“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”
"Careful,” one dancer said to another. “The freak is here.”
Andrea pretended not to hear them. She let her eyes adjust from the afternoon glare to the dim interior of the club and then took her regular seat. It was a slow day by the look of it, the club less than half full and only a few dancers working, but it was early yet.
She was already looking around for Leila, but it seemed she wasn't on the floor yet, so Andrea just watched the stage for now. A dancer she didn't know was on, gyrating to the music as the lights throbbed red, then blue, then green on her naked body.
The waitresses ignored Andrea. They usually did, since she so rarely ordered anything. She used to tip them anyway, in an effort to be nice but that just seemed to confuse them, so she stopped wasting the money.
She rarely tipped the dancers either, and for the most part they ignored her too. Everyone knew she was only here for one reason.
The DJ announce Leila's name. Andrea’s pulse picked up when Leila came onstage, all legs and smiles, and then she put her back against the pole and sank to her knees with head bowed, eyes closed, picking up the rhythm of the music.
The flashing colored lights silhouetted her against the mirrored backdrop. Slowly at first, she began to sway. Andrea felt herself sway too.
She tracked the swivel of Leila's hips and the angle of her limbs and the beauty of her naked breasts as the lights covered her. The men in the club sat forward. Leila's movements made a statement. "I love to dance," they said. "I love every motion of my body. What could be more perfect than just to dance?"
She looked like she didn't even realize the audience was there. She was in a world all her own.
When the set was over she started her rounds, beginning with a table of well-dressed men up front, sitting on the lap of the closest one. Andrea felt a stab of jealousy but pushed it down. She’s just doing her job, she reminded herself.
It was almost an hour before Leila approached Andrea‘s table. She sat and scooted forward so that one of her knees was positioned between Andrea‘s, a bare glint of skin-to-skin contact.
"Hi baby," Leila said. "Did you like the show?"
"Desire is on next," Leila said, looking at the stage.
"I don't care who's on if it's not you," Andrea said.
Leila smiled. "You're always so sweet. You're the best part of my day, you know that? I look forward to seeing you all week."
Andrea bit her lip. Leila probably said that to everyone, but it was still nice to hear. Leila Andrea's leg, smiling that tight-lipped smile that made it seem as if she knew exactly what everyone else was thinking, always.
"I have to go back onstage soon," she said. "Would you like a dance?"
Andrea produced a folded $20 bill, brought for this very purpose. Leila led her to a dark booth off to the side. She waved at a few people along the way. Andrea just watched Leila.
In the confines of the little booth, Leila danced just for her. Andrea watched, captivated, as her pale, naked skin reflected the faint light, so that she seemed luminous and unreal.
After the song was over they sat together for a moment, Leila stroking Andrea’s hair and leaning against her shoulder, legs draped across her lap. At times like this it was easy to imagine them curled up together after a long day, neither of them speaking but just enjoying each other's touch, falling asleep in one another's arms. Andrea felt almost happy thinking about it.
"I've gotta go, baby," Leila said.
"Come back again though," she said. “You’re my favorite. You know that, right?"
Leila almost kissed her cheek, stopping with her lips a scant space away.
Normally Andrea would have left right away, but today she lingered for some reason, watching the dancer on one of the side stages. The girl looked distracted, and Andrea thought she might be having a bad day, so she dug a few bills out of her wallet to tip her. That's when she heard the voices:
"Were you dancing for the freak again?"
Andrea paused. She knew that voice; a dancer named Alexis.
"Don't call her that," said Leila.
They were both behind the screen where the dancers stood when coming on and off the stage. The DJ was playing a song with a quiet intro, so their conversation was just barely audible.
"She's my customer. She's harmless. You do dances for women all the time."
"Not like her. She's creepy. You know she's all in love with you. She's probably planning to make a mask out of your face."
"Stop it!" said Leila, but she giggled a little.
Andrea's fingers trembled and she dropped the bills, scattering them at the nameless dancer's feet. The girl looked startled. Andrea turned to leave. She got as far as the door before she felt a weight drop in her stomach and went cold all over. Oh God, she thought, not now…
But there was no going back now. IT was happening.
