Excerpt – “Creature Comforts”

So, I tend to bounce back and forth between projects when I get bored or stuck or scared of how big a project is. And since it’s currently Playoffs time, the rest of my real life is full of hockey… I needed to take a break from hockey in my fictional worlds.

I’m also working on a series of stories, tentatively called “Creature Comforts”, about a perfectly normal contractor who keeps being contracted to do work for the homes of supernatural beings. And generally, he’s a little bit grumbly about it.

Here’s draft 1 of one of these stories, titled “Circling the Drain”

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“Reminder to all homes with a lycan tenant/resident/guest/occupant: you must attempt to clear drain of hair/fur before submitting a work order, otherwise you may be charged for repairs.”

_ _ _ _ _

“I think I’m just going to tell him to put a strainer in here,” Noah grumbled, shifting his shoulders to keep them from cramping. “Can I do that? That wouldn’t be mean, right?” He bit his lip, wishing his flashlight was brighter.

There was a snort somewhere to his left, but his view was impeded by the undersink cabinets. Clark probably had her hands on her hips, even though he couldn’t see those either. “Yes, Noah. That would be mean. It’s not like he can help it.”

“Yes he can, Beth does! I’ve never had to unclog her drain. And her hair is way longer. This is the fifth time Peter’s put in a work order.” Reaching down, he felt around for his snake, positive that the u-bend under the bathroom sink was the problem, but not wanting to crawl out to get the tool, knowing he would just have to climb back in. “She either takes care of it herself, or she’s worked out a way to keep this problem from happening in the first place.”

“What do you care?” Clark said, sitting on the edge of the tub and poking Noah’s foot with her own. “We get paid per job. That’s the deal we worked out with the HOA board last month.”

“True,” he said, grunting as he loosened a washer. “But this isn’t exactly my favorite way to spend an afternoon.”

“If you went to trade school for the glamor-”

“Of course I didn’t,” he assured her. “I did it to make sure I’ve got money for rent and food. And because stuff breaks. Someone’s got to fix it. If I know how to do it, then I can’t get ripped off by someone else.”

“You still can’t tell Peter to put a strainer in his sink.”

A gurgling clank through the pipes cut off Noah’s retort, and he barely had time to cover his face before a spurt of dirty brown water exploded out, along with a thick, wet wad of something mushy, spraying him with mud, river water, and fur.

Coughing violently, and trying not to think about the smell so thick he could practically taste it, he felt the soft and mercifully dry terrycloth Clark was pressing into his free hand.

“Thanks,” he croaked out, wanting to spit the feeling of grit and fluff out of his mouth. Twisting like a crab, he clambered out from under the sink as quickly as he could, nearly falling in his haste.

Clark caught him, then nearly shoved him away. “Ugh, gross. You smell like wet dog.”

“Now who’s being mean?”

“Don’t you dare tell him I said that.”

“Or Beth?” Despite how wet and smelly and dirty and acutely uncomfortable he was, he gave her half a grin. “Oh, don’t think I haven’t noticed you flirting with her.”

Clark went red. “Beth is a good friend-”

“That you would like to date.”

“…..yes. If she offered-”

“You would take her up on it in a hot second.”

“Damn right I would, she’s beautiful.” Clark’s eyes went soft for a moment before her nose wrinkled. “Seriously, you stink. What are you going to do about this sink? I mean, we could keep fixing it, but that’s not going to be effective for anybody.”

Noah huffed his hair from his face, itching to rake it back with his fingers, but he knew he would regret that the second he did. It was hard to think of anything right now besides how badly he wanted to shower.

Heavy footfalls thumped through corridor, and then the bathroom door swung in, almost hitting both of them.

“I heard the pipes clanking from the kitchen, and I- oh my god,” Peter stepped back as he caught sight of Noah. “I am so sorry,” he moaned, wringing his hands, fists clenching and unclenching several times, like he wasn’t sure what exactly to do with them. “You’ve been so great, coming to fix this every time… I mean, I- maybe there’s something else I can- I don’t know? I’m… I’m still kinda new at this- this thing.” He waved his hands in front of him, pulling them back quickly as though he was afraid they might hurt Noah or Clark of their own accord. “I… um, I can pay for dry cleaning,” he offered in a very small voice.

Noah looked at him and was surprised to see that Peter’s shoulders trembling. And his eyes looked wet, like he was barely holding back tears. Sure, Peter was a big guy, but at 6’4”, Noah had almost half a foot on him. Noah knew he was tall, but still. He’d never thought that he would intimidate a werewolf.

“It’s okay,” he said softly, stuffing the towel in his back pocket and offering Peter a crooked smile. He glanced at Clark. “We’re okay, right?”

