It wasn't often that Wayne was called into the office during the day. He remembered this hall outside the bosses office used to reek of fear. It probably still did, but after so many years the smell faded into the background. Or maybe Wayne just couldn't smell like he used to.
“Wayne, he'll see you now.” The burley secretary looked out of place behind his small desk with his tiny headphones, but Wayne didn't dare crack a joke about it at a time like this.
He walked in, straightened his tie and slicked what remained of his hair back. “Goo-good morning Mr. Preston. Uh, to what do I owe this pleasant visit?”
The businessman looked over his subordinate noticing just how tired the poor guy looked. Despite the centuries between them, they looked almost the same age. “Wayne, you've been with us now for, what, 20, 30 years?”
“26 this April, Sir.”
“Riiight. Well, you have been a great worker here all this time. You've done night shifts like no other, and I respect that dedication. I'm sure Wanda appreciates having you home to help watch the kids.”
Wayne looked down, worry welling up inside. He didn't like the direction this conversation was going.
Mr. Preston closed his office blinds. “I'm sure it can't be easy with more than 60 puppies. But I'm sure needing only 2 hours sleep a day helps a bit.” He turned around to see Wayne about to interrupt him. “No, I already suspected and I didn't care. I still don't care, werewolf or not you have been an excellent high-level data processor for decades. I guess sniffing out those errors is like a mental hunt for you. And if I read my grandfather's journals right, you've been helping my family for generations. Unfortunately, our insurance provider does care. We can't afford the price hike for employing a known monster. I held it off as long as I could, but with your friends, Mavis and Johnny, getting so well known I couldn't pretend we didn't know forever. Folks at MoonWatch have been sending HR stuff on you for years, but this, they sent this to our insurance and our partners.”
Mr. Preston pushed a file over to the raggedy man. In it, Wayne found Facebook photos from Mavis and Johnny's wedding, his time at the Monster Hotel, and others from the Monster Cruise. One was magnified and showed off Wayne's work badge. As he looked at the photos he slumped down in the chair and let himself shift into his true form of browns and greys. Gone was the human facade, replaced with the true werewolf, even as unimpressive a specimen as he was.
Mr. Preston didn't flinch or look away. “Thank you for understanding. I'm not firing you, but I do have to let you go. You've been using your vacation time pretty consistently, and you waived your right to our retirement plan for bigger raises, so all I can do is give you two weeks paid time off with notice. I tried to get you something more but my hands are tied.
“It’s odd, you helped us grow from a small family business, protected us from other monsters and animals, then from fraud and negligence; but now, with all our partnership deals, we are too big and successful to shield you. I am truly sorry Wayne. We'll send your cubicle stuff to you.”
The werewolf nodded, slowly stood up, and walked out of the office. The secretary nodded down to him. “Sorry to see ya go, Wayne. I never got your jokes, but you always made others laugh. Glad I didn't have ta fight ya. That's why I was hired. We'll miss ya. Come to think about it, I should ask him if I still have a job here.” The large secretary had to duck and turn his shoulders as he worked his way into Mr. Preston's office.
Wayne's petty side wanted to call HR and report the secretary as being part troll. There were bound to be some photos of the big guy's grandparents somewhere in Wanda's craft closet. But the young oaf had never been cruel to him, just indifferent and defensive. "Guess he did his job then, I never attacked anyone."
Not everyone who saw their coworker's true form were so accepting. MoonWatch organized a small mob waiting for him in the entrance plaza and chased him out to his car. He quickly peeled out as reporters tried to close in on him.
As he drove home he got a call from Mavis. “Wayne, are you OK? I just saw you on the news running away from work in true form. Did, did you bite someone? They said you bit someone. Did they hurt you?”
Wayne almost bit his tongue trying not to yell at her. Despite the rage he felt, it wasn't really her fault. Her fame brought it to light, but he forgot to take off his badge. As the leader of the Monster Workers Union, she was just trying to make the world a safer place for people like him and the secretary; ensure that monsters were not laid off just for being monsters. People like MoonWatch blamed every social I'll on the hidden monsters and were targeting Mavis's campaign.
Calming himself he finally responded. “Yeah, kiddo. I'm OK. They just can't afford to employ monsters, insurance and all. So, yeah, money's going to be tight. I lost most my investments in the last market crash so we don't have long. Um, did you mean what you said about adoption?”
Mavis seemed unsure how to respond, “Um, well, yes, yes, of course I did. But shouldn't you talk with Wanda about it first?”
“I have, sugar bat. We knew this could happen, we've looked into options. Simple fact is we have too many kids for any other work I can get starting at the bottom. I've tried getting ‘fixed’ twice, so has Wanda, but we regenerate. Vlad keeps telling me to eat some of the cubs, but you know those old ways don't fit us. Most of the cubs will need to be adopted, we'd be honored if you raised one of ours with your Dennis. Besides, it would be great for your activism, right?”
