City of Monsters

City of Monsters, by Andrea Speed
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-178-6
eBook release: 
Aug 11, 2014
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Word count: 
21,000
Page count: 
80
Type: 
Cover by: 

This title is part of the My Haunted Blender's Gay Love Affair, and Other Twisted Tales collection. Check out the collection discount!

Ebook $2.99

Hunter is a human turned animal shifter in Nightshade, a literal city of monsters in a near-Earth dimension called Dev. All sorts of beasts reside here, unable to return to Earth, yet still plagued by the same jealousies, rivalries, and needs of any human. Resolving them is Hunter’s job.

Hunter faces supernatural perils at every turn: vampire debt collectors who most decidedly don’t sparkle, werewolfs who literally piss on everything you love, and surprise shifters. And just like back on Earth, there are mundane struggles too. Like paying the rent—which isn't easy for a guy with more vices than virtues—and keeping his haunted blender happy with pricey produce. So he takes a job from a foul-mouthed reverse tooth fairy to find her missing twin.

Just when things seem like they couldn’t get any worse, Hunter meets Sakari, a hot newcomer to Nightshade with a taste for danger. Will Sakari change Hunter’s bad luck, or will he only mean more trouble? Can Sakari help him solve his case? And how will Hunter explain the new man in his life to his blender?

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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You know you’re in for a bad night when you wake up dangling ten stories above the ground. Somehow, the night gets worse when you realize an angry vampire is holding you by the ankle.

“Good, you’re awake,” Fang said as my eyes continued to adjust. My head ached, and I figured I’d been clobbered. Not that I could remember any of it, mind you, but that came with the territory of head injuries. “I was afraid you were gonna sleep through your death.”

“Fang, dude, let’s talk this out,” I said, hoping I didn’t sound as pathetic as I thought I did. The truth was, I bet I sounded a million times worse. “What is it you think I did?”

“You know what you did, you rat bastard.”

“Yeah . . . you’re gonna hafta narrow it down for me, Fang.”

He made a noise of disgust and shook his head, which I could feel in the slight tremor of his arm. “Mutt, even you can’t be this stupid.”

“I am not a mutt,” I protested, even though that was really just a guess on my part. You’d think after six months, I would have known what kind of were I was, but nope. I kind of didn’t want to know because with my luck, I was something ridiculous. A worm maybe, or a dung beetle.

He sighed; it wasn’t natural for vampires, so when they bothered to do it, they were being drama queens. “Did you forget about the wolf races?”

“No.” Although I quickly realized that, yes, I had. “Yes.” I’d really thought Silver Streak was a shoo-in to win the third race, but then he’d had to pull up lame. Just my luck.

“You now owe Mr. Deth two grand—interest added—’cause you didn’t show up Friday to pay off the fifteen hundred, and he figured you were trying to weasel out of your debt. Is that what you are? A weasel?”

“No. I genuinely forgot.” I had. It may have been related to a self-pitying, sorrow-fueled bender, but hell if I was gonna tell him that. He didn’t need to know about my personal life. Although the saddest thing was, I’d had so many interactions with Fang that he was kind of a frenemy. Personal life wasn’t exactly out of bounds. “I’ve kinda been . . . sick.”

“Ya mean drunk?” he asked, his voice dripping with contempt. “I can smell the booze coming through your pores.”

“Look, can you give me a break here? My head’s killin’ me, and if you keep dangling me, I’m gonna barf. Wanna find out what I ate last?”

He made a grumpy noise and roughly deposited me back on the roof, where I flopped down like a landed fish. The sky, a weird midnight blue with dark, flesh-pink tendrils at the very edges, spun as if it were on a broken turntable—too fast and a little wobbly. When my vision cleared, Fang was standing off to one side, arms crossed over his chest, looking vaguely disgusted. The fact that he’d given in so easily confirmed my long-held suspicion about him—that he felt sorry for me. And how sad was that? I’ve always depended on the kindness of enforcers.

His name, by the way, was actually Fang. He was an Asian American vampire. The Asian part was pretty obvious, but the American giveaway was his almost comically thick Minnesotan accent. The first time I heard him talk, I’d laughed, expecting him to ask me if I had a hot dish to pass, don’tcha know. He punched me into next week, and I’d never laughed at his accent anywhere near him again. It was still really funny, though, especially considering he made his living as a hired thug.