She almost ran from the club. It was gloomy outside now, the afternoon sun hidden by clouds. The doorman looked startled but said nothing as she lurched away.
She half-ran for a few blocks, her image reflected over and over in the glass facades of the office buildings, before taking shelter in a bus station. A woman in an expensive pantsuit was waiting for the 14 bus, adjusting an umbrella. Yes, it would probably rain soon.
And it wouldn’t be fit out for man nor beast then.
IT was coming. Andrea could only sit and wait.
Her windows were open and cold air rushed in, along with the first drops of rain. Her tiny apartment was on the verge of freezing but she was covered in sweat.
The room was sparse; she'd only moved in a few months ago, and would soon have to move back out. She never stayed in one place for long.
It was getting dark out. Three stories below, on Mission Street, things were happening: the thick, oily air was roiling and the crowds were turning out for the nightly revels, the students and the artists and street kids mixing with the old immigrant families not yet pushed out to poorer neighborhoods and the yuppies who had been invading the neighborhood for more than ten years now.
Andrea dug her fingers into the couch cushions and waited. Every time she blinked, phantom images flashed behind her eyelids for a fraction of a second. Her vision fluttered and she saw—
Leila naked on a bed, pale against black sheets, limbs writhing, lips parted, taking one panting breath after another…
Andrea opened her eyes. Her body temperature was rising. Outside, someone laughed too loud, and glass broke, and she heard the old woman next door yelling out the window. Andrea again blinked and saw—
Leila's hands moving across her own body, caressing sensitive flesh, touching hips and thighs and breasts, lolling and gyrating. She licked her lips with a red, red tongue and mouthed words that Andrea couldn't hear but still understood:
"I need you. Please. I need you…"
The vision of her opened its arms, and Andrea imagined them twining around her, pulling her in, trapping her, nails running through her hair, fingers massaging her scalp. She thought about her own lips, so close to Leila's, lips that trembled and waited and wanted…
The walls closed in. Something pounded in Andrea’s skull like it wanted to get out. She was going to split open.
Outside, car horns blared and the thunder was coming in and she heard the thrum of rain on pavement. She gasped, trying to suck air down her throat even as it closed up. Then she went to the window and stood, naked, in the roaring wind.
Their lips met, electricity leaping between them as Andrea's body sank down next to Leila's. The sheets were cool and Leila was warm and everything was soft, and Andrea felt the tightness in her chest start to fade, washed away in —
Andrea's chest clenched, her heart fluttering like a trapped bird. She doubled over in pain, screaming through clenched teeth, "Oh God, help me!"
It was too much. Her limbs twisted. IT was starting. She tried to scream, but a ragged howl came out instead, and she knew she'd already changed inside.
She watched her hands twist and gouge the hardwood floor (already so worn from other nights like this). She felt her spine roll and snap into a new position, keeping her on all fours. Her skin stretched. She felt the heat inside of her expel itself, rolling out of her. Someone screamed below, a high, frantic, laughing sound. She returned it.
The dream vision crowded behind her eyes in even as it began to fracture under the weight of IT:
Leila's hands moved on Andrea, tracing the length of her naked back, touching the soft curve of her shoulders, cupping her breasts, thumbs glancing against her erect nipples. Andrea pulled her in even closer, not wanting a single inch of space between them. Their bodies fit together, and Andrea's lips sought out Leila's throat before sliding down across her collarbone. Leila purred.
She pushed her mouth to Leila's breasts, kissing them one by one, fondling her. Leila was languid, almost helpless, in her embrace. Their hips girded together and Leila began bucking, a slow, endless grinding motion.
Andrea touched the inside of Leila's thigh and she moaned. It reverberated through them.
She itched all over, like her skin was burning, but she knew it would stop when the hair was done growing in. Her jaw protruded into a muzzle and her tongue lolled. As the change came over her she forgot her name, forgot her voice, forgot words at all, and the world became a shifting kaleidoscope of sensations, each layered on the other.