She nodded. “Sure we are.”

“But-” Peter gestured helplessly between the two of them. “This- it’s all… it’s my fault. It- It is my fault, isn’t it?”

It hit Noah in that moment. He was a contractor. A home contractor. This was Peter’s home. And he was here to make sure Peter felt safe here. Safe and comfortable. “It’s nobody’s fault, except these hundred-year-old pipes. But listen, it’s okay. I’ve got an idea.” As soon as the words left his mouth, he was surprised to realize that he did actually have an idea. A weird one… but everything in this neighborhood was weird. So, maybe that was kind of okay?

“I’ll probably need an hour up here, maybe two,” he added, looking around at the mess. “But, if you’re okay with me rearranging things down there,” he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder, “I think I can work something out.”

“Are- are you sure?” Peter’s voice was still awfully quiet.

Clark came to his rescue, putting an arm around his shoulder. “Let’s go downstairs,” she said. “You can finish telling me about what happened at book club last week.”

“If you’re really sure…” He allowed her to take his elbow and gently lead him away from the bathroom. As they reached the landing, he looked back over and called to Noah, “Um, if you want to clean up… feel free. There’s plenty of towels in the linen closet… just- just to the left, there,” he said, voice trailing off as Clark patted his arm and nudged him down the staircase.

Noah sighed, wiping his face with the towel again before leaning over the trash can and spitting. “Finally,” he mumbled to himself, nearly crying with the relief of getting the grit and fur out of his mouth. He didn’t blame Peter, he really didn’t. Especially after the reminder that, as unnatural as all this was to him, Peter was the one actually shifting three times a month, and he hadn’t even been doing it for very long. Peter hadn’t told Noah how he’d contracted lycanthropy; Noah hadn’t asked. It probably wasn’t a story to share over coffee.

Kneeling down, he started sifting through the bits and bobs of metalwork and junk he carried in his toolbox. None of them were silver; he learned the first time not to bring that to any house in the neighborhood with a lycan. Pewter was okay, and so was nickel.

Wait… that was it. That was how he could get this ridiculous idea to work.

The strainer, though blurted out in sheer annoyance, wasn’t actually a bad thought. Silver was a metal of transition, that’s why lycans couldn’t stand it. But nickel… werewolf fur contained trace amounts of nickel, that’s what made it so thick and strong, and why it clumped up so much. And the moon’s magnetic field. It was a weak field, but when the moon was full, the field became strong enough to pull the wolf out of whoever had the gene. Whoever had that much nickel in their system.

Double checking to make sure the sink valve was shut off, Noah unscrewed the u-bend and got to work.

_ _ _ _ _

“Have you thought about asking anyone for help?” Clark asked gently, taking the wobbling cup from Peter’s shaking fingers and setting it down on the coffee table.

“Honestly, it’s why I moved here,” Peter said, licking his lips, his fingers gripping his knees in an effort to keep from wringing his hands again. “I thought that, maybe – you know, someone like me might be able to… to help manage things.”

“I know there are other lycans here,” Clark said. “I know Beth would-”

“I haven’t asked,” Peter squeaked out, his face flushing. “I know I should! I just… I don’t know exactly how to begin that conversation.” He chuckled a bit. “It’s not as though it’s a topic I’ve had much practice with. I,” he took a deep breath, his brow furrowing in determination, “I don’t want charity, and I don’t need my hand held… I know what people think,” he said, the pinkness returning to his face, but he carried on. “I know I seem a bit of a nervous wreck, but I just… I don’t want to have an accident… I don’t want to hurt anyone. I- I can take the rest of it. The rest- well, it isn’t so bad really. No chocolate anymore,” he added.

“Really?” Clark asked. “But, you’re not–” she caught herself in time.

“You can say it,” Peter shrugged, a knowing smile on his face. “A dog. I know. But the chocolate thing I learned the hard way. Not life threatening,” he said at her look, “It’s hard to kill a werewolf. Just hairballs. Big ones. And you both clean up after me enough… I couldn’t bear giving you extra work, especially when you’ve been so nice to me.”

Clark gave his shoulder a squeeze, her eyes soft. “Peter, you’re a sweetie. How-” She stopped. She couldn’t finish that sentence. The words had to be stuck in her throat forever, because she knew. She knew exactly how people could not like him. She knew that once they learned what he was, it wasn’t just the hateful words they would throw his way, though there were probably plenty of those too. No, the pitchforks and knives and guns would come out too. They would hate him on principle. They probably already did. Peter had never said where he moved from, and ‘I was looking for another werewolf’ seemed awfully vague.  And just how long had it taken him to find the lycans here?