“Look, he’s extended all the credit he can,” Fang said.

“That’s bullshit, and you know it. He could do more if he wanted.”

“Yeah, but why would he for you?”

That was a damn good point. I would have agreed if I weren’t concentrating on not vomiting up my digestive track. Fang looked down at me, scowling with distaste, and finally rolled his gleaming copper eyes. “I’ll see if he’s willing to have you work off the debt. But how are you at shakin’ people down?”

“Depends. Actual humans?”

“Oh, hell no.”

“Not that good, then.” Finally the sky steadied, and I got brave enough to push myself up to my knees. Took a bit longer than it should have.

“Has anyone told you that even for a weird were, you’re kinda lame?”

“Don’t you start, Fang. I’m humiliated enough as it is.” I sat on the cool crystal roof and tried to mentally will myself into feeling better. It wasn’t working. Spirit wine was a fucking bitch. Brilliant when you had it, but later you understood why they gave it the name—it haunted you like a cursed graveyard. Also, it made you feel undead. In a bad way.

“I’ll talk to Deth. Don’t leave town. If you do, you’ll be sorry,” Fang said before stepping off the edge of the roof. He couldn’t fly—vampires couldn’t do that—but they were pretty indestructible, like most of the undead, and Fang’s legs weren’t natural. Oh, maybe they had been once, but his boss, Deth, had arranged for his number one enforcer to get legs made of that nigh-invulnerable black crystal stuff the bug people used for their buildings. I couldn’t pronounce their name for it, and frankly I didn’t care to, ’cause I wasn’t insectoid and it didn’t really matter. All I knew was, if you made Fang mad, he could easily kick a hole through titanium-plated steel. When he landed, he left two foot-shaped indents in the ground below.

“Where the hell would I go?” I shouted after him. Did he hear me? Didn’t matter. It was a rhetorical question anyways.

Still, at least he’d given me an out. Kind of. How pathetic did you have to be for a legless enforcer to feel sorry for you? I guess I’d just answered that question.

I’m usually not this sad, really. Or at least I hope I’m not. The name’s Hunter Burrows, and I’m a finder in the city of Nightshade. Never heard of it? Lucky you. It’s a city of monsters.

I’m not being fanciful or metaphorical. It’s literally a city of monsters. There are no humans here, or at least none that aren’t food. Zombies, vampires, and werewolves walk the streets, as do lizard men, insect men, and assorted other beasties and mutant abominations. I’m a were, so I’m in that category. Not a werewolf; there are a whole bunch of different weres. You name an animal, there’s probably a were for it. Problem is, I’m not sure what kind I am. I’m not a werewolf, ’cause they pee on all their stuff, and even in human form, they have this gamey, wet-dog smell about them. I don’t. But I only know I’m not a wolf—everything else is up for grabs. For all I know, I’m a werepenguin. I kinda hope not, because I’m pathetic enough as it is.

When I was sure I could move without barfing my head off, I got up and headed for the roof exit. Of course, me being me, the elevators were out, so I had to make the long climb down the stairs to street level. I was forced to take breaks along the way, with the way I was feeling.

Once I left the building, which was an apartment complex primarily populated by vampires, I sat on the sidewalk, trying to shake off my fuzzy headedness, and wondered if I should blame a hangover or a blow to the head for the fact that I couldn’t remember where I’d last been. Maybe it was neither—maybe it was just the city itself.

I’m not kidding. I have no idea how I was turned, or how I ended up here. I just woke up half-naked in an alley, my head hurting, gripped with a sense that something was wrong, though I didn’t know what. When I saw the first lizard man amble by, I’d thought maybe I was near a sci-fi convention or something. It was the sky and the buildings that eventually convinced me I was in another world, long before the zombies and werewolves. The buildings were made of the strangest stuff I’d ever seen, and the sky . . . well, it was a fleshy pink. I’d thought it was hell for maybe five seconds, but I’d never believed in that shit, and I wasn’t dead.

