With my dying breath I curse you, route 202 and 93 interchange. I grumble as I ground to a halt amid traffic backing up in the poorly planned off ramp.
I wasn’t dying yet, but given the inordinate amount of time I spent at this congested interchange, odds were pretty good that this could end up as my final resting place.
Of course, it didn’t help that I was passing through right in the heart of rush hour, too. All I had to do was drop this empty flatbed trailer off at a warehouse a few miles off and it was the end of the day for me. It’s not as though I was totally wanting for entertainment or refreshment, though. I had a ballgame on the radio and was not even halfway through a Mega Thirst Buster soft drink from the truck stop that was still cool enough to still have ice swishing around in it on this warm summer afternoon. The light ahead turned green and the seemingly unbroken stream of car and trucks moved all of thirty feet before grinding to a halt once again.
Resigned to the fact that I was gonna be here awhile, I paid closer attention to the ballgame on the radio. Two outs with the a runner on first for the Indians as they trailed the Sox in the bottom of the fifth when Vazquez stepped to the plate.
The 2-1 to Vazquez….swing and line drive hooking down the right field side, hooking……foul the announcer said, doing little to conceal his disappointment.
I reflexively grab the big cup out of the cup holder and bring the straw to my lips before realizing I’m probably better off not putting my bladder’s capacity to the test in this traffic.
Monroe looks the runner back to first……kicks, delivers…. the radio continued.
I set the cup back in the cupholder.
Vazquez swings and just torches this one to shallow right. McCandless plays it on a hop as Vazquez is going for two. The Sox right-fielder has a cannon for an arm- the throw to second aaaaannnd……out….. the announcer sounds absolutely dejected at the outcome. So instead of runners at first and third with the heart of the lineup coming up, McCandless guns down Vazquez at second to end the inning for the Indians.
“You suck, Vazquez!” I snarl at the radio. “Can’t field for shit and can’t run the basepaths for shit….what are you getting paid for?”.
Granted the Dominican outfielder was a gifted hitter, but he wasn’t getting paid to run the Indians out of big innings with sloppy baserunning like he just did.
Of course, I could only seethe when I realized Vazquez was pulling in a 7-figure salary to suck while I was getting paid by the mile- and it took nearly two minutes to traverse a whole one hundred feet.
With that depressing realization, I turned the radio off as the ballgame went to commercials between innings. This wasn’t the Indians’ day and it looked more and more as though this wasn’t going to be their year.
Still, things could be worse. Case in point, my attention was drawn to a figure at the top of the off ramp. It looked like a she and more to the point the she in question looked as though she had seen much better days. From where I was, I could see her sitting Indian style as traffic began to move forward once again. I got maybe another fifty feet closer and could see her getting up lazily and stretching. It was a mamono. From the pointed ears and paws, I could only assume it was one of a beastman type, although from this distance it was a little difficult to tell where her tattered and faded clothing ended and her tail and arms began.
The poor thing was holding a crudely written cardboard sign that said ‘NEED FOOD’. In all honesty, I was set to ignore her like I had with a number of humans in similar circumstances. However, as the traffic started moving again I could see her ears perk up as though she was being summoned. She took a few steps towards a late model sedan, only to be pelted square in the face with a crumpled up wrapper as the vehicle sped off. Someone in a pickup two or three carlengths behind the sedan flipped her off as it made it’s way through the traffic light at the problematic intersection.
Now, I do not fancy myself some sort of defender of the oppressed and downtrodden, but I felt a righteous anger welling up inside of me as I saw the destitute looking mamono slink back towards her bundle of rags along the pavement. If you don’t want to give her anything, that’s one thing- but why flip her off and throw garbage at her?
As traffic inched closer, I could see that the panhandler appeared to be a werewolf. She didn’t seem to be acknowledging the passing traffic anymore and was instead looking forlornly at the ground.
In a bit of a reversal, I found myself hoping that the light wouldn’t change too quickly as my rig inched closer and closer to the lupine figure sitting by the side of the road.
Closer. About twenty feet now. A little closer….ten feet.
And the light turns red again and I get a better look at her. The dirty rags she was wearing hung loosely to her slender and malnourished frame. Her hair was grimy and matted down in places. The wolf beggar’s right ear was twitching involuntarily even before I tried getting her attention.
“Hey….” I call out.
Works much better if you roll the window down, dumbass…. I scold myself as I crank the window down
“Hey….hey there….” I call out hesitantly to the figure.
