The following is a sneak preview of Tainted Moonlight, book one of the series! Enjoy!
Chapter 1: Job Interview with a Werewolf
“Mr. Diego, can you tell me what it’s like being a lycanthrope?”
Korban blinked, staring at the thin hiring manager who was eagerly returning his gaze from behind a large pair of glasses. He couldn’t have heard him right. “I’m sorry?” he said, and managed an amicable smile to the nice man who sat across the desk.
“Tell me what it’s like to be a werewolf,” he repeated, eyes bright and eager.
The internet hadn’t exactly covered this kind of question for a job interview. Then again, up until five years ago, even the internet believed werewolves to be only something in myths and bad horror flicks. Korban averted his gaze to the polished desk, the shiny name plate greeting him with the name Brett Kensington. Of course the topic would come up about his… condition. His eyes were a dead giveaway; no longer the chocolate brown of his mother’s but now a constantly wolf-like amber that nearly glowed with the pull of the full moon, which also happened to be that night.
He looked up again and decided to answer this offbeat question. He really needed this job. “As a werewolf I am physically stronger and faster than I was before I was bitten. I can easily lift about three to four times my weight, maybe more with practice. I am not available to work the night of the full moon for obvious reasons, and the morning after I need time to recover. Otherwise, I am just as capable as any other candidate, maybe even more so because of my strength.” That was a pretty reasonable response that put a positive spin on what could have taken a negative turn.
“What about your eyesight? Your hearing? All the senses?” Brett was taking notes, scribbling on a yellow legal pad.
He wasn’t sure how it mattered working in a steel foundry, but offered another smile. “My eyes and ears are more sensitive, but it won’t affect my work. My sense of smell is incredible, but I’ve grown used to it as well.” He wondered why he’d bothered listing his credentials and skills on his resume.
“Interesting,” he said, then paused for a moment before he asked, “How long ago were you bitten?”
“Five years ago this fall,” he said, but felt very uncomfortable answering these sort of personal and invasive questions. He had survived a werewolf attack and he remembered it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. The nightmares of a giant, black wolf ripping into his throat in a dark alley still haunted him. He shifted in his chair.
“Do you feel that you have good control over your wolf-side?” Brett peered at him curiously.
Perhaps this had something to do with the job? Maybe he was legitimately curious, to make sure this wouldn’t affect his relation with other employees. “I have two roommates that help me stay locked down during the full moon. One of them is my sponsor and the reason I am free to be here today and not stuck in quarantine.” Many of the others, who weren’t as lucky as him, were in isolation, he thought but did not add. He really needed this job. “I honestly don’t remember what happens once I black out during the shift, but I have never harmed anyone, thankfully.”
“I see, I see,” Brett tapped his pen thoughtfully on the paper, the sound welcome to cover up the wet thumping sound of his heart. “What’s the transformation like? Is it painful?”
“With all due respect, sir, what does that have to do with this job?” Korban asked levelly, trying not to reveal his growing anxiety or anger in his tone. He was done with these prying questions.
The manager folded his hands, then steepled his fingers together. For a moment the hands ticked around on the Rolex on his small wrist. “Mr. Diego, I have a proposition for you.”
Finally down to business. “Okay,” he said, and straightened up in his chair.
“I want to become a lycanthrope.”
Korban stiffened, surely not hearing him right. “Excuse me, what?”
“I want you to bite me. I want to become like you,” Brett spoke quickly, leaning across his desk. “Not for free of course. I’ll compensate you generously for your time and effort.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Korban held up his hands in protest, “you want me to infect you? I’m sorry, I can’t do that— that’s an automatic death sentence in New York.” Along with many other states, some of which had even stricter laws; the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later sort of rules.
“You’ll be generously compensated, and the transaction will be completely confidential. Name your price and I’ll put it through, a discreet transaction in a numbered account somewhere that doesn’t tax. I want this, Mr. Diego. I’m not going to call the police.”
This had to be some sort of joke, and he wondered if there was a camera crew waiting beyond the door, ready to pounce. He swallowed thickly, loosening his tie to get more air. It felt more like a choke chain than professional attire to the wolf. Inside he was already reeling, the wolf in him wanting to flee this danger, or turn and fight, and he couldn’t have that. “You have to understand, Mr. Kensington. I didn’t choose this. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, believe me. It’s not just super strength and speed, it’s teeth, claws, and unimaginable pain every month. Worse, it’s losing an entire night to something you can’t control, something that isn’t you lurking inside, something dark always under the surface. A beast that’s caged within you and lashes out whenever you’re at your weakest.”