Somehow, I’ve figured out how to survive in this world. But it was all trial and error, and in many respects, I’m still trying. I never thought I was very good at improvising, but my continued survival seems to prove otherwise.

A werehorse pulling a pedicab clopped down the street, and I flagged him over and asked him to take me back to my place. He agreed with a neigh and a shake of his big roan head, and I stepped up into the cab. They’re a community service, mostly for thieves and other low-level criminals. The justice system in Nightshade is a patchwork of weirdness. There isn’t really a police force as humanly defined, just Sentinels who work for Medusa, the god who runs the dimension. In any other place, that all might seem super strange, but in Nightshade, it’s close to the most normal thing we have.

As I sat in the back of the cab and watched the city go by, it occurred to me that the existence of a mythological god no longer seemed weird. Then again, I was some kind of were. What was unbelievable anymore? There were no limits. And I was in debt to a were crime boss with vampire henchmen all because gambling and drinking were the only thrills left to me. Being in a city full of monsters seemed to have made me more jaded by the day. And maybe a bit depressed. I felt terribly alone, even though all of us former humans were in the same boat. And now I was in trouble with Mr. Deth. Terrific.

I live in an apartment building made of onyx and shaped like a dagger plunging into the heart of the sky. It’s officially known as Briarwood, but it’s called the Knife. In fact, this area is known, consequently, as the Knife District. Just ’cause it’s a city full of monsters doesn’t mean they’re any more creative than humans.

I gave the werehorse a friendly pat on the haunches as I got off the pedicab in front of the building—my version of a thank-you. Technically, weres don’t retain human intellect in animal form, but there’s a special kind of curse applied to those doing community service. No one but the Sentinels and their special Cursers (yes, that’s an actual job description) actually know how that works, but rumors about it run rampant. I try not to pay attention to any of it. I may not have been here long, but I’ve caught on to the fact that the truth is often too strange to properly tolerate.

Inside the main door of the Knife, I was almost instantly overwhelmed by the animal scents, which no amount of air scrubbers could take away. The Knife was mainly inhabited by weres, and while most spent at least part of their time in their human forms, the building still ended up smelling like a semi-tidy zoo.

I’d wanted an apartment on a lower floor, as I’m not a great fan of heights, but the best I could get was level twenty-two. So I took the elevator up, though it made creepy creaking and groaning noises that made it sound like it was two minutes away from gaining sentience and swallowing you whole. It wasn’t totally impossible. Nothing here was.

I staggered down the hall toward my door, which was painted red. On every floor, each door was a different color, making the dimly lit hallways look like a pride parade after the power had gone out. From the lingering scent in the hall, one of my neighbors was a werewolf, and another had decided six in the morning was the ideal time to make lasagna. It made the nausea I thought I’d shed come back big-time.

As I went in, I continued wracking my brain for what had happened last night before Fang had dangled me off a building. But it was a painful, blurry fog. I finally decided I’d sleep on it and see whether it came back to me. It was just a shame that, despite all this mystical stuff, you still had hangovers. Magical dimension, my ass.

***

I think I’d gotten about three hours of sleep when I heard a gruff but surprisingly small voice demanding, “Get up, shit face.”

I opened my eyes warily and found a large insect hovering over my bed. An insect wearing a turquoise pantsuit.

Oh shit. Now some of it came back to me: I’d been hired by Terry, a reverse tooth fairy, to find her brother, Larry, who’d gone missing a couple days ago. Since I’d been an insurance investigator back on earth, and the Sentinels mainly just enforced Medusa’s rules, there were jobs for investigators like me. Reverse tooth fairies actually have the ability to travel between dimensions at will, so it’s impossible to say that one is missing, except that Terry and Larry were identical twins, and Terry claimed she had a psychic connection to him that told her he was in trouble. I had no idea if this was true, but I had no grounds to argue it, either. And if she wanted to pay me to find him, I was willing to give the impossible a try.

I rubbed my eyes and croaked, “What? I said I’d call you if I found anything.”

“I think you might be too late, dick wad,” the tiny fairy squeaked, her gossamer wings a blur as she hovered just out of swatting distance. “I’ve lost my sense of connection with him.”


