I was running in a forest. With mud between my frozen toes and lungs burning for air, I pushed my legs to carry me faster through the branches, adrenaline flooding my veins.
The forest was just as it was the previous night, wet, foggy, and cold, but the part that terrified me the most was just how quiet it was.
The quiet air made me feel as if even the rapid beating of my heart would be enough to give my whereabouts away, and that at any moment, it would spring out of the bushes and rip apart my throat.
I kept running, but this time I heard it.
Tripping over a log and on to my stomach, I shut my eyes close and screamed upon hearing the terrifying pounding of its heavy feet fast approaching me.
I waited, shuddering, for what seemed like an eternity for the painful sensation of my flesh being torn open…
I woke up on the cold damp floor of my one-bedroom apartment in a cold sweat, screaming without a sound, for I was born mute.
I quickly jumped to my feet, my stomach growling loudly, and walked over to the sink in my tiny corner kitchen to see that it was almost time for work.
The floors were stained, the wallpaper torn, and the absence of windows left the room dark, with the smell of mold and old paint hanging heavy in the air. The only thing worth looking at was the fake plant I had found one night on my way back from work.
I quickly tied my long dark brown hair into a braid, baby hairs framing my hollow face. Brown tired eyes stared back at me in the cracked mirror. I wondered who I looked resembled more—Mom or Dad.
I longingly looked behind at the small refrigerator. I tried not to check the fridge, fighting the strange urge to open it every five minutes, as if the food would magically appear.
I only ever had enough money and time after work for an apple and maybe a can of spam, all of which I’d save for dinner, waiting all day to eat until I got home at 9:30 p.m., but at least I would get food; others weren’t as fortunate.
Licking my chapped lips, I turned to grab my uniform—a short, plain white collared dress with pockets on each side. Pairing it with my only jacket and flimsy black tights, I rushed out the door, locking the three janky locks.
I hated waking up.
Every day, I’d rush through the cold wet streets; afraid of making eye contact, I’d follow the cracked sidewalk with my head held down until I reached the bus stop about two blocks away from my house.
The absence of benches made keeping my tired body up even harder while waiting in the cold. I would stand out there before sunrise, looking out for the bright headlights of the old city bus coming my way.
I’d never known any different though, having been found by werewolf guards at the border of the town in the woods as a baby.
And just like everyone else, I was given a number, and when I was old enough to leave the orphanage for humans and work, I was assigned a job.
One of the nuns at the orphanage had named me Fawn. I guess it was because I was sleeping on the grass underneath a tree when they found me and I was much smaller than the other children.
Werewolves or Lycans had taken over many years ago, long before I was born. We were taught that it was what we “humans” deserved after years of trying to abolish our kind.
Many had tried to rebel, but all had failed.
Werewolves were much stronger than humans, and it didn’t help that most humans were malnourished, living off what the werewolves considered appropriate minimum wage for humans.
My town just so happened to be home to the king of all werewolves, the alpha king, though most of us had never seen him.
He was said to have lived for many, many years, purifying the lands of filth or “humans.” Werewolves outlived humans unless killed, which, as you could imagine, wasn’t often.
Their god-like appearances fooled everyone around them, for they seemed to never age.
I had heard old-timers who could no longer work roaming the streets, talking of the good old days. Sometimes, it gave me hope, thinking that things might once again turn “good,” but they never lived long.
Night patrol always dragged them off to be killed after the curfew of 10 p.m.; no one was out past then unless they had a death wish.
I think those old-timers have gotten to a point where they don’t care; they all seem so happy. I wish I could be that naive to ignore my horrific surroundings.
The bus finally pulled up, and I was shoved in as the throng of late risers tried to hurry into the bus.
After sliding my ID card through the machine and waiting for the obnoxious beep to screech in approval, I walked to the back of the bus and stared out the window until my stop arrived.
Seeing everyone quietly conversing among themselves in temporary bliss made me feel like someone was squeezing my heart. I was reluctant to admit it, but I envied them.
