We didn't meet any one else as we walked down the stairs of the, amazingly normal looking, apartment complex. Until we got to the lobby, that was.
Zoe greeted the person behind the desk with a breezy, "Hey, Mr. Morph."
I, on the other hand, stared.
He was dark and swarthy, with graying hair pushed back from a square face that looked like it had been roughly hewn from wood. His nose was crooked and his chin jutted out from below a mustache that looked like it might be its own entity. He stared back at me with dark, deep set eyes and gnawed on the end of a rather large cigar with large, white teeth that somehow reminded me of tombstones. He looks like a character out of a book or something.
He looks… awesome.
And he really did. He looked like the type of person who went out one night, wrestled a tiger, foiled a bank robbery, or perhaps took part in it, drank bourbon with some foreign dignitary, and then woke up after a few hours of sleep and did it all over again. And, if character would have a physical form, it would have been him.
While my imagination had been running wild, he had apparently gotten tired of my staring. He unclamped his teeth from the rather abused end of his cigar, and asked in a gravelly voice, "Something bothering you?"
I shook my head rapidly. "No, no. Nothing like that. It's just that… you look like an adventurer." I flushed under the two amused and confused gazes and tried to explain. "I mean, you look like the type of person who could beat a pirate to death with his own peg leg and then go find a crystal treasure in a cave before riding cross-country to stop an assassination. You look… Um… awesome?" I swallowed.
I really need to install a filter on my mouth.
Zoe seemed to be having a rather bad case of silent hysterics, and Mr. Morph was still staring at me.
Then, although I could have been imagining it, the corner of his mouth twitched upwards under his mustache. "I suppose I should take that as a compliment." He stood up, towering over me. It wasn't that he was that tall, because he wasn't, but he was built like a brick and as broad-chested as a bear. "I'm Mr. Morph, and you are?"
Zoe answered for me before I had the chance to. "This is Ashley. She's the new tenant."
He raised an eyebrow. "New tenant? The only new tenant is a werewolf, which would mean…" He took another look at me and shook his head. "It just shows that you never can know. I would have pegged you for a fey."
Zoe nodded. "I know. That's what I thought."
Mr. Morph shook my hand, his palms calloused and warm. "Well then, nice to meet you, Ashley."
"Nice to meet you, too," I mumbled in reply.
Zoe made an impatient, huffing sound from behind me and grabbed my arm. "Come on. There's a lot that I should show you."
Mr. Morph looked back and forth between us. "You two going somewhere?"
"I'm going to show her around the city."
His dark eyes narrowed. "Zoe…" She looked up at him innocently. "You aren't up to anything, are you?"
She gasped. "Me? Why on earth would you say that?"
He snorted at her tone of outraged innocence. "Because I know you."
I looked back and forth between the grinning pixie and the older man, who probably wasn't really a human man. What is going on? And why do I have a growing sense of trepidation?
Zoe shook her head as if she couldn't believe the man's distrust in her and threw an arm over my shoulders. "I'm up to exactly nothing, merely helping out a fellow other-worlder. And, by the way, the incident that I know you're alluding to? That was a complete accident."
He snorted. "Sure it was." And then he turned to me. "Do you have health insurance?"
"Why?" I asked, surprised. That seems like a rather out of the blue question.
"Because, you'll need it."
And now I'm not surprised anymore, I'm perturbed. It's amazing how fast that can happen.
Zoe rolled her eyes at him. "Ha ha. Ashley, say goodbye. He'll have plenty of time to tell you all of my sins later."
"Bye?" I said hesitantly, having little to no idea what they were talking about.
He settled back into his chair and started gnawing on the end of is cigar again. "Have fun. And Zoe, try not to break this one."
And, with that, she proceeded to tug me out of the building and down the street.
"Was he serious?"
"What? No, of course not. You don't need health insurance. It's better if you don't go to a hospital at all, actually. A lot of us, including werewolves, are a bit… different. You'd probably wind up stuck in a cage with men wearing white lab coats poking you with outrageously large needles."
That's… good to know. It also explains why Mom and Dad never took me to the doctor's office.
"Okay, but I was sort of referring to the fact that he just told you not to break 'this one'. Also everything else he said."