She threw herself against the walls, clawing the plaster, baying and gibbering and howling to get out. It was time. The animal was loose. It wanted something, and it would have it.
Andrea put her mouth to the crux of Leila's thighs, kissing and lapping with her tongue extended. Leila trembled and Andrea pulled her in and they burned against one another. Andrea tasted Leila's wet desire, taking a mouthful of it, savoring it, moving with the rhythm of Leila's grinding hips.
She held the moment still as long as she could, drawing it out, making each second last and imprinting it on her memory so that some part of her would be remember it always, and still, for the rest of her life…
She clamored out the open window, dropping off the fire escape into the alley below, running on all fours, panting and hungry. The rain whipped her pelt. It was miserably cold, and the wind seemed intent on carrying the city away.
She ran, howling at the black sky. It wasn't fit out for man nor beast. But it was perfect for her.
The beast prowled the streets for hours, following the scent of passersby. Any one of these people would have made easy prey, but there was someone particular she was looking for tonight.
She couldn’t remember who it was or why she wanted this one person so bad, but she did remember the scent, the touch, and the warmth she was after. Oh yes, she wanted to feel warm again.
And she was hungry, too. Very hungry.
She came to a familiar place that she associated with the person she wanted. If she waited here long enough, she’d find who she was looking for. She stayed in the shadows of the parking lot, watching the exterior of the building.
Was her prey here now, or was it too late? She barely had a sense of time. Everything was the present.
There was movement nearby. She heard heels on the asphalt. There was a familiar scent. Yes, she knew this one. Crouching behind a car, the beast hugged the ground and crawled on all fours. The rain had stopped but the ground was still wet, and icy water soaked her pelt. She didn't mind. She would be warm again soon.
The quarry walked right past her. She slipped out and followed. The woman was alone, and there was no one nearby. She heard the jingle of keys. The woman was distracted. Another second, even just another half a second, and the moment would come. Almost...
The beast pounced and the woman screamed and the air between their bodies became tight and hot and the hunger rolled in the beast’s stomach. She wanted to taste it: blood and raw flesh.
She collided with the woman and they both rolled across the ground. The woman struggled, throwing her attacker off, then standing and trying to run, but the beast caught up again in a second, bowling into her from behind and knocking her down.
Now it was time. The animal opened its jaws, anticipating the taste of flesh. She crouched over her fallen prey, the woman lying on the asphalt, stunned and helpless. The beast’s fangs were primed for her throat, and then…
Andrea woke on the floor of her apartment. The window was open and she was lying in a pool of icy water.
The room was a wreck and she was naked, shivering, bleeding, and felt sick to her stomach. She ran to the bathroom and stuck her head in the toilet but nothing came up. Usually she vomited blood the morning after IT happened. Sometimes other things too: fabric, jewelry, bones; once part of a foot. But this time nothing.
She curled up in the tiny shower and let the hot water scald her. She tried to remember the previous night, but it was mostly a jumble of sensations. She remembered a woman though, and—
The club. She had waited outside the club. And the woman was someone she knew. Oh God—Leila!
Andrea dressed. She spent an hour mopping the rainwater up with paper towels and debating what to do. Finally she decided that she would have to go to the club and see what had happened.
And if it turned out Leila was hurt, or worse? But she couldn’t bear to think about that now, so she didn’t. Like the night before, she stayed in the present.
Andrea wanted to run and hug Leila as soon as she saw her, but held herself back. She sat at her usual table, jiggling her foot in anticipation. The club was crowded, mostly full of businessmen from the nearby office buildings, here to enjoy the show on their lunch breaks and take advantage of the buffet.
She watched a table full of women up front throw singles at the stage. After half an hour, Leila spotted her and came over. "Hello," she said, talking over a particularly obnoxious song. "I didn't expect to see you again so soon."
"I had to see you," said Andrea.
Leila smiled, but it was a quick smile and easy to miss. "You're sweet. I'm having kind of an off day here. Everyone is."
"Why?" said Andrea. She fought the urge to scream every second.
Leila hesitated. "One of the girls was attacked last night. Alexis. She was working late, covering someone else's shift. When she got off, she went out to her car and..."
