"...And it's not that I don't like chocolate. I love chocolate! It's literally one of the best things in this world. All I'm saying is that I don't like chocolate chips in my ice cream, that's all. I love ice cream, even a flavor as plain, old, boring vanilla is amazing. And I love chocolate almost more than life itself. But I like the two to be separate, you know?"
"I mean, I like cheese, I like snickers, but would I ever have a cheese wrapped snickers? No, I don't believe I would."
"I don't understand why chocolate chips are so popular. Chocolate sprinkles is another one, I mean, why does everyone automatically assume you like chocolate sprinkles just because you love chocolate? Well, come to think of it I do actually really like chocolate sprinkles. But they're on top of things, not in things, so I don't think they really count as being in the chocolate chip category."
"Karen, for god's sake!"
"Yeah?" Karen pressed the phone to her ear, not because she couldn't hear her mother on the other end but because any kind of warmth in the chilly night was very much welcome. She changed hands and put the phone to the other ear, she had walked out of the door without gloves on that morning and she was regretting it. Around her, the paths were shiny with freshly fallen rain that perfectly reflected the large moon above her. When did that happen? She could have sworn the sky was orange and the sun just setting a minute ago.
"Karen, maybe it's time for you to find some actual friends to talk to about these, obviously very interesting, observations you seem to enjoy going on and on about?" her mother asked.
Karen growled. "Not this again, mom."
"How did the job hunt go today?"
"I looked. I did look," Karen said, nodding to herself, "There were none that seemed interesting." That was a lie. She had been job hunting all day, walking all over the city, handing out her resumes, trying to sell herself to potential employers as best she could. The last place she had almost begged and that was only a part-time job at the checkout counter in a small supermarket. No one wanted her.
"You have to stop being so picky," her mother scolded her. "Just pick one."
"Yes, yes I know." Karen stopped in a puddle, she stomped it a few times making the water splash over her black boots. She had walked too much that day, in high heels she wasn't used to, she could feel her feet hurting with every step. She longed to get back home and out of her nice black pants and ironed shirt and into something comfortable. Like her old sweatpants and that Mickey Mouse t-shirt that was way too big. She imagined she could hear the clothes calling for her.
"Or perhaps you should take this time to do something productive?" her mother suggested.
"What are you talking about?"
"Grandchildren." The word pushed out of her mother's lips so fast she knew she had been waiting for a moment to force the idea on her. But Karen just rolled her eyes. "It's not fitting for a woman your age to roll your eyes." How did she know? Karen had no chance to open her mouth to argue before her mother had started talking again. "I had your sister when I was twenty, think about it." And Karen often did. She often thought about how she absolutely was not going to end up heavily pregnant on her wedding photo just like her mother.
"Different times now, mom." Karen sighed. She had just turned twentyone and was nowhere near ready for kids.
But her mother was relentless. "You and Colin have been together for a while now, he has a good job, a baby is just the thing you two lovebirds need." It most definitely was not. Colin was fresh out of college, a business major, but the only job he could find was as a used car salesman a little way out of the city. Minimum wage, but still better than Karen's no wage. Karen had dropped out of college first year, she didn't like it and didn't fit in. Instead, she worked late hours at a local minimart, not far from their apartment. The minimart closed down, it couldn't handle the competition from K-mart down the street and now she was out of a job. "You know your sister's hippie husband is sterile." He wasn't a hippie, he was a massage therapist, and they had struggled with fertility problems for a while. "Probably all those drugs he smoked."
"Mom, I have to go, I think the line is cracking up."
"I want grandchildren, Karen, I'm not getting any younger."