“Meaning what? He’s dead?”

“Maybe. Or maybe he’s just gone to where his signal’s blocked.”

Signal? Were they radios? I almost asked, but decided against it, as reverse tooth fairies are always sour and short-tempered. They’re no one’s idea of a good time. I bet they aren’t even a good snack, either. I sighed, rolling over onto my back, and Terry flew up a bit, as if afraid I might smack her. Believe me, I was thinking about it. “So, I’m fired?”

“You wish, fuck bucket. I still wantcha to find him, no matter what state he’s in. But I wantcha to actually get up and do your job, you lazy-ass brain. Get up.”

“You’re not my mother. Go away.”

“How much am I paying you? Remind me.”

“Goddamn gnat,” I grumbled, reluctantly sitting up. I thought about throwing my pillow, but fuck me, I needed the money. It was cheaper to live here than it was back on Earth, but not cheap enough for my ideal purpose, which was never working again. Shouldn’t there be a law somewhere that if you got turned into some kind of were, you don’t have to work? I don’t recall the Wolfman ever getting up for his job at the Taco Hut. “I have nothing to go on. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a reverse tooth fairy in this city? You fuckers are more slippery than the pride parade’s Lube King after Jell-O shot Thursday.”

“What does that mean?”

“No idea. I haven’t had my coffee yet.” I got up and stumbled to the bathroom, hoping she wouldn’t follow, though I didn’t really give a fuck. Couldn’t stop her if I wanted to.

As it was, she had enough sense to simply hover outside the door, waiting for me. “Maybe you’re not a dog, but you have their work ethic.”

Everyone calls werewolves “dogs” here. It isn’t a term of endearment. Although other, wimpier weres are often made fun of, the most scorn seems to be saved for wolves, who are generally seen as little more than smelly, lazy pests. I like to argue, as they’re my fellow weres, and no one needs to be denigrated like that. But, yeah, they are kinda smelly and weirdly elitist at times. Like just ’cause they’re mythic monsters, they’re somehow better than the rest of us.

I emerged from the bathroom, scowling. “You have the connection with him. And yet you still can’t tell me where he is.”

“No, but at least I know he was working for Macula, fuck nugget.”

I was pouring water into the coffee machine when I realized what she had said. “Macula? And you chose not to tell me this, why?”

“’Cause I just found out myself, dick sweat. And it wasn’t something to be proud of. Workin’ for shit suckers. So fuckin’ find him like I paid ya to, ass head.” With an audible pop, she left my apartment.

Macula—if the intensely stupid name didn’t give it away—was a vampire who ran what passed for a casino in this world. It was sleazy, low rent, and clearly corrupt, which was all you could expect from a vampire who would willingly name himself one of the stupidest variations of Dracula I’d ever heard. Actually, come to think of it, it was slightly more than I expected from someone with such a shitty name. I should probably congratulate him. Well, if he didn’t have a reputation for being a were-hating, reclusive weirdo. The Howard Hughes of the vampire set.

I slumped down in a chair at my kitchen table and tried to recall if I’d ever gone to that casino. What was it called again? Something weird. Bite Me? No, that couldn’t have been it.

“May I be of assistance?” the blender asked, flapping its lid. “Would you like a smoothie?”

“No,” I replied, scratching my head. Maybe I needed to eat first, though. Did I have any food at all?

“I could make you a frappe,” the blender said.

I sighed. “Fine, make me a frappe.” I should have known better than to save a few bucks and buy a haunted appliance. But I really hadn’t seen what the problem was, and hey, it was only five dollars. You can’t turn down that kind of a deal. Of course, if I had known that the blender was such a needy, insistent bastard, I’d have spent the cash to get a ghost-free one.

There were small thudding noises as the machine began walking awkwardly across the counter by wobbling back and forth. “Oh boy, what kind do you want?”

“Surprise me.”

I was listening to it wobble when the scent of coffee finally filled the kitchen, and I stood up to get a cup.

“Hey,” the blender finally said. “Your fruit bowl is empty.”

I poured myself a mug of coffee before opening the fridge. It was a sad, cold, barren place; kinda like Antarctica, but with even less stuff. “Could you make a frappe out of ketchup packets?”