I once had a friend who I often thought about—Melissa Froth. She used to work with me at the castle. Although she was much older, maybe in her thirties or early forties, she was like a sister to me.
We would help each other with chores, and the days seemingly flew by, until one day, she snuck out past curfew to meet with a man who worked at the local fish market.
I don’t know what she had planned that night, but the next day, she wasn’t on the bus, and I never saw her again. She would never purposely leave me though, I was sure of that.
She had immediately been replaced that day as if nothing had happened. To the beasts, we were all replaceable, holding no real value other than to provide work until our bodies eventually gave out.
My hands began to shake with uneasiness; I could only imagine how easy it would be to simply toss out someone who couldn’t even speak.
I was okay with being alone before her, for I knew trying to communicate with me could be a hassle; but having had a friend, being so completely alone hurt now, more than ever.
In a way, I was glad I had my work to keep me busy and tire my body, ensuring I fell asleep at night. Without it, too many painful thoughts would have kept me up.
I was yanked from my train of thought as the bus lunged forward to a hard stop, slamming its doors open. The werewolf bus driver rudely yelled over the speaker, commanding us to get out.
I got up, squeezing past everyone and ignoring the dirty looks until I was finally out in the cold open air on my way to the palace.
The sun rising behind the castle never failed to take my breath away. This small window of time was my favorite part of the day.
This job was God-sent. I had a thing for cleaning, and it was one of the more doable human jobs for someone like me.
Walking up a long set of stairs through the back entrance that only the maids used, I reached my section.
The smell of cinnamon rolls and bacon filled the air as I passed the kitchen, making my stomach growl loudly. I ran straight to work in the east wing, which was reserved for the alpha king’s guests.
Scrubbing a stubborn spot in one of the suite’s bathrooms, I stopped for a moment to wipe the sweat off my forehead and give my lungs a break from all the chemicals.
Taking a deep breath, I looked up, jumping back a little to find the head maid Dana standing over me.
Dana was never a nice lady, but she knew how to get the job done, having a way with words that could make anyone snap into shape instantly.
For some reason, I always felt like she was something I wanted to be, strong.
Her fluffy reddish-gray hair was always done up as high as she could get it, maybe in an attempt to make it seem taller and intimidating. If that was even humanly possible.
Her uniform needed to be a few sizes bigger as the front buttons struggled to contain her bosom; thank heavens, she wore an undershirt.
“Taking a break, are we?”
Smoothing out her uniform with her large hands, she eyed me up and down, her large figure easily shadowing my mere height of five feet. I quickly shook my head to an instant roll of her eyes.
“Don’t bother lying. You don’t get paid to lounge around, Fawn. You should be grateful to have this job. A mouse like you wouldn’t last a minute doing real labor. You’d do well to remember that, human.”
I nodded slowly, gesturing an apology, knowing she was right.
“Now hurry, you’re needed as a replacement in the west wing. Someone else will finish this later before anyone noteworthy arrives.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, my ears started to ring, my palms becoming wet and shaking. The west wing was where the alpha king stayed—the one and only beast of my night terrors.
I didn’t want to know why a replacement was needed, only how to dig myself a hole big enough to hide me forever in the neat carpet underneath my feet.
I was yanked up to my feet and shoved out of the room with force. I pointed back at the room, but Dana quickly waved off my gesture.
“No, no. You leave the supplies there. Nice try, mouse. There’ll be plenty more there, don’t you worry.”
Dana’s raspy laughs tumbled out of her as she pushed me harder, almost causing me to fall face-first on the ground.
“Now, hurry along. We haven’t got all day.”
My stomach started churning, and tears began filling my eyes, as I thought about the possibility of being in the same room as such a beast.
What would happen if he didn’t like the way I cleaned the rooms? What if he punished me? What if I disappeared like Melissa?
Twisting my uniform hard, I watched my palms change color. I kept my head down. There was no way I was getting out of this unscathed. Deep down in my gut, I could feel this wasn’t going to end well for me.
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