Everything started five years ago. The president and congress tried to change the immigration policy. The new stringent laws would force the US back to a more isolationist viewpoint, a pre-World War II U.S. The theory was we could focus on our crumbling economy and other internal issues. Most people didn’t see how this would help and there were protests, but the proposed policies angered some powerful werewolves.
There was a large werewolf population who had been in the US for one or two generations and they brought family members and friends from Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America in droves. These packs owned businesses, managed to get workers' visas for their families, and staffed shops and warehouses with their kin. They reunited packs that had once been separated by oceans. Their secrets were relatively safe from human interference thanks to the enterprising nature of many alphas. Money moved a lot of it along and when you have a pack of thirty to forty sometimes even a hundred, bribe money was aplenty.
The new laws would make it harder. The crack down on legal and illegal immigrants alike would be swift. There was no telling if it would even be passed into law, but that didn’t matter. It never had the chance to get off the ground.
One full moon the president was hospitalized after being attacked by a large dog. His wounds healed quickly, but he continued to complain of cramps and the occasional fever. The next full moon our president transformed. He was a half-human beast, covered in fur, standing on hind paws like a dog's. His hands functioned as clumsy paws. He went crazy in the light of the full moon. All traits, as we soon learned, of a person bit by a werewolf. Had he been born into the role he'd be more wolf than man during the full moon. He'd also be more mentally stable during the change, having become accustomed to it in the womb. His transformation led Others, vampires, witches, and werewolves, to seemingly come out of nowhere.
The radical werewolves revealed first, seeing as their actions had made their very real presence known. The older werewolf families who came out next, somewhat apologetic for the behavior of the radicals. These werewolves either were descended from the Native American tribes or had been in the US for four or more generations, families like my supervisor’s. Witches came next. They claimed Nikola Tesla and Alexander Fleming as their own, but strangely left Marie Curie untouched. Then the vampires under one hundred years old came out. These younger vampires attempted to breach the gap with humanity by raising rats and chickens and dogs to fill themselves. Other, older, vampires didn't deny their lose of humanity, but agreed to get consent from their victims first, just to keep trouble from coming down on their heads. The oldest vampires still kept quiet and they didn't pose any greater threat then they had before. They quietly drained blood and kept in shadows.
And yet Angie had come forward. She was older than any other vampire client I had. No one really knew why she bothered, centuries of hiding meant her skills were honed. She could move undetected and untouched. I wasn't even sure how old she was. She once mentioned leaving Europe for the first time after the Reign of Terror in France. She was already a vampire at that point, but I had no references of her life before that point.
There had been a good deal of resistance to the idea of Others being regulated. After the great coming out the idea was proposed that we needed to track them. Though, as Angie stated repeatedly, they had seen to their own affairs forever. The debate raged for a year before the Bureau of Supernatural Beings, or BSB for short, was formed. The debate still raged on what restraints should and should not be put on Others. How to try werewolves that go mad after being bitten, what sort of sentencing do you give a vampire who will live forever, what magic is okay for witches to use. Others fought their bonds and insisted one of their own sit at the head of the BSB. The compromise was a human had to head it as well. It'd been the only thing anyone really agreed on. Ella Herald, a vampire turned in the eighteen nineties, sits at the head with a retired FBI field agent, Robert Baxter.
We sometimes had protesters outside our office building, but on a whole working for the BSB wasn’t bad. I wanted to go into social work and the BSB allowed me to do that and it was a government position so I had decent benefits. If I ever left I had amazing credentials to fall back on. Then, of course, there was the chance to work with Others, a fact my teenage self is very jealous of.
I made a run to the bathroom quickly to change out of my turtleneck and hoodie. Technically I wasn't allowed to wear hoodies at the office, but when it came to Angie and her questionable bloodlust I willing broke whatever rules I had to.
I slipped out of the hoodie and pulled the turtleneck over my head. I buttoned up a black blouse and checked myself out in the mirror. My bun had roughly a million fly-aways standing on end. I liked to look my best when I met new people, but today, only looking somewhat okay would have to do.
My hair’s a soft brown. When it's not pulled up it falls down my back in waves. It has the potential to look good, but I don't always have time to put the forth the effort. My eyes are gray, but not a pretty silvery gray, oh no. They are the gray of winter sludge. The kind of gray of a winter morning with cloud cover, no hope of the sun appearing. The kind of gray that depressed people who just wanted to see the sun and warmth again. It's a small price to pay for not having the same hooked nose as my father and sisters. I stand at five foot eight with a runner's body. I was very active before taking a job at the BSB. The desk job has added a few pounds around my midsection, but I retain most of the muscles from years of running and lifting weights.