She doesn’t say anything, but fixes me with these intense eyes as she turns her head towards me- one eye was jade and the other was sapphire. Unsurprisingly, the wolf’s face is grimy and streaked with dirt, including a prominent black smear running across her left cheek and stopping just beneath her eye.
“Hey….are you thirsty?” I ask her.
She cautiously gets to her feet and approaches the cab. My eyes are on her the whole time as I feel around for the Mega Thirst Buster nestled in the cupholder. The wolf-girl seems wary- maybe expecting that I’ll splash the drink in her face and drive off cackling like a douche. Given what happened in the relatively short time I had seen her there, it was wise to be leery on her part.
As she stands outside the cab, I cautiously lower down the cool and mostly full cup of soda to her. She eagerly reaches up and seizes it with both paws before looking up at me. From this close, I can now see that the blackish streak across her cheek is actually dried blood from a recent-looking gash.
“Th-thank you….” the beggar werewolf said barely loud enough for me to hear over the sound of my idling truck and the vehicles around me. I could’ve swore I saw a slight twitch of her grimy and matted tail as she popped the lid on the cup. At first I was afraid she was going to spill it, but she started to eagerly sip directly from the cup.
Beneath the accumulated filth and grime, I thought she seemed surprisingly poised. Her hair was dark brown and short, but the blue/green eyes gave an exotic look to her even in her current undesirable circumstances. A little concerned about the dried blood on her face, I was going to ask if she was going to be all right. However, she spoke up before I had the chance to say anything.
She then furtively glanced to her left and then back at me. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought that the faintest trace of a smile was on the corner of her lips. I wasn’t quite sure what she had in mind until she quietly said “Light’s green….” as the string of cars ahead of me began to move. Almost shyly, she made a curt wave with her paw as I threw the rig into gear and moved forward.
At long last it was my turn to proceed through the light and I catch a glimpse of her in the rearview mirror. As I turn the wheel, I see her do something a bit curious. Before she takes another sip, I see her take the straw and pocket it. At the time I didn’t think too much about it.
I drop the empty trailer off before heading back to the hub, filling out some paperwork and punching out. Rush hour traffic had tapered off by the time I get into my own vehicle and head to my home on the outskirts of town. Since alot of my buddies began moving out of state a few months back, I had been something of a homebody whenever I wasn’t at work. A rowdy night out at the sports bar with the fellas eventually gave way to nursing a craft beer and catching the ballgame on TV, radio or internet streaming at home. Not the most fulfilling way to spend an evening, but certainly not a bad night either.
To say I didn’t give the beggar wolf any more thought would be dishonest. As I went to bed that night, I found myself wondering if she would be okay and if me giving her that beverage really would have made a difference in the grand scheme of things.
Several days had passed and I had gone by the same exit off the freeway off ramp that I saw the beggar werewolf at a number of times, but there was no sign of her. I had even packed a little bag that had gummy worms and a juicebox in case I would see her around.
After the third or fourth day, while back at the Route 93 off ramp I asked a grizzled older panhandler in grubby trousers, an old shirt and open toed shoes if he had seen a werewolf around. He said he hadn’t and I ended up giving the old timer the juicebox and gummy worms for his troubles.
For better or worse, it looked as though the wolf-eared beggar was out of my life forever. Perhaps it was just as well, since I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do if I did see her again. Sadly, it was safe to say that she wouldn’t be the last transient soul I’d see by the side of the road who had fallen on hard times.
~*~*~*~*~*~*Two Weeks Later~*~*~*~*~*~*~
God damn it! What now….? I grumble as I roll over and look at the alarm clock.
It had been a long day of hauling flatbeds loaded down with bundles of flattened cardboard boxes to and from various recycling plants outside of town, and I had to be up for work in about four hours.
Whatever had been knocked over sounded pretty heavy and came from the inside, meaning this wasn’t merely a coyote or neighbors’ dog who had somehow gotten into the garage. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I opened up a drawer on the nightstand and fumbled around in the dark before pulling out a .38 revolver. The thing hadn’t seen the light of day in months- I had actually gotten it secondhand at a sporting goods store with human predators in mind a while back after a rash of home invasion robberies across the city.
Groggily, I get to my feet and fumble around for my smartphone on this nightstand before making my way out into the darkened hallway with some trepidation.