"Mom? Mom, I can't hear you. Mom?" Karen hung up. She lied, of course, her mother was coming through clearly. Too clearly. She put the phone back in her bag and wrapped her arms around herself. It was cold when she had walked out of the supermarket and into the crisp evening air but she hadn't expected it to turn this cold. She could see her own breath in the air and the moon above had a frosty blue ring around it. She had called her mother for one reason only, to have a friendly voice in her ear while she took a shortcut through Central Park. As much as she annoyed her, her mother was one of the few people she enjoyed talking to. She had never been a people person and never would be. She sought a source of light in the impending night, searching the sky above her, but New York's glittering skyline only added to the shadows she was trying to avoid. Why did fall evenings have to be so dark? She shuddered and started walking faster. Instead of sticking to the path she took another shortcut and ran across the grass. Only the grass was slippery and wet and her boot decided to try to outrun her on its own. She ended up sliding across the grass on her ass. Not a proud moment. Never run across the grass in heels, she mentally noted and growled at herself. She got up, wiping her sore butt, all grass stained and wet. "Oh for fuck's sake," she yelled angrily.
Rustling in a nearby bush made her jump. For a split second she wanted to panic, but then she got a hold of herself again. Don't be stupid, Karen, it's just a squirrel. She continued to walk, half sliding, across the grass. The long shadows from the trees had started to catch up to her. A light flickered above her, lampposts were turning on now. "Took your time, didn't you?" she told them. She felt safer now, now that the paths were lit at least and an orange glow bathed the wet trees and grass, making them sparkle. It was almost a beautiful sight and she found herself admiring the view. Another bush rustled. This time closer to her. She rolled her eyes and mentally scolded herself once again, there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of, it was probably the wind anyway. She walked along the path, came across a bench and sat down. She needed to catch her breath, not from the walk, but from the day she had had. The bench was cold, mostly because her pants were still wet, but she ignored it. She had to build up the strength to go home and announce her failure. Yet again.
She rummaged through her bag to find any sort of comfort; a chocolate bar she may have forgotten, maybe an apple, a stupid breath mint, anything, but all she could get her hands on was a bunch of her resumes. She pulled them out and skimmed through the pages, silently cursing everywhere she had been that day, some places hadn't even bothered even pretending to take it. Glancing at the large trash can next to the bench, she contemplating throwing the stack in out of anger and defeat. Deciding against it, she pushed the offending pieces of paper away from her, dumping them unceremoniously on her lap before she rubbed her fingers together, breathed on them to keep them warm. She should probably start walking again, it was too cold to sit down. A rustling in the bush next to her caught her off guard and she dropped her bag on the ground. "Oh, will you fuck off, you stupid squirrel!" she yelled at the bush and stood up, clutching the resumes in her hand, crunching the paper in her palm. The rain started pouring down again, now she wasn't just miserable, she was wet and miserable.
But it was not a squirrel that answered her. A low growl made Karen take a few steps back, ignoring her bag on the ground. A dog? She looked around for any potential owner. None. And when she looked back at the bush, what appeared in front of her was no dog.
Backlit by the flickering lamppost, a large beast rose from out of the bushes. Karen froze, unable to move, her breath caught in her throat. She didn't know what she was looking at, but this was no dog. She could make out no features of this hulking monster other than small, beady eyes that reflected the moonlight, making them shine. Ferocious and wild, they focused on her, narrowing with a snort. She wanted to scream, to run, to do anything other than face this monstrosity, but still, she was rooted to the spot, panic clawing up her spine. With a heavy thud, it took one step towards her, stretching its back to its full height. Moving further into the light of the lamppost, Karen gasped audibly. Fangs. Large fangs. In a large mouth, hanging open in a twisted snarl. Pointy ears twitching back, fur, so much fur, on a massive body.
Wolf, her brain screamed at her, Wolf! But it couldn't be. It was the size of a horse. Standing on its hind legs. There were no wolves in New York City. Every argument she attempted to throw at herself, trying to explain this, was pointless. Who cared what it was? All she cared about was making her body work with her and run. If only her damn body would cooperate!
The wolf rolled its massive shoulders, the wet fur shaking from the action, throwing its head back, the wide, gray chest exposed as it let out a loud, bone-chilling howl that made Karen cower. And slip on the wet grass out of shock. She fell, her shoulder slammed into the ground. No. No this wasn't happening. She had to escape. Scrambling to her feet, fighting her panic for control, she attempted to run.