I yanked my brown hair from its bun. A bump was left in my tresses where the elastic band had held everything in place. It looked like a tangled mess. I sighed, cursing the rain. I pulled a tiny brush from my purse, while shoving the turtleneck in. The brush was smaller than my palm and not up to the task in front of it. Too bad.
A few pained strokes tamed the frizz. It still had the unattractive bump, but I quickly tied it back up. I pulled a few strands out to frame my face. Better. I wish I had time to straighten and style, but that was for the ambitious. Besides next to a vampire no one with a pulse looks good. I packed up my things, shoulder my bag, and waved good-bye to Sean on my way out.
Our BSB office is located on the Kennedy Expressway near the Cumberland exit. Around us are other nondescript office buildings and a host of chain restaurants. As I ran for my car I heard the “L” pass and stop at the Cumberland stop.
I liked to park close to the door. I felt fairly confident none of my clients waited for me in the bushes, but my former office mate had her run-in in the parking lot. I am not one to tempt fate. My black ‘93 Rav 4 was parked next to Sean’s forest green Range Rover, with our coworker, Brent's, silver Camry on the other side. Safety in numbers.
The drive to Des Plaines was a quick one. I took Cumberland to River Road and followed River to Touhy. There wasn’t much traffic this time of night. Unincorporated Des Plaines was an ill-lit area, always has been. I know a lot of Others like this area. I had a few other clients who lived in other apartment buildings nearby. The absence of streetlights allowed werewolves and vampires to skulk about unnoticed.
The Kleins' building was a four story brick shithouse. The windows were boarded up for the most part. I saw the occasional glimpse of light through the cardboard and garbage bags, but my guess was most of the inhabitants were out feeding.
Getting out of my car I regretted not bringing a jacket with me. The day was warm enough, but now that the sun had set the night was cool, with a breeze cutting through my blouse. I hadn’t noticed it when I darted from the BSB building to the Rav. I took hurried steps from my car to the apartment's front door.
Two women hung around outside having a smoke. The light from the apartment’s foyer was just good enough that I could see their washed out faces. I couldn't see their bite marks, but I knew a blood donor when I saw one. I nodded by way of greeting as I inspected the mailboxes.
One of the women, a short, but well built redhead snuffed her cigarette into the brick wall next to the mailboxes. I didn't like her breathing down my neck, getting her cigarette stench in my personal space. For me donors are unnerving. They willing let vampires feed on them. They wanted to be vampires, but weren’t deemed good enough to be turned. So they settled for a life of being bitten and drained in the hopes someone would finish the job. It seemed like a sad way to exist to me.
“Do you know which apartment Jessica and Melvin Klein live in?” I asked the mouth breather. I decided to alleviate her curiosity.
“What do you want with them, leech?”
“Official BSB business.”
The second woman, a stick of a brunette, put out her own cigarette to join us. “Apartment two seventeen.” She was a good deal nicer than her counterpart, giving me a sad smile.
The redhead was busy giving me the stink eye. BSB case workers are lowly scum to a lot of people. Oh well. Scum I am, scum I shall remain.
“What do you want with them?” the redhead snapped, repeating her question.
“Official business.” I made to open the main door to the complex, but the redhead moved and held it shut. If I wanted to I could overpower her. I, after all, had all my blood intact. I didn’t want to start any trouble though. “And I really can’t discuss BSB business.”
“You busy bodies are always getting in our business!”
“I am simply doing my job, ma’am.” I put my hand on the door. She didn’t move.
“Well, your job interferes with our lives. If my boyfriend doesn’t get the notary to his leech of a case worker in time he can’t bite me. He has to catch squirrels.”
Get your paperwork in on time, I thought, but refrained from comment. “The laws are there to protect you.” I opened the door an inch. The redhead wasn’t strong enough to keep it shut against my tugging.
“They’re there to discriminate us!”
I looked at the brunette who looked pained at her friend’s outburst. “Rachel, let her in. She’s just here to do a job.” The brunette pulled Rachel away from the door. “She always gets cranky after a feeding, sorry.”
I dug in my purse and handed Rachel a little Ziploc full of almonds. “Protein will make you feel better.” Rachel scowled and the brunette smirked. I waved good-bye putting on the brightest, least offensive smile I could. I stepped into the apartment building. The redhead’s muttered curses hit the now closed, glass doors.