She stopped and crossed her arms over her chest. "Okay, he's just mad because I sort of trashed his lobby once. But, really, how was I supposed to know that someone would cut themselves when I had a group of hungry vampires over? Also, the thing about breaking you? Not my fault. What type of shape shifter turns into a bird but can't actually fly? How was I supposed to know that?"
I am so disturbed right now, and I don't have an answer for that.
She continued. "So, you see. He's just being his usual grouchy self. There were perfectly reasonable explanations for what happened. Now, are you ready to go?"
I trotted after her with an inexplicable feeling that I had just let my only chance at avoiding my life getting any stranger slip by.
Then, she started talking. "In this part of town, it's mainly vampires, werewolves, shifters, fey, hobs, those sort of types living here. Not a whole lot of humans, or if they are, it's the more eccentric ones. In fact, this whole city has an abnormally high level of non-human residents." She turned and flashed me a smile. "We've nicknamed it, 'Monstrous-city'. Cute, right? This place even has a reputation among humans as being a little odd."
Before I could get a chance to ask where the heck I actually was, she continued on a totally different topic. "Now, tonight, I'm going to take you out and show you around. There are places where our type congregates and hangs out, and that would be a good starting point to teach you. But… for now… we have to go shopping!"
What? I thought she was going to show me what I needed to know to survive here.
She must have caught the confused and perhaps exasperated look on my face. Raising an eyebrow, she asked, "Is something wrong?"
I shook my head, waving my arms. "No, no. Nothing. I just didn't expect to go shopping."
"Well, I can't take you out dressed like that. So, shopping it is! And don't worry, I'll pay for everything." Seemingly confused as to why I still wasn't jumping for joy, she asked jokingly, "What, do you not like shopping or something?"
"Actually," I admitted, "Not really."
She stopped abruptly and stared at me in something akin to horror before shaking her head. "I'm going to pretend that you didn't even say that. Are you even a girl?"
She shook her head again, muttering something, before grabbing my hand and continuing to haul me down the street.
Actually, I'm not technically sure what I am anymore. I mean, I am still a girl, right? A perfectly normal girl who just happens to turn into a male… werewolf. Uh huh. And I still don't really want to think about it.
"We're here!" Zoe's voice jerked me out of my thoughts, and I looked up at the large dark purple sign above the door we were standing in front of. "Double-Edged."
Okay. I can sort of see that as a name for a clothing store, especially if they catered to non-human peoples.
Zoe pushed open the door and led me in. The inside was painted metallic silver, with the constellations of the night sky in excruciating detail. Everything from leather pants to white lace skirts seemed to be stocked as clothing. She pushed me past some bright pink furry vests and directly into the changing room. "Stay here. I'll bring you some things to try on," she ordered, then drew the curtain closed with a snap and disappeared.
Okay… Apparently she's the one doing the shopping. I should have expected that.
The next moment, a hand was shoved around the curtain, dropping something in my lap. "Try these on."
I sighed. I might as well try to enjoy this. Free clothing. Yay.
Stripping out of my insanely comfortable jeans and shirt, I donned a pair of tight pale black pants and a lavender tank top. Then, I looked in the mirror. I did look cuter and more feminine than I usually did, although the scuffed sneakers didn't quite match the look.
I blinked my eyes rapidly, trying to get rid of the sudden blurriness in my vision, but it only got worse. I closed my eyes and flung out a hand, supporting myself on the wall. Everything was suddenly burning up and my skin was itching painfully. Pain shot through my legs and I collapsed to the ground as a loud ripping sound rent though the air.
Then, as suddenly as it had started, it all stopped, and I was left panting on the floor of the changing room.
W-what just happened? I rubbed my aching forehead, which I'd somehow managed to hit on the wall as I fell to the ground. Ow… Maybe because I haven't eaten for a while? Shaking my head, I looked up from the ground and froze.
What the… Please tell me I'm hallucinating. This makes no sense, whatsoever.
I had expected to see my own reflection in the mirror, and, failing that, one of a male werewolf. But what I saw was neither of those. It was me, but it wasn't.
I'm so incredibly confused.
