A Strange Man
Lara lays in bed watching the moon cast shadows across her ceiling, wondering to herself if she would ever get a decent night’s sleep again. Her employer’s footsteps paced above her, fading for one blissful moment as he crossed his room only to return to continue her torment. How could someone who hasn’t felt well enough to leave his study for the past three weeks have this much energy? Could he not do this during the day when the rest of the house was up and around? If he has to do this at night could he at least stomp around somewhere else? The attic or the basement or something? Does he have to do it right above my head?
She flips over and covers her head with a pillow, fighting the urge to scream into her mattress. With a groan, she glances over at the digital clock on her nightstand. A quarter past three. This man has been stomping around for the past two hours. More than once tonight Lara found herself envying her sister. Tara slept like the dead. Once she was out nothing would get her up until she’s had a full eight hours.
After several more minutes of listening to the rhythmic thumping of Mr. Fáelán’s footsteps, Lara gets an idea. She tosses her quilt to the side, slips on her old Vans, and tip-toes out of her room. While part of her wanted nothing more than to pound down his door and knock the restless old man unconscious, she decided more tact was in order. So instead of storming upstairs Lara heads to the kitchen. Once there, she warms up the leftovers from dinner and takes the tray of food back upstairs.
Tip-toeing back upstairs, she sets the tray down on the third-floor landing, careful not to let the metal tray clank against the hardwood floor. Before she could think better of it Lara gives the door a light rap, then quietly hurries down the steps to hide in a shadowy corner of the hall.
She peeks around the corner, blowing aside a rebellious strand of brown hair from her face. Lara knew she was being ridiculous, but at least now she would know that the old man was getting something to eat. And with any luck, he would be sitting down while he was doing it. Straining her ears, the young woman listens for any sign of him coming to answer the door. She ignores the nagging voice in her head telling her to stop being so nosy. This was after all a clear invasion of this man’s privacy.
While one side of her was busy chastising her for peeping on her employer another side desperately wanted to know what this elusive man looked like. Nearly a month has past and the only thing she knew for certain about him was that he stomped like an elephant! She knew that he could fire her for spying like this, but Lara was too sleep-deprived to care. Right now curiosity outweighed her sense of self-preservation.
She waited, and waited. Lara could hear her blood pounding in her ears as every muscle in her body tensed. Letting out a long shaky breath, she tries to steady her nerves. Was it apprehension, excitement, or just the effects of not enough sleep that had her feeling so on edge?
Jedidiah hated the moon. Especially on nights like this, when the moon was at its fullest. Over the years he had mostly mastered controlling his shifts, but the full moon still made him restless. He could feel the prickling of his skin as the desire to change grew stronger. Every nerve burned like a hot wire just under his flesh. Every bone throbbed and ached. Moving seemed to help lessen this sensation, so he would pace his study like a caged animal for most of the night. This desperate tug-of-war between man and beast would go on until dawn when the moon’s unnatural pull was no longer able to affect him. Giving in would be so much easier, but he was determined to only let the wolf out when it was his choice. He refused to relinquish his free will to an astronomical rock.
There was a knock at the door, a light tap of the knuckles. Jedidiah cocks his head to the side at the sudden noise. Having come home only a few hours ago, he had thought everyone to be tucked in their beds asleep. He stops pacing and listens. It couldn’t be Derek or Dimitri at the door, they knew better than to disturb him on nights like this. Unless something was wrong.
Fearing for the worst, he walks quickly to the study door. Just before he flings it open, he catches a whiff of vanilla and honey. It’s the elder DuBois sister again, and this time she has left food at his door. His stomach lets out a traitorous growl as the scent of cooked meat wafts under the door. Unable to contain his hunger, he listens for a bit to make sure she is not still standing at the top of the stairs before cracking the door open. He couldn’t see her in the darkness of the hall, but he could still smell her scent and hear her shallow breathing. She was somewhere close by, watching.