Mavis took a while to respond. “I suppose it would. But I wouldn't want to make a spectacle of your child.”
Wayne laughed heartily as he pulled in at his house in the woods. “Honey, these kids love being the spectacle. I'm honestly surprised I've been able to keep them a secret as long as I have. I'm home now, so I'll call ya when we decide which cubs we're adopting out so you can come and pick one. I think I'd prefer you took one of the older cubs, they don't get adopted as fast as the younger pups.”
Mavis agreed. “We'll arrange a flight out as soon as we can. Yeah, Dad, I'll tell him. Dad and Ericka too. Whichever cub you need us to take we will love them. I wish I could do more. Bye, Uncle Wayne. See you soon.”
Stepping into the silent house Wayne took off his human clothes and hung them up in the closet to keep them safe for the next time he would need to emerge into their world. He descended into the basement and then took a secret ladder down into their den. He was immediately bowled over by a throng of cubs yelling that daddy was home early. They licked all over him before rushing off together for some other mischief.
Wayne tried to wipe the slobber from his fur as he walked into the nursery and kissed his wife. “Got some bad news, love. They found me out. But we do have two weeks of pay still coming.” He hugged her from behind as she cried and kept patting the pup in her arms until it burped.
Wayne kept holding her, feeling her body shake in fear for their future. “I know you're scared, hun. So am I. But we need to get started as soon as possible to give them better lives. Sounds like the public only knows of sixty. Sixty of the living anyway, I don't think he was talking about the ones we've lost. Now that we've been exposed MoonWatch could send CPS any day now and take the remaining cubs away." Looking around for the safe he'd stored under her sewing table he asked, "Where’s the paperwork, love?”
Wanda set the pup back in its crib before crumpling down onto her haunches sobbing. Wayne held her tight. “I know love. I know. It hurts. But we've gotta be strong for them, find them good homes. I've already found one home, Mavis and Johnny are willing to take one of the older ones. Drac and Ericka are coming as well, they might take one or two. We can do this, love.”
Wanda pointed down one of the den’s tunnels down which the cubs rarely dared rampage. They knew better than to disturb that tunnel’s occupant. “She hid the safe.”
Wayne sighed and kissed Wanda’s neck. “Well, I hope she’s made it bigger in there, last time she stole me away for ‘tea’ I barely fit.”
Wayne crawled down the tunnel to Winnie’s room on hands and feet, the dirt and stone passage growing more and more narrow as he went. Graffiti left by other cubs depicted Winnie as crazy and chided her for being a ‘smarty pants’ and a ‘human lover.’ Ever since she’d met Dennis she tried to learn all she could about the human world, the revelation of his vampiric powers did nothing to temper her zeal.
Eventually, the passage widened and Wayne could almost stand up completely. What he saw caught him off guard. The room was filled with organized piles of human junk, a tower of broken bicycles and car parts, another of pieces of computers and TVs, one of tattered and soiled magazines and textbooks. At the center of it all, a little human girl sat in her long pink nightshirt with a skull on it watching a grainy broadcast on a cobbled-together monitor. Wayne couldn't make out what the humans on screen were doing but figured it was probably a sitcom or on-site news.
His attention was ripped away when he saw another artifact in the room. “My recliner?” As the girl’s head whipped around to see the intruder Wayne practically jumped into his old chair.
“Hi, daddy.” The girl walked up to the werewolf and held his arm in her little pinkish-olive white hands. “I saved it when mom threw it out. It smelled like you. I fixed it too.”
Wayne's eyes widened, “You mean?” He threw the lever at the side and his legs kicked up while the back sank down. “Ooooh, yeah, I've missed this chair. So, little pumpkin, you down here practicing being human?”
Dust from the chair followed his arm as he poked at her nose. When she sneezed her light olive white skin and freckles were suddenly replaced with grey and black fur all over. Her red hair suddenly black. “Yes, daddy. And I can smell why you are here. You came for the safe so we can have new families. I hoped you came to see me. I missed you. I made my cave bigger for you.”
She looked both cute and angry as she twisted up the bottom of her nightshirt in her little furry grey hands. Wayne patted her on the head, “I know sweety, I've missed you too. It's just been so busy, and now I lost my job and the humans know what I am so we can't keep all of you. I need the papers in that safe. Can you show me where you hid the safe?”
Winnie harrumphed, “To send us away. You can't have them. I'm keeping you, daddy.” She quickly tied him to the chair with a combination of ropes and chains and power cords. She then climbed up into his helpless lap and curled herself against his belly.
“Winnie! You can't do this. Winnie, darling, we need to… gah.” He pulled at the hodgepodge of bindings and felt some of them give way to his werewolf strength. Realizing he could get out if he needed to he gave a deep sigh and pet a part of Winnie’s tail that was near his bound hand.
