“In 1.6km you will be entering Moore Town.”
Well, the app didn’t crash as she had hoped. After being on the road for countless hours, Maps’ constant robotic directions throughout the trip had reached a point where it simply aggravated her existence. Kara gave up trying to hear music during the first half-hour and opted on counting how many black cars cruised by as time passed. When those started to become scarce, she settled on counting every single car. Grabbing the phone from where it rested over the cup holder, she quickly glanced at the time reading 12:46 PM before setting her gaze on the road again.
Why do we have to use this metal box? We could be running, hunting, climbing new trees. The panther inside Kara made her presence known with the low grumble. Lena, we can’t afford to arrive at our new home without belongings.
Whatever, Kara. Lena pawed at the ground before settling in a corner, I still think this thing you call a car was a stupid idea.
Ay Lena, she sighed rolling her eyes. The panther inside Kara couldn’t get it through her thick skull; their budget is tight. Arriving naked at their new apartment without the packed boxes would mean having to spend the money resting in her bank account on new clothes, food, house utensils, and whatnot. In other words, she wouldn’t last two weeks. Not including a report to the authorities of a naked woman wandering the streets, she could make it to the third week.
The low hum of the car combined with Maps’ chirpy voice had created a slow throbbing in her head. The very few stops she made along the way weren’t enough to get rid of the antsy feeling of being cooped up 8 hours straight. Turning off the A/C, Kara rolled the driver’s window down, taking deep breaths of the sweet, warm air.
The afternoon breeze tousled her black waves and teased her nose with the sweet scent of maple trees, and the particular essence of cedarwood. The ample clearing that accompanied the desolate road at each side slowly turned into an extensive forest of pines, oaks, and red fir trees. A content purr escaped Kara’s lips as her panther made her cravings known - to sink her claws into an incense cedar tree.
As she drove closer to Moore the number of cars on the road started to dwindle, until the old Volkswagen became the only one remaining. The serene and quiet background began to creep in, leaving a sense of emptiness inside her chest. Goosebumps rose over her skin as she became aware of the lonesome feeling settling in. Her eyes prickled with the telltale of upcoming tears, remembering a time where the baby blue colored beetle would be filled with bubbling excitement and lame jokes.
Eight years… and I still can’t feel a sense of moving forward.
“Kara get it together,” she muttered, wiping away the traitorous tears that escaped, “Wallowing in self-pity won’t bring her back. There is a new town waiting for you and there will be another one, and another one, and so on until… it just clicks.”
Settling into a new town and leaving behind another was always a bit hectic at first. Not being able to stay in one place for more than 4 months and a half, this had become a necessity in Kara’s life. Once her panther starts to feel restless, it’s time to pack and go. The process was always the same: giving a two-week notice of her resignation from her present to date job, packing a few belongings into cardboard boxes, and paying up the last of rent.
According to Google, Moore, even though small, had a healthy dose of shifters and humans. Up north lives a pack of werewolves, and if she remembered correctly it’s the biggest community of shifters in town. At their southeast and southwest borders resides a pride of lion-shifters, and scattered throughout the rest of the town were a few families of werebears and humans. Moore is the first town she has come to know to have that many shifters. Though, she shouldn’t be so surprised by it. Shifters usually prefer towns with extensive land to roam, rather than the boisterous concrete cities.
“You are now entering Moore town. Your destination is 9 minutes away.”
Thank the Moon Goddess.
Just as Maps announced they were entering new territory, a welcoming sign appeared by the left side of the road. Not even 5 minutes past the sign, several shops started to appear along the relatively empty streets. As the norm at small towns, a few curious gazes landed on the blue beetle. A handful of couples cuddled into one another walked by various gift shops, while parents paced a few steps behind their hyperactive kids. Two blocks and several turns later, the string of stores ended with a small parking lot facing the 11 story-high apartment building.
“You have arrived at-”
“Yeah, yeah, now shut up.” Kara hurriedly shut down the application, breathing in a sigh of relief as she found an empty spot to park. Looking through the rearview mirror, her gaze settled over the set of boxes sitting patiently on the backseat. Let’s get this over with. Getting out of the car she made her way around to the passenger side and took the first two boxes, and proceeded to make the short walk toward the apartment building.