My eyes aren’t really adjusting to the dark as quickly as I’d like as I creep down the hallway, smartphone and gun in hand. The noise sounded like it came from the kitchen, so I began to cautiously make my way down the hallway to there. Not even halfway there, I realized I wasn’t in a cop show and figured ‘’to hell with it’’ before I broke into a casual saunter as I made my way to what I thought was the source of the noise.
Turning on the light in the kitchen, I see a familiar figure casually leaning against the counter as though I’ve been rudely keeping her waiting.
“Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum…..I smell the blood of Mr. Truck Driver-kun…” she says, baring her fangs.
On it’s side was one of the stools adjacent to the counter. The source of the noise that rousted me in the dead of night, I’m guessing.
“It’s you…” I say, more shocked then frightened. “H-how did you find me?”
“J…just by using that tiny amount of your spirit energy in your saliva, I was able to track you here….” the lupine woman boasted, her paw on her chest. Up close, she’s surprisingly petite- I wager I’m about a foot taller than her.
“So you know where I live now….?”
“Are you nervous?” her tone suddenly seemed both menacing, seductive and playful. She was challenging me, testing me to see if I’d back down or become belligerent. “Don’t be scared- I won’t bite…….much….”
By my side and pointed her general direction was the Smith & Wesson Model 10 .38 Special loaded with six 158 grain hollowpoints. My trump card, but I didn’t feel like using it yet- if at all. For someone who had broken into my home in the dead of night, she was surprisingly talkative.
“Don’t you worry- I’m not scared.” I state flatly.
“Are you going to shoot me?” she asked
If she’s already seen the gun, then she’s probably mentally working through a dozen different scenarios to disarm me before I could get a shot off- all of them quite plausible despite my size advantage. I figure her olfactory senses had to have been good enough to pick up the scent of residual gunpowder, even though it had been awhile since I had been to the range.
“Haven’t made up my mind yet…” I lie after a moment’s hesitation. With an intruder this talkative, there’s little reason for me to shoot. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this late night visit, Miss Wolfy?”
“I….I wanted to know….” she began to say, her voice trailing off a little.
“Wanted to know what?”
“Why did you do it, though? Th-that one act of kindness….?”
“I wasn’t going to at first.” I admit. “I was content just to keep driving and listening to the ballgame. But then I saw people throw trash at you or yell at you or flip you off when you just looked so down and out-“
“Just another day at the office.” she interrupted.
“….and I didn’t think that was right. I mean, it’s one thing if they want to ignore you or not give you anything, but that’s just…..I don’t know…that’s just too much.”
She nods quietly. Again, I’m transfixed by those blue-green eyes of hers.
“OK- so now that you’re here, now what?”
She looked away.
“It pains me to say it, but that’s entirely up to you…”
“Seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through to thank me for a lukewarm cup of soda I gave you a couple of weeks ago, though.”
“Oh, of course- because I’m leaving that absolutely premium piece of real estate by the route 93 off ramp completely unprotected right now.” she says in an exasperated tone.
“Point taken.” I chuckle. Her shitty circumstances didn’t dull an apparently quick and sharp wit.
“There’s something about your aura….You probably don’t believe in that sort of thing, a-and I’m not saying we were meant to be soulmates or anything….” she continues self-consciously. “But there’s something in your aura that tells me that you were destined to show me there’s more to life than begging for scraps by the side of the road and hoping I don’t get pelted with trash or rocks from passing cars.”
“So you break into my place in the dead of night coz I’m such a swell guy? Bullshit- how about I just call the cops?”
“You wouldn’t get any less raped by the time they show up and meanwhile I get a roof over my head courtesy of the state.” she smirked.
I scowl at her as I cocked the hammer on the revolver. It was a bullshit answer and we both knew it.
“You can try.” I warn.
“Oh, relax….if I wanted to attack you, we wouldn’t be having this cozy little chit-chat right now. You know, you really should check all your doors before you tuck in for the night.”
“Thanks for the home-security tip, but again….why shouldn’t I just call the cops?”
“That would kind of suck, but you might be doing me a favor. At least I’d get fed three times a day.” she pouted.
I think about what she said for a moment.
“But if you’re that hard up for three squares, why not just chuck a rock at the first cop car to come down that exit ramp and then surrender?”
She had me locked in her gaze with those blue-green eyes of hers. Even though I had her at gunpoint, I still felt helpless looking into such intense eyes. However what she told me next caught me completely off guard.
“My freedom is all I have left…” she tells me forlornly.