Winnie cried in his lap and nuzzled.
Wayne pleaded, “Winnie, love, we don't have time for this. If I don't file those papers the humans will take you all away from us forever. With them, we choose where most of you go and we can see you again. Oh, Dennis, I could put you with Dennis.”
She nuzzled his chest. "No, not with Dennis. I can't be his sister. He's my zing. Human's don't mate with sisters."
"OK, sweet-howl, you're right. That wouldn't look good for Mavis's political career. We need help. I know just how to get you where you want to be. I haven't talked with her in years, but I'll call my lawyer to come help. Sound good to you? Can I have the safe now?"
Winnie stood up and climbed down off her dad so he could bring the recliner upright again. "She can teach me to live human, like her."
He stood up, clearing away the makeshift restraints. "Sure, but I meant for helping you make a plan of action. She's devious." Picking Winnie up he lifted her shirt and blew a big raspberry on her belly. "There's my little girl's sweet laughter. You’ve been so mopey I hadn't heard it in quite a while."
+ + + +
Mavis rang the doorbell. "Now, it might take a while because they actually live in the caves under the …" She was interrupted by a young smoking woman answering the door wearing a red bandanna, and an A-shirt. "Oh, uh, is this the right house? We're here for…"
"Yeah yeah, this is Wayne and Wanda's place. I'm Wilmette." The young woman shifted before the visitors' gaze gaining the familiar light grey fur and wolfish muzzle, her muscles and chest filling out the A-shirt. She took one long drag from her cigarette while sizing up Mavis and her companions. "Been a long time, May. Probably 60 years since we last played at the hotel. Good to see you too, Drac. I just came to help out mom and dad, same as you four, I bet." She swiftly shifted back to her fully human form before inviting them all to sit in the living room.
"So, humans, Johnny and Ericka, you got any clue what you're signing up for? I mean, I don't want ta dissuade you from adopting my brothers and sister, gods know they need it. I just want to make sure you are ready. Raising werewolves is challenging on many levels. We get very aggressive, especially during the full moon."
Once seated Johnny leaned forward to match her posture, but in a more relaxed way. "Oh, yeah, MavyBaby's been teaching us all about the monster life, and I've been helping out at the hotel for a couple years now."
Wilmette shook her head. "I don't just… May? Tell me straight, as old hotel sisters, can these two handle, well, us?"
"Yeah, I think he can. And Ericka, well, I don't know if she could raise us, but she was trained to fight us. I think she can handle herself."
Wilmette tapped her cigarette so the ashes fell to the tray beside her. "And what about your campaign? I hear yer running for Representative of California."
"State Senate, actually, I don't qualify for the State Assembly yet. I've got a lot of good support. I'll be the first open monster elected to any state-level position. Some other monsters already there want me to be on a new Monster Affairs board. We're hoping to pass some model legislation for other states to follow, maybe get it national."
Ericka stroked a long finger down her husband's chin. "I've said it before and I'll say it again, 'You raised one smart girl, there.'"
A happy voice came from the kitchen, "Cookies are done!" Soon a human girl came out wearing a pink dress and carrying a tray of sugar skull cookies. She smiled at everyone as they looked on in shock. Her dress was a little dirty and her hands were burning on the hot tray.
Wilmette followed their gaze and looked back to the girl. "Oh, Winnie, you forgot the hot pads again. If you want to act human you can't rely on your regeneration for everything. And these need to cool down before humans can eat them."
As the shock passed Ericka nearly squealed. "Oooh, Winnie! I've never seen you without fur before. You look so much like me as a girl."
Winnie smiled, "Really? Will you adopt me and teach me to be human?"
"I, I don't know. We'll have to talk to your parents. Dracula and I still aren't sure if we should adopt. We came to support Mavis and Johnny. But why do you want to be human?"
Winnie put the hot tray on the coffee table and nervously wiped her charred hands on her dress. "To stop the laughing and pointing. To stop people running away. Stop people calling me 'Dennis's pet.' I want to go to school. I want to learn and start my own business. I want to have friends." Without shifting, Winnie looked up to Ericka with the biggest puppy dog eyes pleading for safety and security.
Mavis sounded more curious than hurt, but Winnie could hear the undercurrents of pain as she was asked, "Why not us? I, I thought you would want to, you know, be with Dennis."
Winnie curtsied her ash stained dress. "Thank you, Aunt Mavis, but daddy said it wouldn't be right. Dennis is my zing. 'We human girls' don't mate our brothers."
Johnny guffawed. "Haha, she said ‘mate.' Yeah, most humans aren't cool with that. Unless you live in Georgia. Or Alabama. Or Florida. Or…"
Mavis placed her hand on her husband's knee to silence his rambling. Looking to the little human-form Winnie, "I guess that would send the wrong message."
