again, but that time . . . I don't know. Her voice just seemed so loud and my head felt like it was gonna explode. I yelled back at her. It was the biggest fight we've ever had.
I broke things.
Then I broke.
It was like a ripping sound. I wasn't sure if it was my shirt or my skin. I remember screaming. Cindy was screaming, too. I fell to the ground and writhed like a worm on a hook.
Ever felt your entire body rearrange itself?
Yeah. Neither had I.
Fur rippled down my body, thick and kind of curly. My teeth grew. My normally harmless fingernails turned into disgustingly deadly claws.
I became a monster. My screams turned into howls, but Cindy's screaming just got louder. She threw things at me; something small and hard hit my temple and made it bleed. Later I'd learn it was her wedding ring, but I didn't realize it then. I didn't realize a lot then. My senses were heightened so much that I couldn't make out anything.
Cindy's screaming was so loud I couldn't tell where it was coming from. I could smell fear everywhere. My vision was a gray mess. I could see things flying and something told me to run, to escape, but I was trapped. There were walls here. Something hit me and I went out like a light. I don't know if I ran into a wall or if maybe Cindy hit me really hard with something. I have a feeling it was running into the wall. It takes a lot to bring down a werewolf.
When I woke, Cindy had taken my daughter and ran. I never saw them again.
My "small" drinking problem was no longer small. I got fired from my job, mostly because I wasn't there, but my boss never liked me anyway. He was just waiting for an excuse to get rid of me. I moved out of the house I had been living in with Cindy. I didn't see the point in sleeping there when every night I turned into a giant wolf and roamed the woods.
Eventually, I was able to control myself. If I distracted myself from violent emotions at night, I could keep my human form. Some nights were harder than others. Full moon nights were impossible.
I was pretty good at distracting myself. I drank and drank. When I was out of money, I'd gamble. If I was lucky, I'd win. If not, they'd beat me up 'til they thought I was dead. I never fought back. I didn't want to accidently kill them. I was already too drunk to feel anything, anyway. Besides, I was as good as new the next day.
Keeping my temper was hard. Eating fixed that. The wolf inside of me would behave when it was full, but sometimes I went crazy when smelling food and it wasn't in front of me.
As unlikely as it seemed, I made friends. I guessed they felt sorry for me. One was Sam who worked at the bar I went to. He said I was his favorite costumer and I would give a groan in answer, but he did give me free food whenever I had trouble keeping my hunger down.
Another was Joey. I bought a motorcycle from him that I was slowly paying him back for. I think I gave him a dollar.
And then there was Matt. Matt was . . . just there for me. We would do stuff together, talk to each other. The whole best man thing. I told them about my wife, how she left me, my kid, but I never mentioned what I really was. Never told anyone. They'd ask me if I had a place to stay and I would lie to them. They never believed me, but let me go anyway. They knew that I bathed in the public bathrooms.
I was weird. My behavior was . . . well, I guess it was almost dog-like. Sometimes when I was sad I'd just whine like a dog. Or I'd growl when I was angry. I think that's why my new friends liked me. I was interesting and fun to pick on. I spent four years like that. I still had Cindy's wedding ring. Sometimes I'd just stare at it without thinking.
I was doing just that one day. Sulking, that's what Sam called it. I was at his place, my head resting on the counter, watching her ring. I was tired. I was always tired. Especially on nights when I let the wolf run free out in the woods.
"Hey James!" Sam shouted at me.
I made a noise that was more or less an acknowledgment that he was there.
"When you getting a job?"
"I don't think James is capable of having a job," Joey replied from his position in front of the small TV in the corner of the bar. "He sleeps too much . . . like an old man. How old are you now? 50?" I was easily the youngest of all of them.
"Can't remember," I said, cracking a grin. I rolled the small ring on the counter with my finger. "Feel like a hundred."
"Seriously, James. Get up off the counter. You're drooling all over it." I reluctantly lifted my head. My hair dangled in my eyes. I should've probably cut it so I could see better, but sometimes I didn't like seeing, so I just left it like that. Sam cleaned the space where I'd been.
"I wasn't drooling," I muttered like a four-year-old. I had been known to drool before.
"Listen, James. There's a bunch of 'Help Wanted' flyers outside. Why don't you go look?"
I sat there, yawning, making no indication that I was going to move.
"James, get off your dumb ass and look at the damn flyers!" Matt threw his cigarette butt at me and I moved.
"Fine, but don't expect me to lend you any of my extra money."
"What extra money?" Matt shouted out to me as I closed the door behind me. It was probably too cold out to go out in just my T-shirt, but I didn't have a coat. It didn't matter, anyway. Ever since I became a werewolf, the cold never bothered me. In fact, I was almost always a little warm, so sometimes the winter air felt good. Just . . . sometimes people stare at you when you're dressed like I was in the middle of the snow. Winter was over now and spring was coming soon. I walked up to the telephone pole and ripped off the first flyer that I saw and returned to my spot at the bar.
I slapped the piece of paper on the counter. "Job," I declared like I had accomplished some amazing feat instead of just crossing the street to get a stupid flyer. "Gimme a phone so I can call them."
Sam was looking at the flyer. "House cleaning? You want to become some sorta maid?"
Oh. I should've looked at it. The paper was pink. "Of course! It's always been my lifelong dream!" Maid. Great.
"Do you even know how to clean a house?" Joey asked.
"Sure, you get a tub o' water, stick the house in there for a few hours and you're done."
"Hey, look at the address! Isn't that the place that everyone says is haunted?" asked Sam.
Haunted? I grunted, unimpressed.
Joey came over to look at the flyer. "The Newbury place? Yeah. They say that 50 years ago, the oldest daughter went crazy. Killed her family. Slit their throats. Didn't have enough evidence to prove that she did it, though. They say she still lives there. And at night, sometimes you can hear the souls of her victims scream."