Andrea leaned in. "Is she okay?"
"Yeah. I mean, she's in the hospital, but she's not hurt that bad. More scared than anything. She said it was some kind of animal. Like a wolf, she said. The police are calling it another wild dog attack."
“Like with the kid who got mauled in the Tenderloin two weeks ago."
Andrea felt sick again. Leila put a hand on her shoulder.
"Hey, don't go," Leila said. "I'm sorry about all that. We aren't supposed to talk about it with the customers. Why don't we —"
"No, it's okay," said Andrea. She pushed Leila's hand away. The place she'd touched felt cold, somehow. "I have to go. It was nice seeing you."
She put some money into Leila's hand, unsure how much it was, and left. Halfway down the block she looked up at the glass and steel skyscrapers and became dizzy, and she had to stay still until the world stopped spinning.
Crowds passed around her in human waves. Eventually she caught the bus and locked herself back in her apartment, where she paced the floor and thought. That was it then. That was the last time she could see Leila.
She'd gotten lucky last night. If it had been Leila who worked that late shift, what would have happened? Hurting Alexis was bad enough, even if Andrea had never liked her. But hurting Leila would be unthinkable. She couldn't bear the thought of it. It was the entire reason she didn’t get close to people in the first place.
So this was it. Never again.
Her heart broke, but she stamped the feeling out. It doesn't matter anyway, she told herself. She's just some stripper, and I'm just a customer. After a couple weeks she'll forget all about me. It doesn't matter.
She tried to take a nap, but tossed and turned instead. She put on music and sat at the window, listening to Mission Street outside and watching the clouds decide if they wanted to rain again. The speakers warbled:
"All the lonely people,
Where do they all come from?"
Andrea wondered if Leila ever felt lonely. She wondered what Leila thought about when she did. She stayed in the same spot at the window, and when it got dark she didn't bother to turn any lights on, preferring to just let the room go black.
The first week was hard. The second week was hell. By the third she felt dead inside. She wanted to see Leila more and more every day, but the garbled, red-tinged memory of Alexis' screams kept her away.
As more weeks went by, she began to imagine that the pain would eventually diminish. It hadn't yet, and she couldn't guess it would anytime soon, but it at least seemed possible.
And then she saw Leila.
It took them both a while to notice each other. Andrea sat in the corner of the cafe, not drinking her coffee, not reading the newspaper spread on her table. Leila sat in the center of the room, sipping her drink slowly and looking out the window at the nighttime sidewalk.
When Andrea saw her she thought she was hallucinating. But no, that was really Leila, really sitting over there. What should she do? The only way out was right past Leila's table, and if Leila saw her...
And then Leila did see her. She was looking right at her, and now she was beckoning Andrea over and, somehow, Andrea was walking, and sitting, and looking at Leila face to face. Leila was even smiling, not the knowing smile she used at work but a strange, quirky kind of smile that Andrea had never seen before.
"So it's you," Leila said. "I’ve missed you."
"I haven't been coming in," Andrea said. "Work's been slow."
"You know, I don't think I ever even asked what you do."
"Unemployment has been slow?"
Andrea's face burned, but Leila smiled and touched her arm in a way that made it okay.
"It's strange seeing you here."
"Yeah," said Andrea. And then she blurted out, "I was just thinking about you."
"Were you?" said Leila. "You know usually when a customer shows up out of the blue it means they're following me. That happens sometimes. But I don't think that's what you did."
"No," said Andrea. "I was trying to stay away."
Leila shook her head but gave no explanation for the gesture. She drank the rest of her latte and looked out the window some more. Andrea shifted in her chair.
"Do you want to know what I'm doing here?" said Leila, whispering. Andrea hesitated, then nodded. "I'm hiding," said Leila. "I stood up my date tonight. I was supposed to meet him an hour ago."
Andrea said nothing and Leila watched her, as if trying to guess what she was thinking.
"He's a customer, you see," said Leila. "Dating a customer is a serious no-no, but that's not why I didn't show."