Brett gave a flippant wave of his hand. “I’ve done my research. This is what I want, and you can provide it to me. This is just the beginning, or a sign on bonus if you will. Now do we have a deal Mr. Diego,” he slid a check with a lot of zeroes trailing a one across the desk, “or not?”
Korban met Brett’s anxious gaze. It finally sunk in. “You didn’t call me in for a job here, did you?”
“I’m afraid this company isn’t hiring, but you won’t need a job at all if you accept my offer. Retire young, maybe move someplace where the weather isn’t bipolar year round. You must admit, it’s an enticing offer.”
He snorted. “Yeah, try travelling when everyone you pass on the street considers you a monster. Don’t you watch the news? Being a werewolf isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. What you see in books and movies, it’s nothing like that. This is real. You get shot if you’re outside past curfew-“
“If they catch you,” Brett emphasized.
“I’m fast, but there’s no way I’m faster than a speeding bullet. I’m no superhero.” Korban paused, then attempted to make his own point very clear. “They treat me like I’m the villain. Curfews, quarantine, restrictions. Do you have kids, Mr. Kensington? I can’t even go fifty yards near a school. They treat us worse than pedophiles.”
“So you won’t do it then?”
“No, and I’ve wasted enough time here.” Korban stood quickly, not even bothering to shake the man’s hand. He pulled his sunglasses from his pocket and slid them on as he headed for the door, while the man made his final attempts to persuade him.
“Mr. Diego, if you don’t do this I’ll find someone who will! Someone who’ll take me up on this once in a lifetime offer!”
He paused, his hand on the doorknob. He didn’t bother to turn around. He could smell the last thread of hope grow in the man behind him. “I hope you realize what you’re getting in to before you make that mistake.” He quickly fled the room, careful not to slam the door too hard behind him.
Korban was all too grateful to make it outside the stuffy office building. He loosened his tie, glancing up to the darkening sky, suddenly aware of the time. Twenty minutes until curfew, about thirty or so to the transformation. He’d wasted far too much time arguing with that lunatic. The thought that someone would want this life made his stomach churn. He made his way quickly to the bus stop, only to catch the familiar stench of oil and exhaust fading away. Korban swore and began to jog up the street. There was enough time to get back home if he hurried on foot.
Luckily his speed was no exaggeration, but unfortunately even he could not out race the clock. He was still a few blocks away when curfew hit. The wail of the sirens in the distance made him pick up the pace even more, his muscles on fire from the moon rising in the sky and the rush of adrenaline coursing in his veins.
He caught a glimpse of red and blue lights flickering up ahead and he darted into an alley, flattening himself against the wall. He closed his eyes, listened to the grind of gears in the engine, the rubber tires rolling against a pothole in the road, and then the sound faded away as the police car continued its patrol down the road. His heartbeat pounded and echoed in his head as he strained to hear if the coast was clear. There came a sharp pain deep in his stomach, causing him to hunch over and gasp. There wasn’t much time left.
Panting, he leaned against the cool brick wall and gazed up to the darkening sky. The moon was rising over the thick cover of clouds along the horizon, the pressure radiating through his bones. Jerking his head away he took off running full speed towards the garage. Crossing a side street, a horn blared and tires squealed, but he leapt out of the way of the car and continued to move like a blur towards his destination, the familiar worn garage up ahead.
The weather-beaten sign read CYRUS AUTOS. The solid garage doors already were closed for the evening. He burst through the side door and slammed it behind him, quickly latching the set of locks that sealed others out, and more importantly kept him in. The force of the door slamming rattled the tools and assorted collection of items along the wall, including a small array of colorful, plastic pinwheels which slowly spun in the wake of him rushing in.
A cramp shot through his stomach and he nearly fell over, knocking down a few tires that were stacked near the entrance. He wrenched his tie away from his throat, trembling hands loosening his belt. He managed to step out of his pants and shoes as the pain escalated to something unbearable, and he collapsed to the ground, curling into himself. Pain stabbed through him and he abandoned his struggle to unbutton his sweat-soaked shirt. He’d run out of time.