I glared at them. "Are you saying that I'm going to clean the house of a crazy, throat-slitting old lady!?"
Joey shrugged. "Sorry, man - looks like it. Hey, since you're gonna die anyway, can I have my bike back? You never bothered paying for it, anyway." I ignored him.
I jumped over the counter, grabbing the flyer on the way, heading for Sam's phone that was in the kitchen. "Using your phone!" I called, which would be the closest thing he'd get to me asking permission.
"Man, it's weird how much energy that guy has for being so lazy the rest of the time," I heard Joey say. I should probably take it down a notch. So I could move fast when I wanted to. I was just usually too depressed to do much moving.
I let the phone ring. I was about to hang up when I finally got an answer. An elderly woman answered and for a split second I panicked.
I shook my head. What was wrong with me? Nothing could hurt me; I shouldn't be afraid of anything. I made a mental note to pound Joey.
"Um, I'm calling about the 'Help Wanted' flyer? The cleaning job?"
"Oh good! How soon can you start!?" She sounded so relieved that I felt kinda good that I was helping someone.
"Well . . . whenever."
"Can you come tomorrow? I'll give you a tour of the house."
"Sure." She hung up and I strutted back to the guys, giving them a smug grin. If I'd known getting a job would be that easy, I would've tried harder.
"Get the job?" Matt asked.
"Of course I did! Starting tomorrow. Might as well do something since I have some free time," I said, as if the idea had been mine all along.
"Time to celebrate. Sam, the usual!" Joey exclaimed.
I sat down in my accustomed seat, hoping that Sam forgot how many of 'the usual' I'd already had today.
But it was Matt that caught me. "Not too much James, you got work tomorrow."
The address was on the flyer, so I had no problem getting there. Man, was that place big. It wasn't a house; it was a mansion. I wasn't house cleaning.
I was mansion cleaning.
It shouldn't really have mattered, though. I sucked at both. I could barely clean myself. This wasn't gonna last long.
I rode my motorcycle down the long twisting driveway. I saw an old man on a riding lawnmower. He might've looked at me funny, but I was moving too fast to get a good look at him.
I rang the doorbell and the doors - the big, humungous, person-crushing doors - opened with an eerie creak and I flinched. Things like this had never creeped me out before. It was almost like an instinct. Instinct was telling me something was wrong. Or it was Joey. I'd forgotten to pound him before I left.
The old lady that I had talked to on the phone answered the door. I could tell by her voice.
"You must be the lad who is here to help me manage the house!" she said, rather excitedly. Wait 'til she realized that I wasn't good at 'managing'. "I am Mrs. Mindel. What is your name?"
"Come in, come in, James!" I walked into a large foyer with two grand staircases.
"So, do you live here all by yourself?" I asked, thinking of the old man outside. 'Course, he could just be the gardener.
"Oh no, I don't live here! I just take care of the house. Rather large house." She laughed. "My husband takes care of the outside work, but besides him there's just me. And the Mistress, of course. It's a lot of work and I can't keep people here for very long." Her eyes widened and she shut her mouth, her eyes flicking from my face to the floor and back again. She smiled again, but her eyes were worried.
Her hands fluttered like they were trying to escape her wrists and she laughed shrilly. "The Mistress doesn't like too many people."
"Great," I sighed. The crazy old 'Mistress' scared everyone away.
"Oh, but she never leaves her room. As long as you stay away from her room, she should be fine with you."
I relaxed. Of course. I'd probably never see her.
Besides, what could an old woman do to a werewolf?
Mrs. Mindel gave me a tour of the mansion. It was a beautiful place to live, but I could tell no one had lived in these rooms for years. The house smelled musty and it made me sneeze a lot. The human scent I could smell was Mrs. Mindel. As we got to the higher floors, I vaguely smelled a new scent. It was slightly strange, but I assumed it was the Mistress. This scent made me feel a little dizzy and I was happy when we left the floor.
"Things that you'll be doing are the regular cleaning stuff: vacuuming, dusting, washing the floors and windows -"
"Um, listen, lady" - Oh, shit; why didn't I say her name?! "Uh, I. . . . Wanna know a secret?" Mrs. Mindel looked a little startled, but I leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "I don't really know anything about cleaning."
Her face brightened. "Oh! That's okay! You'll learn! It's not that hard. Well, it's hard work, but it's not hard to learn."
Wait, did she say hard? I wasn't really into doing hard.
Then I learned the wonders of . . . the vacuum cleaner. When she turned it on, I must have jumped eight feet into the air. The thing nearly blew my eardrums out.
"Sorry, dear. Did I startle you?" Mrs. Mindel asked as she flipped off the switch of the vacuum.
"Is it supposed to sound like that!?"
"Um . . . well, yes. Then you just push it across all the rugs. If you put your foot on this peddle, it unlocks and it'll bend like this." She started to demonstrate, but I wasn't paying attention.
I couldn't do this. I was going to do this for the rest of my life? Panic made my knees weak.
"Um, you know what?" I was all too ready to get outta there. "I don't really think -"
"I'm so happy that you're here," the woman interrupted. "It's so hard managing the house and the Mistress. I just feel like God has finally sent me some help." She was on the verge of tears. I felt like I could shoot myself. "Oh, excuse me; I'm getting all teary-eyed. It's just the silly sentimentality of an old woman, don't you worry. Did you have something you wanted to say?"
"Just how excited I am about this new job!" I had probably the fakest smile in the world, but at least she was happy.
I could always shoot myself later. All I'd need was a silver bullet or two.
That was my first day as a maid. 'Course I didn't actually do anything that day. The fun and games were just about to start.
Well, at least I had a job.