"Why didn't you?" said Andrea. She licked her dry lips. She'd left her drink back at her table but now did not want to go back for it.
"I just can't think of him as anything except a customer. Like, it feels like he's trying to pay me off, no matter what he does." She sat back in her seat. "It's too bad, because I think he's really nice. But it doesn’t matter. There’s no getting around customers.”
Leila started a little, realizing what she was saying. "Oh, but I don't mean all customers. You're different." She smiled, too big.
"I used to do that," said Andrea. "Pay off women, you know? For ‘dates.’"
"I was young and I couldn't accept that I was attracted to women, so I figured that if I made it a business thing then it didn't count. Does that make sense?"
"A little," said Leila, tilting her head.
"It was a mistake," said Andrea. "If you put off what you want it does bad things to you inside. I learned that too late. I'm still trying to get over it. I have bad nights still. Really bad nights."
Leila looked into her empty cup, saying nothing.
"Anyway," said Andrea, "that was a long time ago. It's not the same as what you're talking about, really."
"It is, a little," said Leila. "That's what gets to me. I feel like—"
Andrea kissed her.
It just happened, like a lightning strike or a heart attack. One minute everything was normal and the next minute it happened, and only when she leaned back did Andrea realize what she'd done.
Leila looked stunned. Andrea wiped her mouth without thinking about it.
"I’m sorry!” she said. "I didn't...I'm sorry."
She got up and went to the door, leaving Leila, amazed, behind. Outside, she stepped off the curb and almost got run over by the 38 bus. She stumbled back, terrified, and felt someone grab her hand.
"I’ve got you," said Leila. “It’s all right.”
Andrea waited for heart rate to slow. Inside she was screaming. Was IT about to happen? She couldn’t tell.
Leila petted her hand and eventually her breathing slowed to normal. She swallowed. “Thank you,” Andrea said.
“You’re welcome,” said Leila. Then: "Do you want to get out of here?"
Andrea tried to talk, but she was speechless.
"Because I do," said Leila. "Let's get out of here. Come on. My place isn’t far.”
Andrea allowed herself to be led. They walked several blocks through the dark. Glass and steel buildings reflected the blackness and each other as the two women passed below, and everything was quiet and still.
Leila unlocked a door and brought Andrea inside. The apartment was small and neatly decorated. Andrea lurked around the closed door, unsure of what to do. Leila pulled her in further. They both sat on the apartment’s only couch. Leila still held Andrea’s hands; hers were cold.
Their lips brushed one another's softly at first, but then Leila leaned more into Andrea, and soon they were in each other's arms, lips parted, tongues tangled. The humid night air clung to them.
They started fast, and before Andrea could catch her breath Leila pushed Andrea's hand between her legs and pulled Andrea on top of her, guiding Andrea's other hand along the lines of her body. Her skin was hot under the thin fabric of her dress. Their lips met again, dancing, and then Leila pulled back, teasing a little, nipping her lower lip.
Is this really happening, thought Andrea? She felt Leila's perky breasts under her dress; she had seen them many times, of course, but somehow it was different now, with them barely concealed by the lacey black neckline.
Leila growled a little and at her encouragement Andrea's touch became harder, more insistent, and eventually even rough. Their bodies ground against one another.
Leila pushed Andrea's hand lower, between her legs, glancing against the inside of her thighs. Leila whispered in her ear: "I have a confession to make: I was planning to do a lot more than just have dinner with that guy. No underwear, see?"
Andrea felt wetness. Her pulse go into overdrive and for a moment she was worried about what might happen, but after only a second she realized there wasn't any danger. Everything she wanted was right here. There was no need to go hunting for it.
Andrea kissed Leila's neck, her tongue lapping at the soft curves of flesh while her fingers moved up, rubbing the inside of Leila's thighs and then touching her in the spot that made Leila gasp and tremble. She wriggled her ass against the seat and bit her lip, moaning under her breath: "More, please..."
Leila's arms wrapped around Andrea's waist, hands caressing her hips and then grabbing her ass with both hands, pulling them into one another.
"More, please," she said again.
