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                                            Cursed Blood
                                                                    By Erica Schaef


    Open your eyes.  I sit up, check the digital clock on the nightstand. 6:59, one minute before the alarm
was set to go off.  I'm hungover again.  I swore I would stop doing this to myself.  Another lie.  The sheets
smell like stale, cheap alcohol.

    My head is pounding as I turn on the shower.  Hot beads of water pelt my skin, and I breathe in the
steamy air, trying to relax my muscles.  I linger for a little too long, having to tear myself away and back to
the cold tile floor.  There isn’t time to dry my hair fully.  I twist it into a bun, brush my teeth, and slap on some
make-up. Ugly.  Gross.

    I dress hurriedly, into a black, discount pant suit, with a ruffled pink blouse underneath.  My cell phone is
on my dresser; its screen has a new crack across the center, and is flashing low battery. Grabbing it, along
with my keys, I slip on a well-worn pair of ballerina flats and head out the door.

    My apartment is on the second floor of a converted brick Victorian. It’s an old house, drafty in the winter
months, but rent is affordable. Anyway, I’ve always liked buildings with a bit of history.

    I take the stairs, leading with my right foot.  That's one of my compulsions, it has to be the right foot.  My
car is a green Chevy Malibu and is parked at the back of the house.  I get in and light a cigarette, switch on
the ignition.  I look at myself in the rearview and blink at my reflection.

    Another compulsion.  I have to do it two more times, until I can be satisfied that the eyes have moved in
perfect unison.

    My drive into downtown isn’t bad; twenty minutes if traffic's heavy, like it is today.  I work as a
receptionist at an insurance firm, making thirteen dollars an hour, plus health benefits.  My English Lit
degree sits in a drawer at mom's house, collecting dust and interest.

    I park in the building's attached garage and light another cigarette, sit in my car to smoke it.  You smell
like an ashtray. There's a bottle of department store perfume in the console, leftover from Christmas.  I
spray my neck and jacket, grab my bag and walk to the door.

    The fluorescent lights in the staff lounge make my temples throb.

    “Morning, Natalie.”  Tonya, one of the agents at the firm, is giving me her best, beaming smile,
complete with perfectly straight, white teeth.  I like Tonya, even if I am a bit envious of her gorgeous black
hair and sparkling designer pumps.

    “Good morning,” I reach into the cupboard for my Garfield mug and fill it with hot coffee.  No cream or
sugar for me, I don’t like to dilute the caffeine.

    “Coming out with us tonight, aren’t you?” She’s taking a sip of water, looking up at me with green,
Cheshire cat eyes.  I hesitate, try to think of an excuse.  Hermit.  Disgusting.

    “Oh you have to!  It’s Friday and it's my birthday!” she frowns dramatically, “Please.”

    She really is beautiful, and the closest thing I have to a friend in the office.

    I shrug, at a loss, “Sure.”

    After work, I run home to ditch my car and change my shirt, call a taxi before I have time to convince
myself out of going.

    The bar is smaller than I thought it'd be, and I’m glad for that. She’s sitting there with two other insurance
agents, but turns when I come in.

    “Natalie!” she stands, a glass of white wine in her hand, and spreads her arms wide, “you came!”  I feel
a warmth in my belly, and wonder if it’s a last remnant of the hangover, or if I’m actually happy to be here.

    “Yea,” I smile and return the hug.  Awkward.  Idiot.

    “What can I get for you?” the bartender is cute, young, and probably still in college.  He addresses me
as soon as I sit down, even though the place is pretty crowded; one of the perks of being here with Tonya, I
guess.

    “Merlot, please,” always Merlot on Fridays. I can't remember any more if that’s another compulsion, or
just a long standing preference.

    We sit and talk for about an hour, and I'm on my third glass when the two other agents get up to leave.

    “You'll stay for a while, won’t you, Natalie?” Tonya turns the smile on again, and my gaze drops to her
low neckline. Killer tits; I knew they would be. Mine hardly constitute the cotton, A-cup bra I have on.  I nod,
take another drink.

    A couple of men across the bar buy tall Cranberry Vodkas and send them over to us. Tonya holds hers
up to them in thanks, and I smile. I’m starting to feel really good now.

    “Thanks for coming out tonight,” she says in a low voice, “I was really hoping you would.”

    I reach out and take a length of Tonya’s hair in my hand. She doesn’t stop me, just grins with alcohol-
flushed cheeks. It's so soft, and it smells delicious, like ripened black berries.

    I'm beyond smashed by the time we finally leave. I black out at some point on the ride back to her
apartment. I know I won’t remember this tomorrow, but I’m happy, really happy.

    I open my eyes. There's no voice telling me to do it, it just happens organically. I can’t remember the last
time that's happened.

    I'm naked, completely. I sit up, alarmed. My mind is sharp, oddly perceptive for this time of morning.  I'm
on a smooth leather couch, with plump, comfortable cushions.  There's blood.  Everywhere.  Dried and
browning, on my bare, intact skin.

    “Oh God, no,” my obsessive compulsive disorder is quiet; sated.  My stomach is stretched and full. I
don’t feel sick at all, despite having drunk my entire body weight in hard liquor last evening.  This can only
mean…

    “But it wasn't a full moon last night.” I argue to the empty room. I always set a reminder on my phone...

    “Shit!” I find my bag by the front door and pull out my cell. Dead. I remember the low battery signal from
yesterday morning. I’d never charged it, missed the reminder and skipped my medication.

    “Tonya,” I whisper, “oh please, oh God.”