The building was quiet as a tomb as I made my way upstairs. Everything was a soft, off-white. The floors, the carpet, even the décor was various shades of eggshell or beige. No one wanted aggressive colors like orange or red when Others were generally ruled by their senses. I climbed the stairs to the second floor. I saw a few splotches of reddish-brown stains in the beige carpet. I chose to ignore them because only an idiot wouldn’t know what they were. Apartment two seventeen was at the end of the hall. Someone had put a little plastic flamingo, with drawn on fangs, outside. I knocked and waited.
A woman about my height opened the door. Her hair was a dirty blond. It was flat, without even a hint of wave or curl, falling like straw around her shoulders. Like all vampires she was flawless. Her skin was a smooth ivory, without a sign of blemish. She dressed in skinny jeans and a plain black baby doll t-shirt. She probably took part in sports, volleyball maybe or softball. She had the build of an athlete. She had at least twenty pounds on me.
“You must be Jessica Klein. My name is Samantha Dunmore. I will be you and your brother's case worker.” I held out my hand, but she just stared at it.
Turning on her heel she beckoned me inside. The apartment was full of cheap, plywood furniture. The kind that only needed an Allen wrench to assemble. There was a beat-up leather couch in front of a medium sized flat screen TV, a watermarked coffee table, and a folding card table and chairs. The table had newspapers and bills piled high. There was a light on in the bedroom and I could see the corner of a coffin. The light was off in the galley style kitchen. There were no decorations on any of the walls.
“Mel, Samantha is here.” Jessica cleared a space on the table for me to set down my folders.
I did so, pulling out some forms for her and her brother to fill out, all very standard.
A lanky, pale man with dyed black hair came in from the bedroom. He was outfitted in a brand new black duster and I could see his legs were covered by skinny jeans. They had the same high cheekbones and upturned nose. Though he looked more sullen. He kept staring at his feet, refusing to make eye contact.
I could see why someone would want to change Jessica. She's sporty and perky. But I couldn't say the same for Melvin. Vampires preferred to turn those who don't try to look the part, those who aren't on the fringes of society. Businessmen, athletes, dean's list students, they are chosen. Vampires want joiners, people who will move upwards. Melvin looked like he was happy to stay low and go unnoticed.
“My name is Samantha Dunmore; I'll be your case worker.” I held out my hand. Like his sister Melvin didn't bother to shake it. “I understand you were both turned recently.” A quick search of their file had shown me several notaries bearing their names. They'd been donors for a while before making the change.
“Last week, Johanna Gonzalez. She said she knew you.” Jessica said, almost daring me to disagree with her.
I knew Johanna. She was another of my clients. I didn't remember seeing her name on the notaries, but that did not make a difference. Though I was surprised Johanna didn't call in to report her intentions of turning two people. The BSB tried to approve every turn before it happened, but the law abiding nature of Others only extended so far. For vampires it halted at reporting turns. Though they were gracious enough to report it after the fact, making sure new vampires followed that rule at least.
“I know Johanna. I work with her as well. Now,” I pulled a stack of papers from one of my manila folders.
Jessica and Melvin crowded around me. I now had a better view of them. With the exception of an upturn in her nose that gave her a pig face, Jessica was beautiful. It wasn't all from the turn to vampire. Her full lips and body were gifts of genetics.
Melvin on the other hand was probably no looker. He was beautiful now of course, but he was gangly, with stringy, poorly dyed hair, and a sour expression. I knew he was undead, but it wouldn't hurt to be a tad cheerier. As he crowded around me I noticed his eyebrows were undyed, showing a pale blond, almost white look. I subtly touched my eyebrow, pretending to push a hair from my eye. He scowled. Both looked to be about twenty or twenty-one. And they'd stay that way until the moon fell out of the sky or they decided to spend an afternoon tanning.
“I need you to read and sign these. I also need to know if you're having any trouble finding work.”
Regulating Others' activities was the major goal of the BSB, but it was also important to make sure there was no discrimination in the workplace or elsewhere. Equal citizens, equal rights.
“I'm the night manager at a gas station. My boss is a witch,” Melvin mumbled. He took the form from me and set to work filling it out. His handwriting was classic serial killer scrawl. I could barely read it.
I stared at Jessica. She didn't say anything for a minute. “I'm taken care of.” She also took her form and set to work filling it out. Hers was a bubbly handwriting, her I’s were dotted with little circles.
I'm sure you are. I bent down and scribbled some notes on one of my many forms. Jessica reached over me, her perfume invading my nostrils. I wrinkled my nose in displeasure. It was like sandalwood and blood. A nice smell soured for me by the coopery scent of blood.