If she asked him, he might tell her. Clark wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

He was looking at her, his dark eyes guarded. She wasn’t sure if he was daring her to finish the sentence or not. Pretending like she hadn’t been about to go there would have done him a disservice. Clark met his eyes. “They can go suck it, Peter. Every single one of them, okay? You’re great.”

His shoulders lost their tension and a corner of his mouth quirked up. “Thanks, Clark.”

“You know, I’m sure I could think of a way to introduce you to Beth,” she added.

Noah entered the den with a knock on the doorjamb. “I bet Beth would love to help. She’s good like that.”

“You think?” The hope in Peter’s voice was palpable, though his shoulders had taken back some of their stiffness when Noah entered.

“I do. Come upstairs, if you two are ready?” Noah said, gesturing to the teacups on the table.

Peter waved him off. “I trust you,” he said, “I don’t need to check.”

Noah grinned despite himself, proud of what he’d managed to rig up. “You might want to check it out anyway,” he said, offering a hand to Peter, who took it, though with some hesitation.

There wasn’t much to say until they reached the sink. Noah crouched down, opening the cabinet as Peter crouched down next to him, obediently checking his work. “So… I switched out the existing u-bend for an extra grease trap, like the ones in kitchen sinks,” he said, pointing out the changes. “Except this one is made from nickel, and it’s magnetized.” Tapping the red and black bar he’d soldered on, he smiled.

“Check you out, MacGyver,” Clark grinned.

“Haha, I do my best. And Peter, just like your good old fashioned grease traps, you can pull out the tray to get rid of the grease… or, in this case,” and he wiggled the tray loose, to show the layer of fur that was stuck to the bottom. “And the water goes right through. You’ll probably have to check the tray every now and then, but it should be way easier than- oof, hey big guy, you okay?”

Without warning, Peter had launched himself at Noah and had his arms wrapped around him in a tight hug. His face was buried in Noah’s neck, and he was mumbling something.

What if he had don’t something wrong? Would it not work like he thought? It had worked when he tested it, just before heading downstairs, but would the moon change things? “Peter, I’m sorry, I-”

“No, don’t be sorry, don’t be,” he said, looking up and wiping his wet eyes with the back of his hand. “This is the nicest thing someone’s done for me in,” his voice broke, but Peter continued, “in a long time. I,” he giggled, hiccupping a bit as the tears kept coming, “My sister used to have to do that to the shower drain every couple days… she liked to wear a long braid,” he explained, voice quiet as he leaned into Noah, who leaned back against the tub to support him.

Clark kneeled down too, rubbing soft circles on Peter’s back. She knew she was good with people, that’s why she worked with Noah. People weren’t exactly his strong point. But much like Peter had told her, ‘werewolf’ had not often been a part of the equation. It didn’t seem to matter now, though. Just being there seemed like it was doing the trick.

Peter sniffed. “Thanks, you two. I um…” he chuckled a bit. “This might sound weird considering we’re hugging on my bathroom floor, but this is the most normal I’ve felt in half a year.”

“Hey, you deal with enough,” Noah said, shrugging, then rolling his eyes as Clark nestled herself into his other shoulder.

“What?” she said, “you’re comfy.”

“I just wanted to make it… easier.”

“You did,” Peter said softly, toeing the corner of the cabinet door with his shoe. “You really did.”

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It’s been Forever – Have an Excerpt

So it’s been an unreasonable amount of time since I posted anything. Have a few thousand words of a draft from Chapter 16, “Kiddo”

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Ilya gave him what almost passed for a nervous smile, but there was still a heaviness lingering behind it. He didn’t comment any further though, and instead wrapped his long fingers around the brass knob and opened the door to Anya’s room.

“Anya, my darling… is okay to come in?” Ilya asked, and Zach could hear the tenderness in his voice. How could he have walked away from this? He looked from Ilya to the little girl in the middle of the room. A kid was so far out of the realm of possible outcomes he’d considered… but here she was.

“Hey there,” Zach said, crouching down to meet her on her terms.

She turned to him, giving him a once-over, then without preamble, she looked him dead in the eye and said, “Didja say sorry?”

Zach almost choked. He couldn’t help but admire her tenacity. “Yeah,” he managed to get out. “Yeah, kiddo. I did, just like you told me to.”

She nodded as if this clearly was the correct response, then carefully arranged her toys around her to make room for Zach. “Didja mean it? Papa says it – it needs ta – you need ta mean it if sorry counts.”

Zach glanced over at Ilya, wondering if him walking out and breaking Ilya’s heart had anything to do with this particular life lesson.

Anya was still looking at him expectantly.