    My worst fear is confirmed when I run into the bedroom.  She is there, spread across the white sheet, in
two, mangled pieces.  The soft flesh is torn open like wrapping paper, exposing the internal organs; all
except the liver, which I know has been consumed.  The entire place wreaks of coppery blood.  Her
intestines are still wriggling, peristaltic.  The rest of her is stone dead.  Even the lively green eyes are dull
now.

    I hurry into the bathroom, heartsick.  Bright red, gooey slime is dripping from the corners of my lips, a
metallic taste lingers in my mouth.  Crying, I get into the shower, and scrub until the skin is raw and clean.  I
steal a maxi-dress, flip-flops, and sunglasses from Tonya’s closet, run outside to find a payphone.

    Once safely tucked into an out-of-the-way booth, I dial mom’s number with trembling fingers.  She's the
only other werewolf I know, and I pray that she'll be able to tell me what to do.

    She answers on the second ring.

    “Mom, I… I didn’t take my medication last night, and…and…” I dissolve into tears.

    “Where are you?” her voice is crisp and calm, hinting at no sign of surprise or panic.  Somehow I feel a
little better, and, after giving her Tonya’s address, I hang up the receiver with a steady hand.

    “Just breathe.” I tell myself, and walk back up to the apartment, having left the door unlocked behind me.

    I sit back down on the couch, avoiding the blood-stained section, and wait.  This isn't the first time I've
killed.  When I was a little girl, I’d gotten the flu really bad, ended up puking out my medication one night.  I’
d attacked our elderly neighbor, Mable, and eaten her liver, too.  Apparently, I’m partial to liver.  Mom had
come to the rescue then too, fixed it up to look like a rogue dog attack.  I'd been smaller then, less violent. I
bury my face in my hands and sob.

    Mom takes forever to get here. Finally, after what seems like hours, she bustles in, with a bucket full of
cleaning supplies in her arms.

    “No cameras in this building,” she says, almost conversationally, shutting the door behind herself.

    I look up at her, feeling hopeless.

    “Where’s the body, then?”

    I point to the bedroom door, hold back my tears.

    She nods curtly, “Okay, you stay here, and try not to touch anything else.”

    It takes a few hours for her to clean the place, and run a load of bleached laundry through Tonya’s
washing machine.  She has me take off the dress, washes that too, and wipes down the sunglasses and
flip flops.  There’s another outfit for me in a grocery bag she’s brought.  I put it on mechanically.

    On the car ride home, mom holds my hand.

    “It's okay honey,” she says, consolingly. “It wasn't your fault.”

    Tonya's body is twisted up inside a heavy duty garbage bag, behind us in the trunk.

    “Oh, God,” I mumble. “I’ll be going to jail, won’t I?  For life, probably.”

    She shakes her head. “Don’t be silly.  Your brother’s never been, has he?  And I’ve gotten him out of
worse than this, let me tell you.”

    I stare at her. “What?  Derrick?  You mean, he’s a…”

    “A wolf, yes. I thought you knew that,” she waves her hand dismissively. “And very flippant about his
medication.”

    I'm shocked.  Derrick, my skinny, nerdy little brother, a killer?  A monster?  Like me.  I close my eyes
and listen to the radio for a minute.  Mom's quiet too, focusing on the road.

    When we get to her house a couple of hours later, she sets me up in my old room.

    “Here,” she props a pillow behind my head, and drops two small, white pills into my palm.

    “Take these, they’ll help you sleep.”

    I swallow them.

    “Good girl, you lay back, now.  You need to rest.  And don’t worry about a thing, honey.  It’s over, all
over.”

    “Thank you, mom.” I do as she tells me, and feel her pull a warm comforter up to cover my body.

    “Quiet, now,” she brushes the hair from my forehead in slow, soothing strokes.  I fall into a deep,
mercifully dreamless sleep.  All is black and unfeeling.  When I finally wake, it’s Sunday morning.  Daylight
is pouring in through the lace-curtained window, spilling across the carpet and stark white walls.  I get up
and dress, hurry downstairs to see mom.  She’s there, in the kitchen, humming over a large, greasy skillet
of sizzling bacon.  I sit down at the table, watching her sleepily.

    “Feeling okay, honey?” She puts a plate of fried eggs down in front of me.

    “Yeah, thanks,” I take a bite, surprised to find that I actually have an appetite.

    “How did…it go yesterday?” I ask, unsure of how to best phrase my question.

    “Everything’s fine,” she smiles. “Eat up, and I’ll take you back home.  You’ll have to go to work as usual
tomorrow.”

    I shake my head vehemently. “No, please, I can't go to work.  Please, let me just stay he…”

    She puts up a hand. “No, that won’t do, you have to behave as normally as possible.”

    I look pleadingly at her. “But people there… they know I was out with her.”

    Mom smiles, pats my back. “That’s fine.  Just say you left her apartment Saturday morning, and haven’t
heard from her since.  Trust me, Natalie.”

    I take another bite, resigned to my fate.

    On Monday morning, I go into the office as usual.  No one thinks too much of Tonya's absence, happy to
laugh it off as too much birthday celebrating.  After a couple of days, though, they start to worry, start to
talk.  When they ask, I feed them the lines given to me by mom, and they swallow them up readily. Finally,
on Thursday, she makes the news. There’s a picture of a river, located in the national park, a little ways
outside of the city. A banner across the bottom, in big, bold letters, reads, “Breaking News: Hiker’s Body
Found in River, Mauled by Wayward Mountain Lion.”

    I breathe a sigh of relief, and vow to never, ever forget my medication again.
About Erica Schaef

Erica Schaef worked as
Registered Nurse for ten
years before becoming a
stay-at-home parent.  
When she's not busy
chasing toddlers around,
she enjoys reading,
writing, and watching
horror movies. She lives in
Tennessee with her
husband and two children.