He remained on the floor in agony as his bones and muscle twisted impossibly, yielding to the beast caged within him. His skin burned and itched as fur sprouted thick and damp with his sweat. His jaw and nose stretched and his acute sense of smell stung with the familiar scent of oil and brick and metal. For a fleeting moment, he heard the wolf’s thoughts. My territory. Home.
Then he was lost to the beast, the wolf springing free as he finally lost consciousness.
When Korban woke his mouth was dry and he could taste something sickeningly metallic on his tongue.
He panicked for a split second. Blood? Then his eyes focused on the worn and chewed hubcap laying in front of him and he groaned.
The morning after a full moon was like the worst hangover imaginable. Beyond reaching the garage and succumbing to the moon’s painful embrace, he had no memory of the night before. His head and body ached from being contorted and bent through the transformation, and all of his senses were dulled down to normal once again, making him feel blind and stuffy compared to the night before. To top it all off, his mouth tasted of scrap metal.
He could see his human reflection in the remaining smooth parts of the mangled piece of metal. His yellow eyes were weary and bloodshot, the supernatural color a constant reminder that he wasn’t fully human anymore. His tanned skin, dark eyebrows and the dark fall of his bangs… everything was back to normal, but seeing his own familiar reflection was a relief.
“Morning Sleeping Beauty!” An all-too cheerful voice chimed from above, and he glanced over and watched as his friend trotted down the stairs and dropped a blanket over his head. Alejandro Cyrus was one of Korban’s roommates and like a brother to him, and the current owner of the garage. In the years he had known Alex he hadn’t changed all that much, just growing a little taller through the years. Even with his vision hidden under the fleece cloth of the blanket Korban knew Alex’s brown eyes were sparkling with mischief, his dark hair mostly hidden under a backwards baseball cap, and his grin a dazzling, devilish smirk. Alex never failed to deliver when it came to clever remarks, whether you wanted them or not. True to form, Alex added, “Er… wrong fairy tale.”
Korban yanked the blanket down and saw his friend’s grin widen as he spotted the now useless tire cover lying beside him. “I see you had a good time last night.”
“Good morning to you too, Alex,” Korban said, and rolled his eyes, unable to think up a witty response this early in the morning. He would get him back after breakfast.
Alex carefully picked up the scrap metal and frowned. “I don’t see what everyone’s problem is with werewolves. Maybe they have expensive rims to protect?”
Despite himself, Korban chuckled, wrapping the blanket around himself. He caught the smell of eggs, bacon and coffee wafting from upstairs and his stomach growled. He watched Alex study the chewed hubcap and then carefully hang it on the tool wall. “I’ll hold on to your new chew toy for next time.”
Next time. A month from now when the full moon returned to torment him and remind him that he wasn’t normal anymore. He wasn’t the only one cursed, and the curfew every full moon night was a reminder. The problem was he didn’t know how many others faced the full moon in terror, knowing the same pain he did. The only other werewolf he had met had practically torn his throat out and cursed him to face the same monthly ritual. The thought of running into another one like him was terrifying. He preferred being locked in the safety of the garage, away from anyone or anything that boldly roamed during a full moon night.
He got up on his feet. The blanket was draped around him as he sought the remnants of his suit to see if it was salvageable. He gritted his teeth, but made no outward signs that he was in pain as he gathered up his scattered clothes and made his way upstairs to the apartment while Alex started to set up shop for the day. It was okay if Alex was joking with him or teasing him, but he didn’t want his pity.
Korban made his way upstairs to the small, two bedroom apartment that was above the garage, the smell of breakfast luring him towards the table where his other roommate was quickly skimming over the newspaper. He deposited his clothes into the hamper as RJ turned to him. If Alex was like a brother, RJ was definitely the big brother of the trio. Perhaps even a father figure, of which RJ resembled in his suit and tie ensemble, which included a steaming mug of coffee in his hand, and the morning paper spread out on the table before him.
While Alex was the joker, RJ had been the caretaker of the three of them since Alex’s grandfather, a man the entire neighborhood knew as Pops, passed away years ago. Even before he’d become Korban’s sponsor- the human being legally responsible for any and all of his full moon activities- RJ looked out for both of his roommates. Having a sponsor, or “handler” as they were sometimes called, was just one of the many laws that had been rushed through after the initial outbreak to make sure things did not get out of control. It also kept many of those who weren’t able to control themselves in quarantine, a place that still gave Korban nightmares.