“No. Ketchup isn’t a fruit.”

“Tomatoes are a fruit.”

“I’m not arguing with you. I’m just not making a frappe out of ketchup.”

I searched while my stomach growled in discontent and eventually found something kind of round and green near the back of the crisper drawer. “How about a lime? Or at least I think it’s a lime.” I had no memory of buying a lime ever, but that didn’t mean I hadn’t acquired one at some point. This place was so weird, you just had to accept that things happened with no rhyme or reason, and sometimes you would end up with stuff you never bought. By the same token, things often disappeared, never to be seen again, which was why being a finder was such a losing proposition. But it was pretty much the only job I was qualified for if I didn’t want to become affiliated with a gang. Had to pay the rent—and my gambling debts—somehow. Also, I had a blender to support.

“Umm . . . I guess.”

“Great.” I attempted to lob the lime into the fruit bowl, but missed, and it ended up skipping on the counter and bouncing off the backsplash over the sink. At least it stopped moving somewhere near the bowl.

The blender wobbled its way over. “Just one?”

“Unless you want to mix it with ketchup.”

“Ew. Stop being disgusting.”

I left the blender to get to it while I retrieved my phone from my coat pocket and started doing an internet search. Nightshade may have been a monster city, but it had some kickass wi-fi. And obviously I needed to get moving on this whole finding thing.

Macula’s club was called the Mouth of the Dragon (I don’t know why I thought it was Bite Me . . . but why wasn’t it?), and it was at the very edge of the Vampire District where it intersected with Dogtown. Not an area you wanted to go to late at night, when everyone was up and looking for trouble and half of them were drunk. By all rights I should have gone right now, during daylight hours, but it wasn’t open. Of course it wasn’t, as that would be too easy.

After a minor apocalypse of noise, the blender suddenly said, “It’s done! Come get it while it’s fresh.”

I didn’t even know what a frappe was—some kind of drink—but I didn’t argue. ’Cause the guy who’d sold the blender to me had omitted a really important detail: Yeah, it was haunted, but the ghost that haunted this blender was fucking crazy. He—she? Couldn’t tell—actually thought it was a blender. The ghost seemed to have no memories of its human (or beastly?) existence. If there were a loony bin for cuckoo ghosts-slash-inanimate objects, I’d have sent it there. I’d tried to sell it, but as soon as it started talking, most people were out the door. I’d even tried to throw it away several times, but somehow it kept coming back. So I had no choice but to live with it until I could find a home for wayward ghosts who thought they were small kitchen appliances. And arguing with it was pointless and messy.

A clean cup was waiting for me beside the blender, and since it hadn’t been there before, I just assumed the blender had gotten it for me. Again, you didn’t argue with this thing. I poured the frothy green mixture into the cup, and since there wasn’t much of it, I just shotgunned it.

It was cold enough to give me a brain freeze and tart enough to make me pucker, but I swallowed it down and tossed the plastic cup in the sink. “Brisk. Next time, use more sugar.”

“Sugar’s bad for you.”

“This whole city’s bad for me, but you don’t see me moving, do ya?”

“You can’t,” the blender replied, its strangely gender-neutral voice adopting a prim and proper air. “You’re a were. All monsters live here.”

“Does that include you?” I snapped, returning to my coffee cup and swigging down a mouthful of the stuff. It tasted super weird after the lime-heavy drink.

The blender flapped its lid at me, though I had no memory of putting it back on. “No. I’m not a monster. I’m a blender.”

“Of course you are.” I finished washing the sour citrus taste out of my mouth with bitter coffee, then added, “Clean yourself out, okay?”

“Okay, but only if you get more fruit.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I replied, wondering which fruits had the most sugar. Pears? Apples? Then I wondered if anyone else in any other universe had to worry about appeasing a kitchen appliance. Probably not. Although I supposed it could have been worse. Could have been an alarm clock.

 

***

 

Only werewolves lived in Dogtown. Nobody had deliberately segregated the place, but most other weres stayed away because the area was controlled by the Lobo mob. Wolves were unpleasant enough, but the Lobos found a way to be more obnoxious than most. Danny, my werewolf friend, wasn’t one of the Lobos, but he lived on the fringes of Dogtown, and had even worse gambling luck than I did.