Two shaky steps were all she managed to do. In a flash the wolf had pounced over the bench, running straight for her. Now on all fours, its paws hitting the ground like thunder, it ran ahead of her, circling her angrily making her stop dead in her tracks. It snarled and snapped at her feet as she wobbled backward. Fangs. Such large fangs. She could barely breathe, her body shook with fear, her heart was beating in her ears so loudly she could barely hear the beast growling. But she could feel it growl, she could see the fur rustling along its back, she saw the bloodlust in its eyes as it continued to circle her closer and closer.
She moved back, forced by the monster. It followed, advancing on her. It had her trapped and it knew it, taking its time. She needed a weapon, any kind of weapon, any at all. She had none. All she had to protect herself was the damn stack of resumes still in her hand. She rolled them up and clutched them to her breast. I'm going to die, she thought, I'm actually going to die now. And for a brief moment, she couldn't help thinking how very fitting it was that she was clutching pages that summed up her very uninteresting and uneventful life as she was about to die.
The wolf snarled at her again, saliva flew through the air and landed on her pants, enormous jaws snapped again before a low growl from its throat made the hairs on the back of her neck stand to attention. It pounced. Fangs and claws flew through the air, aiming straight at her.
Her reaction astonished her. Without thinking, she instinctively lifted her hand in the last second and slammed the rolled up stack of papers on the side of the huge head. Then time seemed to stand still. The wolf snorted in surprise, she could feel the hot air from its nostrils on her wet face. The low growl returned, the beast opened its mouth once more, about to howl? About to bite? She didn't know, she didn't give it a chance. She raised the rolled up resumes again, they came down on its nose, as hard as she could. Then again on the side of its massive head.
It had taken it by surprise the first time. Now it only made it angrier and Karen stumbled backward awkwardly as it snorted and growled at her again. Out of the corner of her eye, she scanned the dark surroundings for help, any kind of help. And for a millisecond she imagined a person standing under a tree across the open lawn, but there was no one there when she ventured another look. She was alone in the park.
With that- that thing that now jumped at her! Enormous jaws wide open. She shrieked and awkwardly stumbled out of the way, falling to the ground once more. Her body slid on the wet grass, her jaw scraping against the ground. There was no skill involved, just pure dumb luck that made it miss her by inches. Clumsily she flipped over onto her back, ignoring the sharp pain on her chest where she had landed on a pointy pebble. She had no time, the beast turned as soon as its feet hit the ground, turning to charge at her again. She had to do something. Anything.
So she kicked it. Lifting herself into a sitting position, she kicked it right on the horrible snout. It gave a sharp whimper and she ground her teeth as she kicked it again and again. The rain ran down her back, she could feel it mixing with her sweat.
Her heeled boot had done damage. The wolf was snorting blood onto the ground. It roared angrily at her and the beady, black eyes narrowed even more. She tried standing, tried again to run away. But it was no use. Swiping at her with its giant paw, it struck her in the stomach. With a short, strangled scream she flew backward, her back slammed into the trashcan, knocking it over, taking her with it. Trash spilled onto the ground.
Karen groaned and sat up. Something warm ran down her hand. Blood? She didn't know where it came from and she didn't care at that moment. Her attention firmly on the beast that once again took its time. It stepped closer, back arched with thick, bristly fur that shook with every furious snort and growl. Its warm breath visible in the air, blood from its snout mixing with the dripping saliva down its jaw. She held her breath as it lifted itself off the ground, standing back on its hind legs. Rolling its shoulders again, the impressive width of it exposed as its arms stretched out. Claws and fangs glinted in the night before it let out another, piercing howl that made Karen wince.
She was no match for it. She knew it. The beast knew it. She was done for. The wolf eyed her hungrily, licking its lips. It shook its head, pointy ears twitching as blood and saliva splattered on the grass and the asphalt path, quickly washed away by the downpour.
She felt the impact of the beast letting itself fall back down on all fours, the ground shook with the action. It was going to attack again, she could see it. In a last desperate move, she kicked at the trashcan. As hard as she could. It hurdled noisily towards the wolf, rolling straight for it, catching it in surprise mid-leap. It stumbled. Thank goodness, it stumbled! Trying to gain control of four massive legs on a ground that suddenly moved beneath it.