Hearing her jump when the clock downstairs strikes the hour, Jedidiah takes the opportunity and opens the door just wide enough to slide the tray inside, then quietly closes the door and locks it. He walks over to his desk and sets the tray down with a soft click, then uncovers the plate of food and sniffs it. No poison, no silver, just leftovers of the roast they had for dinner. Next to the steaming plate of beef and potatoes is a small folded piece of white paper. He picks up the paper and unfolds it to see a hurried note inside:
I heard you were still up and thought you might be hungry since you didn’t come down to dinner. Please leave the tray at the top of the steps and I will collect it in the morning.
He collapses into his desk chair laughing, amused at the absurdness of a maid who chooses the night of the full moon to brings a werewolf a late-night snack.
That morning, Lara gets up to start her day still groggy from her late-night activities. Groaning into her hands, she tries to remember what time she actually fell asleep. It had been well after four. She had been far too wired to go right to bed after her impromptu covert operation. Blasted clock, I was so close!
Cursing at herself for being so jumpy, and again for being overly curious, Lara hurries to get dressed. Throwing on a pair of faded jeans, a light sweater, and her Vans, she gives herself a once over in the mirror. Eyes puffy from lack of sleep, hair a stringy mess, she looked tired. Not having a full night’s sleep in nearly a month was starting to take its toll.
Pulling her hair up in a loose bun, Lara goes down the hall to her sister’s door. She gives the door a loud knock to get her sister up and moving. When she can hear the usual groans and moans, she heads down the hall to go downstairs to the kitchen. Before she does, she checks to see if the tray is waiting at the third-floor landing. Nothing. Lara shrugs, figuring that Mr. Fáelán wasn’t up yet. Telling herself that she will check again after breakfast, she goes down to the kitchen to start her day.
When she opens the kitchen door, she is surprised to see the dishes she brought up last night are now in the sink. The empty tray sits on the kitchen counter with her note resting on top of it, right next to the usual white envelope containing today’s shopping money. Lara picks up the note and sees that someone has written thank you in small, neat script on the back. She looks down at the note and smiles, then puts the folded piece of paper in her jeans pocket. Humming to herself, she walks to the front door, grabs her worn-out red hoodie from its home on the coat hook, and leaves to do her morning shopping.
A little while later, Lara walks across a busy street downtown, heading towards her usual stop. The streets are congested from early morning traffic as everyone else in town seemed to leave at the same time each day to head to work. Lara curses at herself for not leaving sooner. At this rate she was going to be late getting home, and she had wanted to be back before the rest of the house was up. Shifting her shopping bags to one hand, Lara uses her free hand to pull up her hood in hopes of hiding from the chill of this early Spring morning.
Lara skips over the curb and dashes into the butcher shop, crashing into someone on their way out. It felt like she had run face-first into a brick wall covered in wool. The wall had his arm around her waist to keep her from tripping over the door frame, his other arm holding a brown paper sack. Lara looks up to see a man she believes to be in his late twenties, his tall frame and broad shoulders covered in a long, wool coat. Most of his face was hidden in the shadows of a black fedora, but she could make out a strong jaw. The jaw smirks down at her, and she could see that this man had very sharp looking canine teeth.
Startled, she blushes up at him and stammers, “S-Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going. E-Excuse me.”
He cocks his head to the side, studying her. Lara looks away from him and tries to step around him, not comfortable with how this strange man was staring at her. He removes his hand from her waist and opens the door for her, bowing slightly.
“T-Thank you. Please excuse me,” she tells the stranger as she rushes inside.
She hears him inhale the air above her head as she walks past him, causing her to whip around. Did he just sniff me?
Lara looks and sees that the place where the stranger once stood is now empty, the shop’s heavy wooden door slowly swinging closed behind her. She pulls her hoodie closer around her as she shivers. Trying to shake off the eerie feeling left by the stranger, Lara walks over to the counter to pick up her order.