I decided to walk because it wasn’t far from the Knife to Dogtown. Plus, I knew I’d be passing the Food Pit on the way, and I was already considering stopping in for a bite to eat. Yeah, Terry was super on my ass, and if she popped back in to find me eating she might sling a little more reverse tooth fairy hostility my way, but goddamn it, a beast’s gotta eat. Reverse tooth fairies probably ate too. What and when, I had no idea, but you just had to assume. Considering how annoying they were, I bet they ate nails and crunched on tinfoil loudly enough to make everyone in the room cringe.

I was just turning the corner onto Obsidian Road when a guy lunged out of the alley toward me. “Oh thank God, a normal person,” he said, stopping short of me. “Where the hell am I? What the hell is going on?” He had a British accent, which made him sound nice and classy—a counterpoint to the wild-eyed, disheveled look of a first-timer in Nightshade. But I only noticed that peripherally.

Instead, the first thing that jumped out at me was, Holy fuck, he’s cute.

He was about my size, but a bit thinner and fitter, with dusky skin that kind of reminded me of almonds, and big hazel eyes that slanted down at the corners ever so slightly. Eurasian? His hair was glossy black and caught somewhere between wavy and curly, currently mussed enough to give him a sexy bedhead kind of look. He was wearing jeans, a black leather jacket, and a blue T-shirt with the number 42 on it—nothing that would give me a hint as to what he’d last been doing before ending up here. Of course, those hints were rare, but it would have been nice.

“Take a deep breath,” I advised, because he looked to be on the verge of hyperventilating. “Tell me, kid, what’s your name?”

He seemed initially reluctant, maybe because I’d called him kid. But he looked like a kid to me, twenty-two to my thirty-two. “Sakari. Sakari Karim.”

“Sakari?” I repeated. Wow, they sure were naming people weird things nowadays. “Well, hi, Sakari, I’m Hunter. And welcome to Nightshade.”

He stared at me blankly, as if the words had flown in one ear and zipped right out the other. I sympathized, as I could still remember how long it had taken me to acclimate to my new reality. Hell, I was still acclimating. “Umm, what?” he finally said.

“You hungry?”

He shook his head, but still looked confused, so I didn’t take that as a definitive answer.

“Well, I am, and it’s best we get you off the street anyways. There’s a café on the next block. C’mon, and I’ll fill you in.”

I started walking, but had to stop and turn back, waiting for him to make up his mind. I totally got it, ’cause that had been me six months ago. Except I’d never looked that good. After a moment of glancing around, and noticing the zombies and wolves on the other side of the street, he moved to catch up with me. “This isn’t Hell, is it?” he asked quietly.

“No.”

“Good. I never believed in it.”

“Me neither. But after a little while here, you might start.” I didn’t want to scare the kid, but hell, it was the truth.

The Food Pit looked very much like an Earthside greasy spoon, right down to the vinyl booths and worn Formica tabletops. It could have been Earth . . . if it wasn’t for the lizard couple in the back, mashing down on their vegetable soufflé, or the laminated menu, which included glasses of blood for the vampires, raw flesh for the zombies and semi-civilized yetis, and an all-you-could-eat werewolf special in the back at closing time. (Hey, how else were they going to get rid of their garbage?) I slid into a booth, but Sakari stood there, gawking, staring at the lizards as they loudly smacked their meal.

I grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the booth. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you it’s rude to stare?” I really didn’t need a newbie to babysit when I still had to find a way into Macula’s and scrape up enough money to get Deth off my back, but there was no way in hell I was abandoning a guy this hot. Or at least not until I sussed out whether I had a chance with him.

He slid into the seat across from me, and had enough British shame in him to look contrite. “Sorry, I just . . . are they demons?”

“No, lizards. They’re very nice. Not chatty, though.” A waitress came up to the table, smelling faintly of dog, and I turned to her. “Could we get two cups of coffee, and bring us both a number three, but with toast instead of a bagel.”

“I’d rather have tea, please,” Sakari said.