Karen jumped up, less elegantly than she wanted. With her rolled up resumes still in a clamp-like grip in her hand, the wolf still unsure of what had happened, she hit it again. In a mixture of panic and anger and despair, she slammed the wet, soggy papers against the side of its face again and again. Connecting with the bloody nose repeatedly. It roared angrily, spluttering blood and spit at her, pounding its heavy paw on the ground in front of her. Sharp claws digging into the dirt, tearing the lawn apart.
"Oh no you fucking don't!" she screamed at it. With pure determination she hammered her foot down on its paw, attempting to pierce it with her heel, wishing she had worn stilettos instead of her chunky heeled boots. A stray reminder to buy some flashed in her brain but she pushed it aside. Now was definitely not the time. She stomped again, putting, if possible, even more weight on her foot as she continued to hit and slap the wolf with her papers. Blood splashed from the paw. Or hand? She gasped, the paw looked almost like a human hand. Gray and furry, impossibly long, sharp claws, but generally hand shaped.
She couldn't stop to think about that. She hammered her heel into its hand once again. A loud crack accompanied her stomp. The wolf's strained howl confirmed it. She had managed to break the hand. It growled and spat at her, snarled and panted heavily as it jumped back from her. Cradling the hand to its wide furry chest, it did look almost human as it stood back on its hind legs once more. The tail swishing dangerously.
Karen had no more strength left in her body. Her resumes were falling apart, her heel had broken, she was in pain and bleeding from somewhere or the other, she could feel it. But she could not back down now. From pure determination she stomped on the ground one more time, raising her soggy papers in the air, and screamed at the beast as loud as she could. The wolf snorted at her, more blood splattered at her feet.
Then it charged at her. She closed her eyes, expecting never to open them again. But no, it didn't charge at her she found out. It whooshed past her so close she could smell the strong scent of wet dog and feel the rough fur brush her frame. She dared to open her eyes just in time to see it retreat back into the bushes it had come from. Leaves rustled, branches broke and snapped. It was running away. It was actually running away!
And then nothing. Silence. Except for the heavy rain and her even heavier panting. The blood on the ground the only thing left of the horrible beast. And even that was washed away by the rain almost instantly.
Karen stood dumbfounded. "What the fuck just happened?" she asked herself, trying to catch her breath. She needed to get away, she needed to get home before that thing came back with friends. She could see park gates close by. If she could just make it there, she'd be on the streets. She grabbed her bag and limped her way down the path towards the exit.
Her black hair, that had been done up in a simple stylish bun, had come loose and slapped her in the face as she ran, getting into her eyes. Her wet bag whacked against her legs making her wobble. She burst out of the gates, overwhelmed by relief and triumph, looking like a mad woman she ran right into the street. Bright lights blinded her, car horns blared at her and someone yelled at her; "Hey, get off the road, dipshit!"
Quickly stumbling back onto the sidewalk, wanting to apologize but couldn't find the energy, she leaned on her knees in order to regain her breath. She wanted to vomit. Her back was killing her, her shirtsleeve was torn and underneath it was a deep cut on her arm, it left a bloody handprint on her pants. It stung. She rose up slowly, coughed, and tried making her heartbeat return to normal.
Only then did she notice the woman staring at her, peeking out at her from under a large black umbrella. It was impossible to make out her face in the darkness under the umbrella, but Karen had the strangest feeling the woman was grinning widely at her. When she stepped a little closer, the light from the streetlights finally reaching her, Karen saw that she was right. Her hair was piled high on her head, a lavender trench coat wrapped tightly around her tall thin frame, and her laced up victorian boots, all made her appear straight out of a time long passed. The woman approached Karen and nodded in greeting. "Good evening," she said with a playful smile. Her age was indeterminable, her face was youthful yet mature, her hair was graying yet her expression juvenile. She winked at Karen as if she could read her very thoughts.
Karen opened her mouth to speak but started coughing instead. When she finally found her voice she pointed a shaky finger back at the park. "Did you? Did you see that? Did you see the wolf?" Her wet resumes fell from her hand. Why had she still been holding on to those? They fell to the pavement and landed with a sloppy thud.
