This week’s flash fiction is part two of a the create/share a character challenge presented by Chuck Wendig. Two weeks ago characters were created, and I really liked this one by Aimee Ogden. On Friday Chuck challenged us to take our borrowed character and write a flash story. He gave us 2000 words, which is double the usual allotment. Didn’t matter, I need about 4500 word to tell the story I want. Below is “Intervals.” Hope you like it.
Normally, her day off was for catching up—catching up on errands, catching up on laundry, catching up on cuddle time with Zoë, and maybe, just maybe, catching up on her sleep. Today, though, was devoted to getting the werewolf problem under control. After arranging with her mom to watch Zoë for a few hours, Lucia caught the bus for downtown. The bus stop was a couple of blocks from the library, so Lucia window-shopped the shabby storefronts along the way.
When she got to the library it took a few minutes to figure out the online filing system. Most of the books she found listed were fiction; several were children’s books. Eventually she found a few volumes in the folklore section that seemed promising, and settled down at a table to study them.
A few hours later, Lucia punched the last of the books away. She flipped through her notes in disgust. She hadn’t expected to find a lot of information, but what she’d found was pretty useless. She ran her hands through her short hair and sighed; then checked her watch. It was time to pick up Zoë and she still had no plan. She left the books on the table and headed back to the bus stop, reminding herself to pick up a pack of cigarettes for her mom, as a thank you for watching the baby.
After lunch Lucia convinced her mother to watch Zoë for the rest of the afternoon by telling her that she had a job interview, one that paid better than her job as a desk clerk, and then headed back downtown. Eventually Lucia found the address she’d looked up on her cell phone. She stood outside the shop, studying the window displays. On the right was a large display of books; the left window held candles, glass globes and assorted jewelry. It was the name of the store, painted in old-fashioned letters, that kept her from going inside.
Lucia took a deep breath, reminded herself that at least no one she knew would see her, opened the door and stepped inside. She expected a dark, dusty room, filled with shadows and questionable display cases; she found a well-lit room filled with the scent of cinnamon cookies. A young blond woman stepped out from behind a counter and headed toward her. She extended her hand. “I’m Anneth.”
“Lucia.” She shook Anneth’s hand. She felt the woman’s grip tighten a tiny bit, then relax.
“What do you need, Lucia?”
“I thought I’d just look around.” She tried to sound casual, “Just to see what you have.”
Anneth nodded. “You could do that. But it would be faster if you told me what you were looking for.”
She bit her lip, and then said, “It sounds weird.”
Anneth smiled. “Don’t worry about that. It’s an occult shop, Lucia. We specialize in weird.”
“I need to know about werewolves. I went to the library this morning, but that was pretty useless.”
Anneth snorted. “I’m not surprised. What did you need to know? Were you interested in a particular aspect of the culture?”
“I’m…not sure what you mean. I just need to know the truth about werewolves, and how dangerous they are. How to protect people from them. How to cure it.” Lucia burst into tears.
Anneth guided Lucia to a small overstuffed sofa in a corner of the shop and disappeared behind a curtain. By the time she returned, carrying a tray with two mugs of tea and a plate of cookies, Lucia had gotten her tears under control.
“I’m sorry,” she began, as Anneth settled onto the sofa next to her.
Anneth handed her a mug. She waited until Lucia took a drink, and then said “Why are you interested in Werewolves, Lucia?”
Fighting back the tears, Lucia said, “I think I was bitten a few weeks ago. I met this guy at a club, and we went back to his place, and –,”
“That’s fine.” Anneth stopped her. “I don’t need details.”
“You believe me?”
Anneth nodded. “When we shook hands. I could tell.”
“Can you help me? The books at the library were so confusing. According to some of them it’s not that hard to cure, but some of them say the only way out is death.” She took a deep breath. “I don’t want to die, but I’ve got to be sure Zoë’s safe.”
“My daughter. She’s two.”
Anneth was silent for few moments. “The reason for the confusion about cures is because there’s more than one kind of werewolf. If it’s a magical condition it’s usually reversible. But in the case of infection…that’s a permanent condition.”
Lucia began to cry again.
“No. Don’t. It’s like a lot of diseases, Lucia. It’s manageable. You just have to make some lifestyle changes.”
“Look, I asked if you were interested in the culture. There are a lot of werewolves out there. Most of them are like you; they don’t have any choice but to learn to live with the condition. And most of them lead happy, normal lives, without putting anybody at risk.”
“How do they do it?”
“”There’s a…support group, I guess you’d call it. Let me get you their number. Call them, tell them I gave you the number. They’ll explain what they can do.” Anneth saw the doubt in Lucia’s eyes. “Look, just talk to them. You owe it to Zoë.”
It had been hard to convince her boss to give her time off, and harder still to explain to her parents that she and Zoë were going away for a few days. But Lucia and Zoë were finally in a van, on the way to Intervals Retreat. As the driver had stowed her luggage, he’d assured her that they would be at the retreat well before moonrise. Fastened in her car seat, Zoë had fallen asleep before they’d left the city, and now Lucia stared out the window, watching the scenery.