She gazed down at him and paused, seemingly noticing how cute he was. Then she discarded whatever she was going to say and simply nodded, walking off to fetch our drinks. (No, that wasn’t a dig at werewolves. Okay, yes it was.)

Since I wanted someone this hot to live more than five minutes, I started giving him the standard boilerplate: how he was in a new world now and would be unable to return to Earth because he was most likely some kind of were. (If he was a vampire, we’d both know soon enough. Mainly, he’d suddenly grow fangs, his eyes would glow amber, and he’d try to bite me.)

He listened in wide-eyed disbelief, so I wasn’t surprised when he finally replied, “You’re making this up.”

“Look around. How am I making this up?”

He indulged me until the waitress came back with our drinks. She was a reasonably attractive, black-haired, blue-eyed woman, midtwenties at most, but once you knew a person was a werewolf, it was hard to see them as anything else. I hoped it wasn’t some heretofore-unknown prejudice of mine, but honestly, I didn’t care much for werewolves.

Sakari sighed and slumped back against his seat, looking like he was deflating. He jerked his head in the direction of the waitress as she walked away. “She looks human.”

“She does. But she’s a werewolf. Can’t you smell that hint of dog?”

“Is that what it is?” From the way he grimaced, I knew he didn’t want to believe me, but he had no choice in the matter. “Is that what I am too now? A werewolf?” he finally asked.

“No. You’d smell like dog too, if you were. You’re an unknown.”

“What kind of were are you?”

I could only shrug. “No idea. I know I’m not a werewolf, but that’s all I know.”

“How do you go about telling what you are?”

“Transform in front of someone else, and have them tell you what you are when you turn back.”

He considered that, staring down at a stain on the tabletop like it might communicate something illuminating. “How often do we turn? I mean . . . full moon? Or . . .”

“Any time you want.”

His eyebrows jumped. “What?”

“In Nightshade, you can transform whenever you want. And when your will’s no longer in it, you change back. At least as far as I understand it.”

He shifted in his seat, sitting forward and resting his arms on the table. How old was he? His skin seemed perfectly smooth, and he didn’t have any of the world-weary dread that I associated with everyone over thirty. But I was probably projecting a little on that last bit. Whatever, I was interested, and that didn’t happen often.

“I don’t understand any of this.”

“Welcome to my world,” I replied as the waitress returned with our food. The number three was my favorite: a plate overflowing with scrambled eggs, bacon, homemade hash browns, tomatoes, and toast. It was all fried, except for the toast, and so good I forgot I wasn’t on Earth. I picked up my fork and dug in, while Sakari looked at his own food with trepidation. “It’s really good,” I told him around a mouthful of eggs.

“Seems a bit . . . heavy.”

“That’s part of what’s great about it.”

“Ah.” He looked down at his plate like it was a particularly hazardous science experiment, and I frowned. If he didn’t eat it soon, I was going to eat it for him.

Sakari looked out the window at the occasional passing monster, and seemed to blanch slightly as a particularly gnarly looking zombie ambled by. To distract him, and to find out more about him, I asked, “So what’s the last thing you remember?”

That made him turn his attention to me, and he frowned in thought before finally admitting, “I’m pretty sure I was on assignment.”

“Assignment? What did you do?”

“Photographer. I was working with Reporters Without Borders in Uganda.” He scowled down at his tea before trying a sip.

“Wow,” I replied, impressed. Hot and a do-gooder to boot. How lucky was I? “Dangerous work, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, especially for me. But you have to try to get the word out.”

“What do you mean ‘especially for you’?”

He grimaced as he put his mug down, and I assumed he wasn’t crazy about the tea. “I’m gay, and that’s not a safe thing to be in Uganda right now.”

I almost choked on my eggs. Gay too! Man, if Nightshade had a lottery, today was the day I should have bought a ticket. Goddamn, maybe things were looking up. “So you were risking your life, basically.”

He shrugged. “I suppose. But I didn’t think I’d be taken out by an animal attack.” Then he paused, scratching his head. “How does that work, exactly? You get bitten by an animal, and bam, you become one of them? Wouldn’t this place be overflowing with people?”