Wilmette pinched the lit end of her cigarette and tucked it behind her ear before pulling up a briefcase from beside her chair. Popping it open she leafed through the papers. Her tone shifted halfway between a mob bookie and a used car salesman. "Alright, so, Drac and Ericka are taking Winnie a right pretty and smart package that one. Of course, you'll probably want to take one or two of her brothers as well, unless you think you can satisfy her fighting needs." She looked at Drac over the top of the case. His look of shock told her all she needed to know even before he shook his head. "Right, two of the boys then." She handed three sheets and a pen to Ericka. "And Johnny and Mavis, you want two of the boys? There is another girl, but Sunny tends to bite and others have already put a claim on her, so it'd be a fight ta get her. Probably not the best for a human parent, or political campaign."
"Two? Oh, uh, I was thinking just one brother for Dennis. And I, I see why we can't take Winnie. She'll be better off with dad, but maybe she can come, you know, with Ericka; I'd still love for you two to come on my 'Monster Worker's Rights' campaign. Be a great example of our future monster businesswomen. But I think looking after one werewolf and a vampire will be hard enough on my work, I don't think I could take two."
Wilmette slowly closed the case while nodding. "Uh huh, Mavy, girl, I totally get where you're coming from, but, trust me, they are way easier to handle in pairs than alone. And, I've got like, 300, 400 of my younger brothers to find homes for. We werewolf girls are literally one in a hundred.
"Now, I'm not exactly proud of my parents single-handedly tripling the werewolf population in the last hundred years, but I'll be Helsinged, no offense Ericka before I let my brothers end up in what passes for a monster adoption agency among the humans right now. You know they lock our kids up in cages and cement pits?"
"Cement pits? Why didn't I think of that?" Wayne pondered drunkenly leaning against the downstairs door frame holding Sunny and drinking from a square metal bottle. "Honestly, Wilmette, it's not that bad. I built an electrified cage around my office to protect it from your brothers, and what is our cave but a pit?"
Wilmette's fur emerged as she turned to face her father with a claw pointed in his face. "Exactly, dad! I want my brothers to have a better life than this. You made a fortune at your work but you and mom just couldn't use protection or eat your kids like normal werewolves; don't, don't you give me any of that Pope shit. You don't follow anything else in Catholicism, and if you did, they hunt us! Ericka's grandfather was sponsored by the Vatican to wipe us out. Like every other human religion, it's just an excuse to do the wrong shit you already wanna do. Grow up, dad. You're almost four hundred years old, you can't keep acting like a teenage werewolf! I mean, look at you, is that turpentine your drinking?"
Wilmette poked him in the chest about to continue her rant, but Sunny dropped her own bottle and bit Wilmette's arm with her sharp toddler teeth. A piercing she-wolf howl filled the above-ground portions of the house. Winnie came over and carefully took her little sister from her father. She sat down in Wilmette's seat while her father and sister went to argue downstairs.
Winnie propped Sunny up on one side of the chair with her bottle before looking through the case. "Aunt Mavis? I think you'd like these two. They are fun and nice. And you really can't have Sunny because Wilmette and her wife are taking her to live in Rhode Island. But I can't wait to be your little sister too."
Mavis took the papers and looked over the boy's records. As Wayne had asked, they were older and thus less likely to be adopted. 28 and 32 years old, they appeared in their early teens, they even had middle school ID photos in their human forms. Over the past 10 years, they'd attended three different middle schools to keep their slow aging secret, so their current grades were remarkable.
Mavis nodded at the excellent selection before looking back to the basement door. "Um, Winnie, before we do this, do you know why your sister was upset with your dad?"
"Cause he has too many puppies."
"Right. And you know werewolves can only have puppies with their zing." She nodded. "And that werewolves have puppies sooner than humans and vampires, right?"
Winnie nodded. "Dennis isn't ready yet."
"Oh, you know that? You're right, he's not, and he might not be for a long time. I wasn't ready till I was 118. Johnny was 22. You are almost 12 and Dennis is only 7 now, so, it might be several times as long as you've lived so far before he is ready."
"He's my zing. I knew when I saw him born, I can wait forever for my Dennis. And while I wait, I'll make a company for us."
Ericka squealed a little again. "She's so adorable and smart." She signed the papers and pushed them over to Drac before opening her arms wide. "Just like her new big sis. Now, come here and sit on mommy's lap. You know, I'll love you the same whether you choose to look human or wolfish, even if I ask you to change to one or the other for specific things." Winnie nodded and nuzzled up just under Ericka's chest.
Johnny let out a little 'dawww' as he watched the cute scene before him. "Oh, dude, she's Dennis's aunt now, which, according to the internet, humans are way more cool with, ya know?"