Andrea slid one finger inside, then two, and Leila went wild, thrashing her head back and forth and beating on the car door with one hand. "Oh God!" she said. Andrea pushed them all the way in and then twisted them, once, and Leila cried out "Oh God!" again.
"Do you want me to keep going?" said Andrea. Leila nodded. Andrea pushed up, and Leila's body jerked, and they writhed together, and then she did it again, and her other fingers splayed on the outside of Leila's sex and touched her at the most sensitive spot, and Andrea thought that Leila's body might break apart with shaking.
Leila's lips found Andrea's again, and then they were on her neck. Leila's hands moved up Andrea's body, pushing her away just a little so that she could feel Andrea's small breasts through her shirt, thumbs glancing over erect nipples.
Leila's hands reached around and cupped Andrea's ass, squeezing. She gave Andrea a quick smack and giggled as she jumped. She was whispering over and over, "Take me. Take me."
She was becoming wetter and wetter, and her own ever-insistent hands were now trying to slide between Andrea's legs. Andrea twisted her wrist, turning her hand over, twisting inside of Leila, and Leila screamed. "Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck....again!" Andrea did it again and Leila screamed herself ragged.
They were sweating together now, and Andrea's head spun around and around. She had a feeling inside that she couldn't account for, except to think of it as the opposite if IT.
She kissed Leila in an attempt to smother the other woman's rising screams. Leila, out of control, clawed at her and bit her and, reaching a point where she couldn't speak, signaled to Andrea to stop by beating her on the shoulder with one little fist, over and over, as her body jerked and twitched, eyes rolling back, mouth open in a constant, silent scream.
Andrea was sweating and panting as well, the vibrations of Leila's convulsing, orgasm-wracked body creating friction, until the room was like a furnace and the two of them were roasting together in the heat of one another's bodies.
They lay together for a minute after Leila came back down, and then, awkwardly, they untangled themselves, straightening up. Leila looked away. Andrea sat back until she caught her breath.
"You okay?" said Andrea.
"What? Yes, I'm fine. I just...”
Andrea shifted on the couch to look at her and put a hand on Leila's shoulder.
"I've just never done...that. Before," Leila said.
“Oh,” Andrea said. “Shit. I…didn’t realize. If I’d known…”
“It’s okay. You’re okay. I just got carried away.”
She made an undefinable gesture. Andrea went numb.
"It's not you," Leila said, too fast. "I just don't know what came over me. I was thinking about what you said, about holding back the thing you want, and how I'd stood that guy up tonight, and I didn't want to let something just go by again and regret it later. Now…”
Her words ran out. A little lance of pain went through Andrea’s heart. "I have to go,” she said, mumbling.
“Hold on,” Leila said. She put a hand on Andrea’s leg but Andrea slapped it away.
“You don’t understand,” Andrea said. “I really have to…”
She clutched her insides. IT was happening again. Leila was saying something but Andrea couldn’t hear it over the blood in her ears. She tasted adrenaline. She was running now.
She ran until her knees ached and her throat was raw, but no matter how far she ran she couldn't outrun herself. Everyone she passed stared, their eyes wide and glassy under the streetlamps. She didn't stop until her lungs were about to burst.
When she’d put a dozen blocks between herself and Leila’s building, she paused. Now she was in the same neighborhood as the first "wild dog attack." She leaned against a fence, chain link with barbed wire at the top. Trash and empty bottles kicked in the gutters.
Gargoyles showed their teeth on the nearest building. Across the way a marquee with flashing lights featured pictures of alluring women and the slogan: "Where the Wild Girls Are!"
Without thinking she stumbled toward it, and the man at the door looked her up and down.
"Normally there's no cover for ladies," he said. “But I can't let you in looking like that."
I need to run, Andrea thought. I can't let anyone see me like this, not with what's about to happen.
But instead she laughed and said, “I belong here."
"Come on," said the bouncer, talking low. “Go home and sleep it off. You don't want to hurt yourself, do you?"
Andrea tried to answer but instead collapsed into peals of hysterical laughter. She rolled on the sidewalk, laughing and laughing, and inside her guts twisted. The bouncer looked away for a moment, disgusted, but then tried to help her up.