I shook my head, buying myself time to swallow the potatoes in my mouth. I was fairly certain I was wolfing my food down like a pig. Or a wolf. I was starving, though, and I’d finally shaken off the last dregs of my hangover. Grease was good for that. Of course, it was waking up my libido too—dangerous with such a hottie around. Especially since I was sure Sakari was way out of my league. He was a ten, and I was maybe a six. Or a seven on a great day, and a two on my worst. Not that I sat around obsessively grading my looks. “It has to be an animal contaminated by magic. There aren’t that many of them, from what I understand. Which isn’t much.”

He scoffed. “Contaminated with magic? What, is it a virus?”

“No, I don’t think so. Apparently the hippies and the Druids were right—there is some magic to be found in nature, but it’s not in a form accessible by humans. Some animals can accidentally gain it, and when they do, they can pass it on to unsuspecting humans. Not that the animals know about it. At least, I don’t think they do.”

Sakari picked up his fork and jabbed at a fried tomato. I took that as a positive sign. “You know this sounds like utter rubbish, right?”

“Oh, I know. I still don’t quite believe it myself, and I’ve been here for half a year.”

We ate in companionable silence for a few minutes, and he seemed to warm up to the food, finally discovering it was as good as I said it was. I was working on a piece of toast when he asked, “So forgetting your last time on Earth is normal?”

“Apparently. Don’t ask me to explain it, ’cause that’s another thing I just don’t know.” Then I shook myself; what the hell time was it? I probably needed to get going. And while Sakari being gay meant I might actually have a shot—if he was drunk and/or lonely enough—I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do with him. Keep him alive, somehow? I’d managed to keep myself alive, even though the odds seemed stacked against me as a terminal fuckup. Maybe he and the blender could keep each other company while I tried to do some work.

“No offense, but you don’t seem to know a lot.”

I could only shrug. It was a fair cop. “I’ve been kinda busy figuring out how to work and survive in this world.” I’d also been afflicted with initial despondent depression, which there was a term for: adaptation shock. Apparently a lot of people, when they first woke up here, had a hard time adjusting to the new reality.

“Do people work in this world?” He then scowled at his plate. “Of course they do. I doubt anyone is a waitress for fun. What’s the hiring process like? They can’t make you fill out résumés.”

How the hell could I speed things up without making him think I was a jerk? I really needed to get going here. “No. The one good thing about being here is that there isn’t much in the way of paperwork. Nobody likes it, and being a monster, why should you do paperwork? Seems unfair. Also, there’s no way a zombie could hold a pen. Well, some of them. Not all of them.”

That made him stare at me. “Do people hire zombies?”

“They make pretty decent security guards. If there’s something with a pulse that shouldn’t be there, nobody knows about it faster than they do. Except maybe a vampire. But vampires generally feel that kind of work is beneath them.”

He put down his fork, as if he wasn’t ready to move on. He looked composed, but I got the sense this was an act. Much like a duck, he was all cool on top, while frantically paddling underneath. Or something like that. Maybe it was a British thing. “Do all monsters exist here?”

I quickly gave him the rundown on the things I’d encountered, seen, or heard rumors about, which turned out to be quite a lot. Some of them I had never even heard of before coming to Nightshade. This included the seemingly inexhaustible supply of weird weres, one of which I may have been. Was I a werearmadillo? A werefrog? Maybe a wererabbit. Still, if I’d been one, you’d have thought I would have liked carrots more.

from Jennifer Lavoie

HAHAHHA! Oh god this book! I laughed the whole way through it. ...It's just fantastic all the way around. The author works in the world building perfectly so that you get what's happening even in a relatively short book. The dialogue is witty and often hysterical. The opening throws you right into the action and you just go from there. 

from Joyfully Jay

 It’s cute, funny...a fantastic little world and wonderful characters.  Absolutely recommended.

from Things I Find While Shelving

The world these characters live in is so well developed and fleshed out...I felt like I could just dive in and join them in their world of weird. ...Over all, super fun story!

from Boys in Our Books (by Ami)

Andrea Speed can write characters with a dash of humor and a lot of wit that charm the pants off of me.

from The Jeep Diva (by Vanessa)

The attraction and ability to assist each other in this crazy new world make them totally work as a couple. 

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