As usual, the characters popped up in my head and started talking. I’m just the secretary taking dictation. I have to say that this was a lot of fun to write, and I plan to include Harlan in a future story! Enjoy!
A carnival was no place for a Changeling’s nose, no matter how much he needed a few day’s pay. Harlan’s inner wolf complained incessantly, and his human side had a constant splitting headache. Cotton candy’s cloying sweetness set his teeth on edge. Popcorn, normally a favorite of his, was paired with the nauseating chemical signature of a butter wannabe. The aroma of donuts and corndogs and French fries might have been pleasant – hey, he had nothing against fast food – but in such vast overwhelming quantity, the stink of old and overheated cooking oil overshadowed all.
Thank the goddess he’d been sent to the haunted house when he’d signed on. Patrons weren’t allowed to bring food and drinks in here – it tended to go flying when skeletons and monsters appeared to jump out of the walls. All he had to put up with was the ear-piercing shrieks of delighted terror, and the tangy scent of human adrenaline.
A week and I’m outa here. Of course everyone stayed long enough to “strike” the carnival – disassemble the rides and the attractions, and pack them into the trucks. It was the traditional condition of employment, or rather, a time-honored choice between getting your paycheck handed to you or your ass. Harlan wasn’t concerned about the latter. His Changeling strength was more than a match for a gang of carnie muscle men. But even a werewolf needed cash.
He had to admit, the haunted house was cleverly designed. It was big – a sprawling labyrinth two floors high – but one person could run it alone. In case of trouble (and it never failed, some hapless human would succumb to primal fears, and either pass out or stand there paralyzed) there was a warren of quick shortcuts to any room in the attraction. Harlan much preferred the non-human problems, like skeletons that got stuck in their closets, or zombies who lost body parts they weren’t intended to, or giant corny spiders who crashed to the floor in a tangle of mechanical legs instead of menacing passersby from their polyester webs. He could deal with those. A few tools, a little WD-40, and all was well with this weird little world once more.
In fact, the whole gig was pretty good as far as temp work went. Until 11:04 on the busiest night of the week, when the screams coming from the upper floor of the haunted house aroused the wolf within him so fast that Harlan nearly shapeshifted on the spot. He bolted through the dusty behind-the-scenes corridor and up the narrow stairs with inhuman speed. The door – meant to be disguised as a wall panel – splintered from the sheer force as he burst through it.
Harlan had trouble believing what he was seeing, but his inner wolf assessed the surreal scene at once. A young woman lay on the floor, her body contorting and writhing. Even Harlan’s night vision couldn’t determine what her normal eye color was – right now they were glowing green. Changeling green. And the scent, the lush primordial scent of cool forest shadows and moonlit trails… Jesus H. Christ, she was making her first change right here and right now. The screams weren’t coming from her, although they damn well should have been; an initial change was agonizing as bones and muscles reshaped themselves for the first time. No, all the screaming was coming from her friends, a guy and a girl, who were flipping out over the bizarre behavior of the girl on the floor.
Of course, it didn’t help that they were in the Exorcist room.
Harlan didn’t waste time. He scooped up the woman immediately, and held her tightly against him. The proximity of another Changeling could be comforting, and his wolf would undoubtedly communicate with hers on some level. “Everybody relax,” he ordered. “Just a sympathetic reaction. It happens to some people in this part of the house. Power of suggestion and all that.” Hey, if you couldn’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit.
The female friend stopped screaming. The guy, however, continued to shriek like a twelve-year old girl. Harlan rolled his eyes, shouldered the woman in his arms with one hand and grabbed the guy by the back of the shirt collar with the other. After a few solid shakes that may or may not have given him whiplash, the guy settled for gibbering quietly to himself.
“I’ll take your friend downstairs and call 911,” said Harlan. “Are you two okay for getting through the rest of the house on your own? You’re almost out. I’ll meet you down there.”
Dazed but trying to cope, the girlfriend nodded and took the guy’s hand. He was still freaked but unlikely to give her any trouble. Harlan slipped back through the wall panel door – or what was left of it – and ran like hell. He’d lied to the couple he’d left behind. They had at least half an hour’s worth of wandering before they’d find their way out. And he needed the time.
Or rather, the woman in his arms needed the time. He wasn’t calling the EMTs or anybody else. Instead, he had to get her as far away from here as possible before she became a wolf.