I'd grown several inches, now probably tall even for a woman, and my hair was somehow shaggier and longer. Not only that, but my features had sharpened, becoming more exotic. And, to top it all off, I had furry, wolf ears perched on top of my head. The ripping sound that I'd heard earlier had been the tank top splitting down the middle, until only the bottom few inches were still intact, and showing far more chest than I was comfortable with. Incidentally, the sudden growth of my chest was what had caused the shirt to rip in the first place. The pants, which had been tight before, now fit like a second skin.
I thought that I turned into a guy werewolf. I shifted and the, to my mind, abnormally large globes on my chest jiggled. Yeah, definitely not a guy.
A familiar feeling of disbelief was taking over my brain.
Things just got a lot more complicated, didn't they?
Zoe's voice spoke up from the other side of the curtain. "What's taking you so long? Come on out so that I can see."
Come on out? Well, I guess I could, but it might be a little odd if someone saw me go in, how I normally look, and then see me like this… I'm not sure that that's a good idea.
Apparently, I was taking too long, because the curtain was pushed aside. Zoe's eyes widened, and she hurriedly closed the curtain with a, "Sorry! I thought my friend was in this one." There was a pause, and then the curtain was yanked aside again, and she did a double take.
I gave her a little wave. "Hi."
She stared, and then said slowly, "I thought… you turned into a alpha werewolf. A guy."
I sighed, shoulders slumping. "Yeah, I thought so, too."
It's not like I was really used to turning into a part canine dude, but at least I thought I knew what to expect. This… is not it. And it really doesn't seem normal, even taking into account all of the abnormalness that my life has recently become.
"Huh," she said, still staring at me. "You got hot."
"Not appreciated," I said flatly.
She flapped a hand at me. "Oh, you know what I meant. You were cute before, but… wow." She reached out and squeezed my newly acquired rack, for lack of a better word, and I let out a squeak that was probably audible for several blocks. Then, said musingly, "So, they're real."
"Of course they're real!" I exploded, cowering away from her with my arms crossed over my chest.
Not normal, not normal at all! That's a clear violation of my personal space. And I just met her!
"Do personal boundaries not matter to all fey, or is it just you?"
"Oh, relax. As you'll come to see, a lot of us other-worlders can be a bit touchy-feely. Don't even get me started on those Sirens. Complete flirts."
Uh huh… I let out a whimper. I want to go home. And find out why I keep spontaneously switching genders and races.
"Well, I think I actually know someone who can help with that. Or, they can explain it at least."
I… really, really need to stop thinking out loud. And then what she said actually permeated the mass of confusion that was my brain.
"Really? Someone can explain this to me? And maybe fix it?" I asked hopefully.
Zoe looked scornful. "What? I didn't say anything about fixing it. That's probably a lost cause, but we might be able to find out what the heck is going on with you, and that might help. Because, honestly, I've never even heard of something like this before."
That, funnily enough, does not make me feel any better.
She continued, "And we can get you a glamour at the same time, too. Perfect. We just need a few more touches…" A moment later, a rather chic looking grey fedora was crammed over my twitching ears, and she tossed long, black coat at me, long enough to cover my tail."
I hurriedly put it on, and stood there, rather uncomfortably, while she tapped her foot and looked at me critically. "Right. That'll do."
With that, she grabbed my hand and tugged me out of the changing room, threw a wad of rather suspicious looking cash at a very surprised looking salesperson, and dragged me out of the store, leaving my other clothes behind.
"Where are we going?" I managed to ask as we narrowly avoided running into a bicyclist, a hotdog stand, and three other pedestrians, in that order.
"To the Underground, of course," she replied over her shoulder, ducking left and causing two cars to almost run into each other.
My eye started to twitch wildly. Uh oh. That can't be good. That, along with a place that's sketchy enough to be called, "The Underground". But, if someone can explain what's happening to me, then things should actually get simpler, right? Right?
Wow, it's been a long time since I updated this story. I had to reread to it remember what the heck was going on. But... I really do like the premise for this story, so I'm going to try to continue it. I'm pretty sure I was cackling inwardly just imagining all of the hilariously messed up things that can happen when you're a gender-shifting werewolf. Plus, there really aren't enough female werewolf stories. So, with that, I hope anyone who's reading this likes the new chapter!