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art by Shannon N. Kelly

Storytellers

Jen Brubacher is a librarian who wants more books in the world. Her short fiction has been published in Northword Magazine, Outburst, and a few anthologies including Nothing But Flowers: Tales of Post-Apocalyptic Love. Her longer fiction languishes in obscurity. She is a Canadian living in London, UK, and she never imagined she'd miss Twizzlers so much. Visit her at jbrubacher.blogspot.com or on twitter @jen_b.
"You'll never believe what happened on the way over here." Bea fairly threw her bag down on the table as she arrived, throwing Gary's coffee mug into a spin. Brown droplets sprayed over his work shirt and dabbed the tabletop. Bea didn't notice and placed both arms right in the mess.
"No, what did you see?"
"So there was this guy saving a seat for his friend."
"This was on the train?"
"The bus. He was saving the seat beside him, and it wasn't even upstairs, you know, where only really fit people can get to. It was right down near where it says 'Handicapped Only.'"
"It doesn't say that."
"Close enough." Bea suddenly seemed to realize she had nothing to drink. "Back in a minute."
She left. Gary sighed. She was already on a rant and he wouldn't get a word in until the mysterious tale of the bus seat was finished. He really needed to talk about it, too. He needed to let it out before--
"So, where was I?" She arrived back with a milky drink that smelled strongly of spice.
"The bus. Right. So he was saving the seat for his friend, and an old woman got on, and fair enough he'd keep the seat for his friend if we were all a bunch of teenagers but then there was this old woman, right?"
Gary played along. "He got up for her, didn't he?"
"No! He was so rude! She even sort of cleared her throat right beside him, and he just stared at the ground like he couldn't hear her. With his bag up on the seat and everything."
"Shocking." Gary took a sip of what was left of his coffee. The rest of the shop was a bustle of conversation. Back and forth conversation, he noticed. One person talked, another person talked... nobody was monopolizing anything. But then maybe his perception was biased.
"So finally this big guy standing beside the old lady, I mean a real bruiser of a guy with a hoody and everything, this other guy says, 'Mate.' He says it just like that too. 'Mate.' Like it's all the warning the guy should heed. And the guy does nothing! Like he can't hear a thing!"
"Did he punch him in the head?"
"You'd think maybe, wouldn't you? But no. He didn't. He just leaned over real low and tapped the guy hard on the shoulder. Bang bang."
Gary hoped his expression was rapt enough.
"Guess what?" Bea said.
"What?"
"The guy was deaf! He couldn't hear a thing, especially not some poor old lady coughing! And not the big bruiser, either! He was off in his own world not even noticing someone wanted the seat! And anyway, that bag didn't even belong to him!"
Gary nodded. "Who did it belong to?"
"Nobody knew!"
"Oh. Then what happened?"
She made a face at him like he was the biggest idiot in the world. "We all had to get off the bus so the bomb squad could deal with it, of course. Jeez. What was your big news?"
Ah. That figured. Some guy was a jerk on the bus, but then he wasn't, and oh by the way, the bomb squad had to come. That was absolutely one of Bea's stories. Gary was tempted to smile.
"I almost don't believe you," he said.
"Sure you do. Now tell. Your news?"
Gary took a breath. "I think my new place is haunted."
"Oh yeah." Bea glanced out the window.
"Really though! I was sleeping last night--"
She shrugged. "Then it was a dream."
"No. Let me finish. I was sleeping, and I got woken up by this awful moaning. Like, really terrible. Really grating from the stomach kind of moaning. It was filling up, like, every room in the house."
"Wow." Bea drank half of her chai latte in one gulp.
Why was it that no matter what he had to tell, it always sounded like crap, and no matter how mundane her tales they came across like gold? "I'm serious, Bea. I'm worried. I think I need an exorcist, or at the very least, one of those psychics who goes around and says, 'I'm getting the name Beatrice....'"
Bea snorted.
"Anyway." Gary took a sip of his now-cold coffee. "How's work?"
Bea ran most of a block to get an earlier bus so she wouldn't be late for their meeting. But Gary was already in the coffee shop. That was always his way, he was always early, and what was more he never waited for her. This time, instead of going over immediately, Bea went right up to the barista to order her drink. Let him wait a little longer.
When she got to the table he had his nose in a book like he hadn't even noticed her. "Hellooo Gary. Awwoooo. Awwooo."