From their pile of bills and general hodgepodge she pulled out some official BSB documents. I recognized them as consent forms. They weren't even pretending to keep a bridge with humanity. They already wanted human blood. I felt my heart speed up. Most of my clients raised animals for their blood. It was always a little nerve wracking to work with someone who went for human. I wondered how they had been sustaining themselves. They legally couldn't take human blood without a stamp of approval. Not that that ever stopped anyone.
“I've been picking up stray cats, but I hate them.” Jessica said, reading my shocked expression. I suppressed a shudder. “I want the blood of the weak.”
I stiffened. Jessica stared hard at me. I cut my eyes to Melvin. He looked less miserable now, more feral. “Excuse me?” My voice raised an octave as my mind wrapped around this thinking.
“I used to be weak. I felt stronger when I was chosen,” she explained. “Even if you’re not a vampire being a donor makes you feel powerful. It brings the promise of unhindered supremacy and glory. I think I could bring that feeling to others.”
And I’m terrified. What a fanatical prospect. The very idea of leeching away someone else’s life force, of having my own taken away, it left me feeling tired. I suddenly thought of velociraptors. According to wise men like Dr. Grant they hunted in packs. They could open doors. They had problem solving capabilities and they were vindictive, hunting for sport. I felt like I was trapped in a room with velociraptors. They had my scent and they were daring me to run screaming into the night. Jessica held out the consent forms.
It’s not like I never saw them, but something in the air here made me wary to touch them.
“Johanna said you'd stamp them,” Melvin growled. The facade of a weak brother, awkward, on the fringes, was gone. He morphed to full vampire mode too quickly for my liking.
I gingerly took the consent forms out of Jessica’s hands. “They look okay.” I looked carefully at the notaries. “Most new vampires avoid humans though.” The moment the words came out I regretted saying them. I regretted even thinking them.
“What do you know?” Jessica gripped my shoulder hard. It felt like having a vice clamped onto my bone. I couldn't be sure if she had just forgotten her new vampire strength or if she tried to hurt me for a reason.
I wanted to break free and run off, but Melvin had moved to block the door. I could have jumped out the window. But if I broke anything I'd be a wounded gazelle for the hungry raptors. This was also assuming I could even get away from the death grip on my shoulder.
“The BSB is trying to suppress instinct with rules and regulations!” Her nails went in deeper. It was a miracle she didn’t draw blood. “I could break every bone in your body. I could show you what it's like to be a god.”
I refused to cry out. I bit the inside of my cheek, letting the coppery taste of blood settle unto my tongue. The pain in my mouth only dulled the pain on my shoulder. Jessica was trying to get me to buckle. I had dealt with chauvinistic Others before. They wanted to prove they were strong and in control. In a practiced vampire this display would be cut off before bloodlust took over. In this newly turned bitch, I couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t savage me when she caught the scent of my bleeding cheek.
“You mundane little girl.” Little girl? I was at least three years older than she was.
“What use do we have for your stupid papers?”
“Jessica...” Melvin's voice wavered. Jessica made no move to release me. “Jess…”
I looked over to him. His face blanched, eyes transfixed on the spot where Jessica held fast. Suddenly the pressure eased.
Jessica watched me. Her face was an unreadable mask.
Melvin cleared his throat. “She didn't mean to hurt you. We are just chafing at the collar the BSB tries to put on us. You're no more responsible for those rules than I am for making the sun rise.” His words were sincere, though he looked pained to even be saying them.
“I'm sorry. You're only the messenger. Let me get an icepack for your shoulder,” Jessica said quietly. Her words were edged with a tinge of regret, but also mockery. She may be sincere with her apology, but she still saw me as a symbol of oppression.
I wanted to yell at her. To remind her a week ago she was as human as me. How dare these new turns think their lot in life is hard. Until a few years ago this Other lifestyle wasn’t even open to them. Instead I grabbed the notaries and flipped through them. Whatever, I wanted out of the building right now. The notaries looked good enough. I'd take any sort of punishment I had to if I were wrong. I stamped the papers. I grabbed the forms I’d made them fill out as well.
“Call our office tomorrow to set up your appointment next week.” I grabbed more consent forms and shoved them into Jessica's hands. “Have a great night.”
They watched me carefully as I fled. I'd request someone else take them as soon as possible. I breathed easier when I was out into the parking lot. I was glad their window didn't face my way. I didn't want to look up and see them staring down at me.