He was one of the lucky ones who had someone who had applied and succeeded in becoming his sponsor, only having spent nine miserable months in the facility where he’d woken up after being viciously attacked. RJ took his role very seriously as he did many things, and Korban was grateful to have someone willing to put everything on the line for him. “Good morning Korban,” RJ said, and glanced up from his paper, the morning sun giving his ebony skin a warm, chocolate-colored tone.
“Morning RJ,” he greeted in return, then sat down and huddled around his coffee first, despite his stomach’s rumbling protest. The smell of coffee reminded him he was still very human, and no longer the beast he was the night before. He savored his first hot sip then finally indulged in his breakfast.
He caught the worried look in RJ’s dark brown eyes and froze mid-bite. “What?”
As his sponsor RJ was legally responsible for everything Korban did, though he was an adult and by all rights should have that control himself. The law was the law, however, and Korban did his best to follow the rules especially because now both his and RJ’s freedom depended on it. Violating the law as a werewolf now meant returning to quarantine or death, and those who risked sponsoring the furry by moonlight could also face punishment if the one they sponsored got out of hand. There was even a case of one sponsor serving a life sentence for first degree murder, because the werewolf they sponsored got loose during a full moon and attacked a hiker out for an ill-timed stroll. Even though the werewolf was struck down with a silver bullet, someone had to pay in light of the new, strict laws. The sponsor hadn’t even been in the area the night of the assault, and the judgement caused a ripple effect which made others rethink if they were willing to risk sponsoring even their own relatives. He was extremely grateful for RJ acting as his sponsor, something that his good friend didn’t have to, but was willing to, in order to give him even a small chance at a normal life. “Are you okay?” RJ asked after studying him closely for a moment. “You kind of cut it close getting in last night. That’s not like you.”
“Yeah…” Korban nodded, studying his fork closely and feeling guilty that he’d been so careless to lose track of time, especially at risk of causing RJ trouble. “The interview ran a bit later than I thought it would, and I missed the bus.”
His friend smiled hopefully, despite what could have been a bad situation. “How did it go?”
Korban stabbed a piece of egg with his fork. “There was no job. It was all some hoax to get me in. The guy didn’t want me, he wanted my wolf.”
“What?” RJ sputtered, nearly choking on his coffee.
Korban nodded grimly, swallowing another huge fork full of eggs. “He’s insane if he thinks I would bite him. I don’t even want to be a werewolf to begin with. He doesn’t realize how lucky he is to be human, to have the freedom he has.” The same freedom he once had. “Usually when I go in for a job interview the receptionist sees my eyes and turns me away, saying something like the position is full. I think I’d almost take that instead of some lunatic expecting me to rip out of my suit and change into a wolf right then and there.”
“Now that would make an interesting first impression.” Alex barged in, wiping his hands with a stained oil rag. “Sounds like you had a bad night, Lobo. Don’t worry amigo, tonight will make up for it.”
“Tonight?” RJ raised his eyebrow.
“Yeah. I’m taking you two out.” Alex grinned. “My treat. Just got my tax return back, thanks to you helping me file it early.”
“Should I wear my running shoes?” While Korban was diligent about staying out of trouble, it seemed that more often than not when they were out on the town trouble found Alex- and vice versa.
“Why do you think I only go out looking for trouble?” Alex asked. “Sometimes the cops show up for reasons completely unrelated to me.”
“The last time it wasn’t your fault was three years ago. I keep track,” RJ said, and reached for his briefcase as he stood up, pausing as he set his coffee mug in the kitchen sink. “Actually, I take it back. That was your fault, the guy just missed and punched the woman sitting next to you.”
“She’s the one who broke his arm!”
“Regardless, with everything going on I hope you’ll at least think twice before starting any trouble. I would like to keep my rap sheet clean, and frankly Korban doesn’t need any trouble with the police.” RJ turned his gaze to Alex as he spoke, then his eyes went back to Korban. “Any interviews scheduled for today?”
He shook his head. More often than not, he left the day after the full moon open to sleep away most of it. His body was sore and he was still exhausted from the night before.
“Get some rest then, and Alex, let him rest. I have to get going, the delinquents that I’m actually getting paid to teach are waiting.” RJ smiled as he said it. Korban already knew better than anyone that no matter what he said, RJ loved his job.
The coffee had finally kicked in, and as RJ headed out the door Korban called out, “Give ’em a pop quiz on the lunar cycle for me!”
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TAINTED MOONLIGHT is © 2016 Amy E. Baker / Erin Kelly