"A wolf? In Central Park?" the woman asked her. She laughed and shook her head.
"Or something!" Karen exclaimed. "There was something in there and it attacked me!"
The woman cocked her head to the side and studied Karen from head to toe and back again. Karen felt uncomfortable under her gaze. She thinks I'm insane, Karen realized and sighed, she thinks I'm just another fucking weirdo. Suddenly the woman looked to the ground, she bend down and picked up Karen's soggy resumes, she let them drip onto the sidewalk before shaking them out to read the headline. After being rolled up, used as weapons and soaked through, the only thing readable was the headline. "Are you looking for a job?" she asked, "I have one for you."
"I'm... I'm..." Karen stuttered.
"Here, take my card." The card pressed into Karen's hand was soon stained by the blood from the gash on her arm. It no longer flowed freely but her hand was covered in it. She absentmindedly wiped it on her wet jacket before reading the card. Dead End Diner. When she looked up again the woman was gone. She hadn't heard her walk away, looking around for her on the street, she couldn't see her either. It was as if she had just disappeared into thin air.
"Odd," Karen mumbled. She would have thanked her. Not that there was any chance she was going to accept a job offer from a stranger on the street anyway. Not in this city, no way. She threw the card away, it landed neatly in a little puddle on the sidewalk. Why on earth would she want to work in a diner anyway? She cast a glance into the dark park. Maybe her mind was playing tricks on her, maybe there never was a wolf, maybe her overactive imagination had conjured it all up. Even though her injuries proved differently, she found herself desperately wanting to believe that. But then a low growl, carried on the wind blowing out through the large gates, reached her. Or was that perhaps just my imagination as well? She challenged herself. Imagination or not, her legs couldn't run home fast enough.
She crisscrossed across the city and reached her building. After seven sets of stairs, she was finally able to shut her door behind her and click the lock. Safe. Exhaling in relief she leaned her back against the door, thumping her heavy head back against the wood. But quickly shot up when her sore back started complaining. "Colin?" she called out, almost breathlessly.
"In here," came the reply. The apartment they shared was the smallest Karen had ever been in and it was starting to get on her nerves. She was standing in the small kitchen, the door to her left led into a tiny bathroom, and the door on the other side of the kitchen table led into the bedroom. That was it. Nothing else. But at least it was theirs, their own space, their little love nest, as her sister put it. Karen grimaced as she remembered those words, it didn't quite fit. The place was a dump, the building old and run down. Sometimes she thought she could hear rats in the walls. She lived in hope that one day soon they would be able to find something better.
Colin was in the bedroom, sprawled on the bed watching the old tv they had perched on an ancient wooden crate. He had his hand down his pants and his shoes on the bedspread, even though Karen had repeatedly asked him not to do that. She couldn't get into it that night. "You're not going to believe what happened to me," she practically yelled at him.
"Oh yeah, what?" Colin asked not looking up from the tv. Karen stepped in front of it, blocking his view. "What the hell happened to you?" he blurted out when he saw her bedraggled state.
"I was attacked!" Karen yelled, "In the park! By a- a- a wolflike creature, like a werewolf!"
"A werewolf?" Colin suppressed a laugh, shifting into a sitting position. "Really? Are you sure it wasn't just a dog?"
"Do I look like I was attacked by a dog?" Karen shrieked.
"Yeah, actually you do," Colin said craning his neck to see the tv again, "Are you hurt?" Karen rolled her eyes at him. How could he be this calm when she was in such a state? "People should really start keeping their dogs on a leash in that park, it's obviously not safe," Colin continued, his voice barely above a mumble.
"Colin, listen to me," Karen shouted, anger poked its ugly head and she was out of patience, "I was attacked by a large wolf, a very large wolf."
"Those annoying Manhattan wolves," Colin added and snorted with a laugh.
"Colin, look at me." Karen spread her arms wide, showing off her torn clothes and bloody hand. She lifted her shirt to show the bruises on her back.