Lucia woke when the van stopped. She turned to check on Zoë; she was still sleeping. She looked out the window. She saw a large house, built of cut stone. Three stories tall, with towers and bay windows, it looked like something from a movie. There were no other houses visible; the lawn was edged with thick evergreen woods. The driver had already taken her luggage out of the van; she watched as another man carried it inside. She unfastened Zoë; the child woke as she lifted her out of the seat. Lucia kissed the top of her head. “We’re here, pumpkin. Wherever here is.”
Waiting at the front door was an older woman, wearing a white lab coat. She smiled at Lucia. “Welcome to Intervals Retreat. I’m Elizabeth Gower; I’ll be your counselor for this visit.”
The inside of the house was as elegant as the exterior, full of polished wood and glittering cut glass. “Only this visit?” Lucia asked.
Ms. Gower nodded. “I work with our first time guests. If you decide to become a member of the retreat, you’ll be assigned a different counselor, someone who can become familiar with you and Zoë, and make sure you get the most from the experience here at intervals.”
Ms. Gower led them upstairs and into a small, comfortable suite. “Tom already brought your luggage up; it’ll be in the bedroom. There’s a crib for Zoë there, too. I’ll let the sitter know you’re here. She’ll stop by and introduce herself before sunset.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to eat downstairs? The dining room is quite nice. There’s no reason to hide in your room as if you’ve done something wrong, dear.”
Lucia shook her head. “No. This is going too fast. I’ve got to get used to the idea that I’m a werewolf before I’ll be ready to meet others.”
Ms. Gower sighed. “Alright, dear. But you need to come to terms with this. There’s no reason for you punish yourself. I’ll go now, but if you need anything, just call the front desk, and they’ll contact me.”
The sitter, Martha, arrived before Lucia had finished feeding Zoë, and after introducing herself she took over, allowing Lucia to finish her meal. The two women chatted for a while, Lucia briefed Martha on Zoë’s evening rituals, then excused herself to get ready for the evening. She showered quickly and put on some loose-fitting clothes. While she debated whether to take a sweater, Ms. Gower arrived.
Lucia kissed Zoë, considered a list of things she should remind Martha about, and then turned and followed Ms. Gower out of the suite. They went down the stairs without speaking, and through an unfamiliar part of the house. At length Lucia found herself behind the house, looking at a small graveled drive, and several electric carts. Ms. Gower led her to the nearest and motioned for her to take a seat. They followed a graveled path through the woods until they reached a small cottage.
The counselor unlocked the door, but stopped before she opened it. Lucia pushed the door open and stepped into a small empty room. A thick futon lay in one corner. A cabinet was fastened to the wall next over the futon, and there was a door on the opposite side of the room. No windows, no other furnishings.
“We’ve found, especially for first time guests, that it’s best if the cottage is empty. There’s less likelihood of injury.”
“It looks like a cell.”
“If that’s how you choose to view it. Some members see their wolf avatar as a beast, a thing of evil. For them, these cottages are cells. For others, the wolf is a return to a simpler creature, and they just need a safe place to wait out the transitions.”
She crossed the room to the other door and opened it. Lucia moved next to her, and looked out into a fenced enclosure. The counselor explained that Lucia could be confined inside the cottage, could have access to the fenced area, or, if she wanted, the enclosure could be left unlocked and she could roam the retreat grounds. After confirming that the girl only wanted to access to the fenced enclosure, Ms. Gower reminded Lucia to store her clothing in the cupboard before the transition, and left. Lucia thought she had never heard a sound as loud as the turning of the key in the lock.
It was late the next afternoon when Lucia finally finished all of the paperwork, gathered Zoë and headed back to the city. On the ride back she looked through the brochures again. She wished she could afford more than the basic plan; childcare, meals and transportation were included, but she’d have to trade the suite for the smallest single occupancy room available. She wouldn’t be able to afford a private sitter, either; Zoë would spend her time in a nursery with other children close to her age.
The spa, the tennis courts, and the pool weren’t in the basic plan either. Worst of all, Lucia wouldn’t have the freedom of the grounds. She’d thought she wanted the security of the enclosure, but last night when she heard the howls of the other werewolves she’d gone outside to join them. Her blood still raced when she thought of it. But the grounds were only available in the more expensive plans, and Lucia was going to have a hard time paying for the basics. She reminded herself that it was worth it to keep her child, her parents and her friends safe.
Anneth was straightening the bookshelves when the phone rang. “Incantations. This is Anneth.”
“Anneth, it’s Elizabeth.”
“We signed the girl you sent, but you needn’t expect a check.”
“We have an agreement! I send you werewolves, you sign them to a monthly membership plan, and I get ten percent.”
“That was the agreement. But lately the weres you’ve been sending us can barely afford the dues. This isn’t a charity, Anneth, nor a public service. Intervals Retreat is a business. Our shareholders expect a profit. So you tell your pack to set their sights a little higher the next time they go clubbing. I’m warning you, the next time you send a student or a single mother out here I’ll put her down.”