"Very funny. I was serious last time. And you know what--"
"Are you going to tell me that a ghost appeared to you in your house? That they reported the long-lost grandchild who will inherit the fortune hidden in the floorboards?"
"Not really."
"I'm disappointed."
"You would be. No, I figured it out."
Here it came. The real explanation. The something-rather that was even more something-else than the something-before. Bea put on a smile. "Hit me."
"The moaning happened again. And again. Every night. God, I wasn't sleeping at all--"
She wasn't sure if he wanted the obvious answer but then again he was telling her about it, so she said, "Not sleeping has a tendency to cause things like, you know, hallucinations."
"I did not hallucinate. No, I decided to follow the moan."
"Follow the unearthly moan, follow the unearthly moan, follow follow follow follow, follow the unearthly moan! We're off to see the ghostie! The wonderful ghostie who moans." Bea felt pretty clever.
Gary just glared. "I followed it out the window to the apartment across the way."
"Across the square?"
"Yes. The window open there. So it wasn't a ghost. It was..." he fell silent, staring at her.
"Sorry, it was what?"
"I don't want to put you in danger."
Bea stopped herself from rolling her eyes. "Go on, then. What are friends for?"
"It was a werewolf."
"Ah."
"I'm serious."
"I know you are."
"I saw it changing. Back-lit--"
"If you saw it back-lit, are you sure it was changing from werewolf into man? Are you sure it wasn't just... changing from fur jacket into skivvies?"
"I saw it." Gary's jaw tightened to a painful-looking knot.
"All right, all right." It was useless to dissuade him. If he thought there was a werewolf in the apartment across from him, well, so be it.
"And that's it." Gary straightened his shoulders and gave her a stare. "So what was it you wanted to talk to me about, anyway?"
It wasn't exactly more life-altering than a werewolf, but Bea shrugged and said it anyway, because after all, he was her best friend. "You remember I was looking up old files in the registry, after finding out my mother's maiden name?"
"Sure," Gary said.
"Well, it turns out I have a sister I never knew about." Bea swallowed, feeling sort of ill.
Gary just looked at her.
Bea offered to walk Gary home. Unsure whether she was being nice, or trying to prove he was lying, he eventually agreed. They took the route near the river and admired the reflection of light on the water.
"Maybe it won't change anything," Bea said. She held Gary's arm and put her head on his shoulder.
"Likely it will," Gary said. "How could it not?"
"Well, maybe."
There was a comfortable silence for the rest of the walk. Finally they neared Gary's apartment, and as they passed through the square between the two buildings they both looked up at the window across from his.
"Well..." Bea said.
"Yes." Gary didn't want to bring it up again. He didn't want to compare notes and realize he'd been a fool.
As they neared the doors Bea detached herself from his arm to allow him to dig for his key. She kept her eyes on the opposite door, the one to the other apartment, and he thought he saw some kind of consideration in her eyes, like maybe she was really thinking about it. Maybe she believed him.
Naw, he thought. He found his key and unlocked the door.
A heart-stopping moan exploded out of the apartment and hit them both. Right after it came the werewolf, its hide thick and patchy, its eyes malevolent and frighteningly cunning.
Gary heard Bea scream. He felt the tear of claws down his chest and wondered if it would be quick now, this thing he had never actually believed would happen. This thing the universe had been warning him about... but he'd never really understood what it was saying. Death.
"Should have... known..." he gasped.
But the wolf had stopped mauling him. It rose up and looked at his companion. Bea looked back, her hands over her mouth.
Then the werewolf spoke. It sounded like a human woman. It sounded very much like Bea. And it said, "Beatrice? Is that you, my sister?"
Before he blacked out Gary muttered, "Well, that makes sense."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 27th, 2012


I was sitting in a coffee shop with some friends, all of us silently writing, when another writer arrived and launched into the story of their day: breakfast, what to wear, commute, an irritating person on the bus--completely interrupting all of our stories. I was annoyed, but then I wondered about their perception of the scene. There's always another perspective. Gary and Bea started chatting in my mind. To be honest, Bea has never shut up.

- Jen Brubacher

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