Colin sighed and gave her a dull look. "You do actually look kind of hurt. Do you want to go to the doctor?" he asked.
Karen scoffed at him, debating with herself if she should, but in the end, all she wanted to do was shower and sleep. "No," she eventually said. And comfort, she wanted comfort. She was still shaken and scared. She wanted her boyfriend to comfort her, dammit! But Colin just lied down again, grabbing for the remote at his side.
"Well then," he said, once again returning to the tv. Karen sighed and shook her head, growling to herself she walked out the door into the little kitchen, peeling off the wet clothes layer by soaked layer. "Did you find a job today?" Colin yelled after her.
Karen left her wet clothes in a pile on the kitchen floor. She needed a cigarette, but when she took the packet out of her wet bag she realized it was all soggy and ruined as well. And then also realized that the woman had taken her soggy resumes. What the hell would that lunatic want her ruined fucking resumes for? Fucking great, Karen thought, Now I'm going to have to print more. "No," was Karen's defeated, delayed answer to him.
She walked to the bathroom, the light flickered when she turned it on, the bulb would break soon. Grimacing at her reflection in the cracked mirror when she saw her mascara and eyeliner had run down her face, she looked awful. The gash on her arm wasn't so bad once she ran it under the tap for a bit, but her back was bruised and there were three small, clean cuts across her stomach. She had to stand on her toes in order to see them properly, she had always been a bit of a short-ass. "You are going to have to start working soon," Colin said when he appeared in the door, "I can't keep paying the rent alone."
Karen nodded and hung her head low. She knew. They were lucky to have this place, it was a shithole apartment but at least they could pay the rent out of Colin's paycheck. Only they had practically nothing leftover for them at the end of the month. It couldn't last. "I know," she said. She felt tears pressing on, she despised crying, and tried blinking them away as fast as she could.
"Oh, poor babe," Colin soothed and patted her on her back. Karen winced at the pain. "There, there, you'll find a job soon, don't worry." Karen began fuming inwardly, she had just survived an attack from a wolf, a job was the last thing on her mind. Karen turned around and wrapped her arms around him, she seriously needed comfort, she badly needed a loving embrace. But he just gave her a quick hug before unwrapping her arms and taking her chin in his hand. "I already ate," he informed her. Turning his attention from her to his own reflection, he ran a hand through his dirty blonde hair as he checked himself out.
She would get no more comfort from him that night, she knew. They had been on separate pages for a while, money issues and lack of personal space had probably driven a little wedge between them. The faster she got a job the better, then their relationship could get back to normal again. But her eyes burned, she still wanted to cry. She had to change the subject somehow. She sniffled. "I like your cologne," she said, "Is it new?"
"No, no, no, it was just a gift." He shrugged and turned from her, walking into the kitchen. "Instant noodles or cup-a-soup?" he yelled back. She could hear him fill a pot with water and placed it on the stove.
"Neither," she answered. She wasn't hungry, she couldn't possibly eat now.
"You need your strength," he called, "If you're going out to get a job tomorrow. I'll put some noodles on for you."
Karen growled to herself. She shut the door and let a few hot tears roll down her cheek. This day had been too much for her. Everything had just been too fucking much. She wiped away the tears and bit down on her lip, forcing them to stop. Shaking her head clear, and after a deep breath, she turned on the little shower next to the sink, letting it run, hoping it wouldn't take too long for hot water to come. And then, on the side of the sink, next to Colin's hair gel and grooming kit, she noticed a little, oddly familiar, black and red card. She picked it up. "Dead End Diner," she read out loud, "I thought I got rid of this." She read the address with a raised eyebrow, she had never even been to that part of town.
"I'm going to bed," she heard Colin yell from the bedroom. She ignored him.
"I wonder what they're actually looking for," Karen mumbled to herself. She turned over the card. On the blank back waitstaff needed was scribbled in hand and she was pretty damn sure it hadn't been on the card when she first got it. "Well, that answers that."
Maybe she should check this place out anyway? A job's a job, after all. She could be a waitress. She glanced at her reflection again and gave a half smile. She could definitely be a waitress, how hard could that be?