Four boxes later, she found herself trying to catch her breath in front of the apartment door with the last of her belongings. Samantha Greene, the owner of the building, had left the key to the apartment with an apology letter in the lobby. Apart from stating she wouldn’t be able to meet Kara on her arrival, the note also stated that the elevator would be undergoing repairs for the remainder of the afternoon. I had six boxes to carry up to the fourth floor, lovely, just lovely.
Entering the apartment once again, she’s greeted with a cozy two-piece living room to her left. Placing the box over the glass top of the small wooden table in the living area, she took a moment to admire her new home. A set of windows at the very back of the room gave a great view of the vast forest of Moore. Perfect for evening runs. The walls were painted white and cream-ish brown; paired with the natural sunlight streaming in, it gave the whole space a lighter ambiance. Breathing deeply, she shut her eyes and took it all in. A small town surrounded by miles of forest could actually be the change she needed.
Determined to get some unpacking done, Kara gathered her hair into a high ponytail and proceeded to pick a box labeled ‘Clothes’ from the only cushioned seat in the living room. Following the hallway behind the living area, the short and simple corridor gave way to a bathroom and the single bedroom to its right. She set the box over the bare bed to charge her phone and let it shuffle a playlist of songs in the background.
Half an hour later, no neighbors had come knocking by and she had only achieved to unpack two boxes before her stomach reminded her it had been a while since her last meal. Her cellphone’s screen read it was already 2:45 PM. Looking at the third box in line to be unpacked Kara couldn’t help but grimace at the idea of continuing.
Food now. Lena’s impatience was accompanied by the familiar ache of her canines elongating. The boxes could wait, her stomach could not.
Shutting off the music, she stripped herself of the sweaty clothes and entered the bathroom with a bag of toiletries. The white and blue-tiled bathroom only had space for a white sink with a mirror crammed next to the toilet, and a shower with sliding doors. Kara showered as quickly as possible, though she was tempted to just stand under the hot spray until it turned cold. Too bad there won’t be hot bubble baths in the near future.
“Beta, we have a problem. There’s a new shifter in town,” The man sat patiently in the confines of his car facing the Ridge apartment building, “I don’t recognize the scent.”
“A new hybrid?”
“No, the woman doesn’t carry any trace of mixed species.” He’d seen the young woman arrive unaccompanied and carry her belongings into the apartment building. Her scent carried the unmistakable fragrance of fresh rain known to all shifters, but the part which would classify her as a particular shifter held hints of enticing spices.
Such a strange scent…
“I’ll inform the Alpha immediately. Keep tabs on her, and don’t let her out of your sight. All shifters will be notified to report any suspicious movement. Thank you, Joseph.”
“No problem Beta. I’ll keep you posted with her location.”
As the young woman exited the building, Joseph tucked his phone away and waited several minutes before leaving his car and discreetly following behind.
Kara’s first stop ended being Caleb’s Bakery, a cherry red establishment with the best chocolate truffles she had ever tasted. The sweet delicacies melted instantly on her tongue, almost drawing out a moan from her plump lips at how good they tasted.
The owner, Caleb, was a heavily built werebear with stone dark eyes and hard-pressed lips set to intimidate. The minute she set foot inside the bakery, the air became stiff with the stench of nervousness and confusion. Introducing herself and buying some sweets didn’t make a difference over the shifters’ skepticism over the new visitor.
The werebear’s tense posture had her panther’s hackles rising in response. She wasn’t looking for a confrontation, but that didn’t mean she would back down from one. It’s simply not in her nature. The staff followed their boss’ lead and stayed far away from the booth she occupied.
After getting her fill of scrutiny and whispers, Kara left the booth taking with her one last truffle as she heads out back onto the streets. A steady stream of pedestrians kept to the sidewalks of the local shops throughout the warm afternoon. The uncertain faces of several patrons as well as a repeated version of “We are not recruiting new employees. Have a good day.” received her at every store she entered.
It seems this town doesn’t take lightly towards new visitors.
Letting out a final calming breath, her gaze trailed over the surrounding stores for a sense of direction. I’ll just grab something to eat on the way home and call it a day. There is no sense in staying around shifters who are obviously more comfortable evading her. Those were her full intentions until a building with orange glowing letters reading ‘Lulu’s Tavern’ captured her wandering eyes.