“Yeah kiddo, I meant it. Your Papa… he’s the best. And I wasn’t – I didn’t treat him that way. Like he’s the best. That’s why I came here – to say I was sorry. He said I could meet you,” Zach added, chancing another glance at Ilya, who sat on the floor now, looking smaller than Zach had ever seen him. “Your dad,” Zach said, nodding at him, “he’s pretty great, huh?”

“Mm-hmm,” Anya said, splitting her attention between Zach and her toy dinosaurs. “He’s good. He flies me sometimes.”

What?

Ilya smiled softly and jumped in, explaining. “I pick her up and spin around, like plane.”

Zach smiled. “Papa’s strong, huh?”

“Mm-hmm. Pea-cos he plays hockey.”

Trust Ilya’s toddler to know the word ‘hockey’ already. “You know kiddo… I play hockey too.”

“Hockey’s best,” she said, nodding firmly as though this settled the matter.

Zach laughed out loud. He couldn’t help it. There was absolutely no doubt about who her father was. “Hockey is the best. Definitely. Dinosaurs are pretty awesome though,” he added, gesturing to the toys around her.

“Mm-hmm.”

They sat together in silence for a few minutes, then Ilya spoke. “Maybe Zach should –”

“’M havin’ a tea party,” Anya announced, looking up.

Zach hardly breathed. Sure Ilya had been about to tell him to leave, he froze, hoping that Anya would ask for him to be there. And he wanted to stay. The thought surprised him, but as soon as he consciously accepted it, he knew it was true. Maybe Ilya would let him stay if his daughter wanted it? He wanted to stay too.

“When is tea party, Anushka?” Ilya asked. “Soon?”

“Now,” she nodded, then her little eyebrows furrowed. “Not now. Right after now.”

“Right after now?” Ilya asked gently.

“Mm-hmm.” She pushed a stegosaurus into Zach’s hand. “If you wanna come, you can,” she offered, smiling at him.

Zach’s heart squeezed inside his chest. He knew right then that he would do anything to keep her smiling. She invited him to this tea party, where there would invariably be fake tea and weird imaginary food, and he might have to do a silly voice and understand toddler-speak laced with bits of Russian.

But she invited him. She wanted him there. And he wanted to be there, to watch her tell her stories and play and make her smile.

Not ten minutes ago though, he had promised Ilya not to push. Not to cross boundaries. He had promised to let Ilya set the pace. What he wanted didn’t matter so much right now. Zach couldn’t – wouldn’t – let himself break this promise so soon.

Instead of answering Anya right away, he turned to look at her father, raising one eyebrow in silent inquiry.

Ilya sighed and shrugged as if to say, do what you want.

Zach bit his lip. He was trying to do the right thing here. He smiled at Anya, lightly bumping the stegosaurus against her knee. “I want to, kiddo. But, since I’m a guest… we had better ask Papa if I can stay. He’s the best right? He’ll know what to do.”

“Please, Papa?”

Oh god… how could anyone on the planet resist those eyes?

“You’re sure is what you want?” Ilya asked her, gently tucking a curl behind her ear.

“Yeah. Zach can come.” She put her dinosaurs down and half-leaned, half-fell over, hugging Zach around the middle. She snuggled in, then wrinkled her nose. “Take a bath first. You can’t smell at my party.”

The bedroom was quiet for a few moments as Anya’s words sunk in for both of the grown men. Zach looked over at Ilya, afraid to say anything in case it made the other man kick him out, but he needn’t have worried. Another minute later and Ilya’s shoulders were shaking with laughter.

“She’s right, you know,” he managed to wheeze out. “You do kind of stink.”

“And you didn’t say anything because?” Zach was too relieved at not being kicked out to have room to be annoyed or embarrassed.

“Am so surprise to see you, I’m not notice right away,” Ilya said, still laughing. Zach was so glad to see that smile again. He didn’t care that it was at his expense.

“I’m notice now though,” Ilya continued. “You really come straight from game, didn’t you?”

Zach knew Ilya so well, but the expression painted across his face was unreadable. The emotions shifted behind his eyes so quickly that Zach couldn’t get a grip on them before they changed again. He still wasn’t sure how Ilya felt about the whole run-away-from-the-game thing… and yeah, maybe it had been a supremely stupid thing to do… honestly, he couldn’t even say that it sounded like a good idea at the time. At the time, he hadn’t been a conscious choice. Ilya had been hurt, or at least Zach had thought he was. Ilya needed him. His brain had stopped working after that.

“Yeah,” he said finally, his eyes meeting Ilya’s. “Yeah, I did.”

The Russian was silent for a moment, looking shocked, touched, and exasperated. Zach hoped this was okay. After another moment that was probably shorter than the five years it felt like, Ilya smiled.

“You hear Princess… if you’re coming to tea party, you’re need shower. And new clothes.”