She grabbed his hand and pulled him down with her, putting her face right up to his and laughed, showing her teeth. "Get off of me you fucking freak!" he said, pushing himself back up again.
Andrea tried to stand too, but couldn't. Her limbs were no longer shaped the right way. Her arms twisted and her spine stretched and her jaws protruded. It was too late to run now.
Her clothes shredded as her body outgrew them and she tore at the sidewalk with her paws. The bouncer stared, eyes wide, face a sheen of sweat.
"What in the...what in the fuck?" he said.
She rolled around, tossing away the ragged remains of her clothing. She was hot all over, and she knew that coarse hair covered her hide now. The beast bared its fangs at the large man and slouched toward him on all fours, smelling his fear.
"This isn't happening," the bouncer said. His voice was very small. "This can't be happening."
The wolf prepared to pounce, but just then two drunks left the club, hitting the counter with the door as they did and snapping him out of his shock. The wolf lunged and the bouncer turned to run and the door slammed shut, and she threw her body against it, howling.
She could tell that a lot of people were trying to hold the door shut on the other side, but they were no match for her. Not when there was something she wanted.
Glass shattered and the door bent and the men fell in her wake, and now she was inside. At first she was dazed by the bright lights, the loud music, the overlapping scents and the screams of the patrons as she loped into the lobby.
The kid at the front desk looked up from his phone, frozen in shock. She leapt onto the counter and snarled, and he ran. Rather than follow, she went after another scent. Someone had come this way just a minute ago. A woman...
She followed the trail to a private booth. The bouncer was still in the lobby, screaming into a phone. She poked her head through the curtain of the booth and as the beads rattled a voice said. "Get lost, this one is full!"
In reply she growled and a woman, naked except for thin blue panties, looked up and screamed, and a fat man with no pants on tried to jump up but slipped instead.
The booth was tiny and the beast filled the doorway. Nobody had anywhere to run. The air was stale with the scent of old sweat and fresh fear. It made her hungry.
The naked woman was frozen in place. The man huddled on the floor with his hands over his head. The beast pushed her muzzle forward, inhaling. It was not a scent she recognized. This was not the one she wanted.
But she was hungry, and neither of these people could get away. She was tired of never getting what she wanted, so now she would take whatever she could. She could already imagine the sticky flavor of blood filling her mouth.
The fat man was crying and the naked woman joined him as the beast pulled her lips back over her teeth and advanced. “Please,” the dancer said. “Please don’t hurt—”
The wolf lunged. She expected to catch her wriggling prey in her jaws with ease, but something else happened instead. There was a sound like a thunderclap, and she fell over without realizing why. When she tried to stand she found she couldn’t.
There was another boom and she felt white-hot pain. Blood was in the air and she realized that it was her own, and then she realized—
IT was over. Andrea was herself again. But she still couldn't get up. She looked down at herself.
"Oh my God," she said through bloody lips. "I've been shot.”
Her legs were limp, and she felt nothing from the waist down. The dancer, frantic but unharmed, stared along with her. "I've been shot," Andrea said to her.
In the hall, the bouncer reloaded the shotgun, but it wasn't needed anymore. Andrea looked up at the lights in the ceiling. A crowd was gathering, but some were still too frightened to come close. Andrea counted each of her own individual heartbeats as they came slower and slower.
"It's all right," she told the people (or tried to). "Nobody got hurt. Nobody's hurt. Just me."
She heard voices all around:
"Call an ambulance!"
"Where did the dog go?"
"It wasn't a dog, it was—"
Andrea picked out one face in the crowd that was different. Was it Leila? No, it couldn't be. But maybe it looked like her?
Andrea imagined that, perhaps, it really was her, and the pain was not so bad then. She imagined Leila smiling at her and taking her hand. Maybe she would even kiss her and tell her that everything was going to be okay. Andrea nodded.
“Yes,” she said. “Everything will be okay now.”
She closed her eyes. The voices were fading. “I’m sorry everyone,” she said, although no one could hear her. “I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t—“