One last stop won’t… well, it can’t get any more shitty than it has already been. Kara thought as she pulled open the intricately black doors of Lulu’s Tavern. Her pupils immediately became dilated. The dim lighting gave the spacious cafeteria and bar a more relaxed atmosphere.
Cautiously walking in, her gaze roamed over the bar at the left side of the room and the squared tables arranged in a half-moon shape in front of a stage. A couple of clients drank to their hearts’ content by the bar, while others sat eating their evening meals. Very few danced to the popular songs streaming through the speakers. Not scenting any hostility from the scattered shifters in the room, she walked towards the bar and took a seat at an empty stool.
“A new shifter in town, that’s quite unusual,” A middle-aged woman leaned over the other side of the bar, “How can I help you, honey?”
Kara had never met a human who could recognize someone as a shifter at first sight. The woman’s stance remained relaxed while her sharp blue eyes studied Kara’s frame. She discreetly scented the air, slightly leaning towards the curious woman, confirming she was in fact completely human. Her short dark hair framed her face, accentuating what appeared to be a permanent smirk on her thin lips.
“How did you know?”
“I was born and raised in this town, Sweetcheeks. When you’re surrounded by shifters throughout your whole life things start to rub on you,” she explained, extending one of her hands, “The name’s Lulu. What will it be?”
Kara gave Lulu’s outstretched hand a shake before folding her arms over the bar. It’s quite a surprise to see the owner of a bar actually serving drinks. Usually, they stay in their office going through numbers and whatnot. The spotless bar, the organized alcohol rack behind Lulu, and the fact she was tending to customers instead of assigning a bartender gave Kara the feeling that the bar held more of a special place in Lulu’s heart. Just a hunch.
“I’ll have a strawberry lemonade vodka. I’m - ”
“Kara. I know, everyone is talking about you.” She gave the puzzled werepanther her signature smirk with a raised eyebrow, before getting to work on Kara’s drink. Lulu carried herself with confidence, taking and replacing bottles of alcohol from the tall rack behind the bar.
“Oh.” Was all she could manage to say. Well, that is certainly new. A whole town, no matter how small, does not learn her name in a day. Does it? She hasn’t even been in town for a whole day.
“What did you expect? Moore can easily be cataloged as the smallest town in the States.” Lulu replied to Kara’s startled face, passing her the cold beverage.
“Right,” she pressed her lips, cradling the cool glass between her palms, “The shifters here tend to act a bit...?” Kara left the phrase in the air with her eyebrows raised.
“Strange, hostile?” Lulu’s sharp blue eyes peered into Kara’s with curiosity, “Don’t take it personal Sweetcheeks. You know how some weres can easily feel threatened by a new shifter, rather territorial you know- ” If that was all then I guess all is well. They probably need time to adjust to having a new shifter in town. All she needed to do is steer clear of -
“But… ” Oh no.
“Honey, I don’t know how to word it without sounding like a dipshit,” Lulu’s eyebrows furrowed in concentration. She straightened her stance from leaning her forearms over the bar, sending Kara an expectant stare, “There is another reason. I thought you would have figured it out by now. No one knows what exactly are you.”
Kara almost choked on her drink, “What am I? Oh… oh.” She wiped at her lips with the back of her hand and stared at the now empty glass. How could she forget? Her mind must have been scrambled with the moving, the damn annoying GPS, and remembering her… Kara had visited many towns throughout her 24 years of life, though none had a large concentration of shifters as this small town. Obviously, they were curious at first, but they mostly let her be after asking that question. Werepanthers were very rare. It could be safe to say that, starting eight years ago, Kara became the only werepanther residing in the Americas.
“I completely forg- ,” she lifted her gaze to find Lulu’s face practically inches apart from hers, “You seem… very excited.” Kara tried to lean away, wanting her bubble of personal space restored. The small woman just about vibrated with energy.
“Yes, yes, now spill it Sweetcheeks. What are you?” Lulu couldn’t contain her big smile.
“I’m a werepanther, and please don’t call me that.” A minute passed and Lulu just stared at her, unblinking, with her radiant smile still on. Kara’s eyes flicked from her to the kitchen door and back. She was starting to feel freaked out. Maybe she’s in shock?
“You are a what now?” Coming back to, Lulu narrowed her eyes at her.
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