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From the author: I've written a lot of funny fantasy for Esther Friesner, and the ones set in modern suburbia took on a life of their own. For this one, I wondered what might happen if you mixed a supernatural Home Owners Association with . . . Pride Month?
by Steven Piziks
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cassidy, but you simply can’t grow wolfsbane in your front yard. The Homeowners Association regulations are quite clear.” My fingers grew white around the edges of my clipboard, but I managed to keep my voice level. The poisonous smell of that horrible little plant rubbed at the inside of my nose like a cheese grater, and I instinctively shied away from the shiny green leaves that surrounded the Cassidy front porch.
“It’s not wolfsbane, Ms. LaMond,” Felicity Cassidy huffed. “It’s poison oak. And witches are allowed to have it. For potions.”
“Witches?” I flipped through the forms on my clipboard, but more to cover my surprise than actually check anything. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand--this is a zombie household.”
“We prefer the term ‘recently revived,’ ” Mrs. Cassidy sniffed. The pastel coloring of her carefully-tailored pantsuit couldn’t hide the pallor of her skin, and the padding rather failed to disguise the emaciated build of her body. It looked as if a florist had exploded all over a toastrack. “Using the word zombie shows you’re clearly prejudiced against me, and I’m going to register a complaint.”
I sighed. “In any case, Mrs. Cassidy, zom--the recently revived are not authorized to have poison oak or wolfsbane.”
Now Mrs. Cassidy sighed. “Listen,” she murmured, leaning forward, “actually it’s that my daughter Zoe recently announced she’s a witch. She’s been babysitting the McCrae kids ever since James McCrae had that fight with Baba Yaga and won, remember? I think Zoe has a little crush on him, to tell the truth Anyway, now Zoe says she’s a witch, and we’re trying to be supportive. That’s why we planted all this.”
I gaped, then caught myself and forced my expression into something more neutral, even though a creepy feeling oozed through my stomach worse than that time I tried Alpo on a dare. Zoe claimed to be a zombie witch. The Cassidys were mixing phyla!
I struggled to keep the disgust off my face. Now, it may be true that modern times bring modern ideas, even to those of us with a supernatural bent. When I was girl, I didn’t know it would one day be possible to get WiFi in a mausoleum, keep track of your friends on web sites like Flitter, and send voodoo curses by text message. And I definitely didn’t know it would one day be possible for people with a little extra zing to their makeup to band together and form gated communities where everyone could live--or unlive--without worrying about torches, pitchforks, and reality TV producers.
For the most part, this modern world is a better place. My son Colin, for example, doesn’t worry about getting peppered with silver buckshot every month. But you still have to draw the line somewhere, and the Homeowners Association agrees. Mixed phyla are just . . . wrong. Can you imagine a zombie witch? Who would she marry? What would you call the children? Would she be undead or some kind of un-undead? And here was Felicity Cassidy, standing on her own front porch and telling me she was trying to be supportive of this! Wake up and smell the formaldehyde, woman!
Under normal circumstances, I would say that Zoe wasn’t my daughter, and it wasn’t my place to comment. Keep your nose in your own pack, as my mother always said. Unfortunately, these goings-on clearly violated HOA regulations, and as Chair of the Homeowners Association, it was my duty to handle it.
I tried to start off diplomatically. “Zoe’s babysitting now? Didn’t you just raise her?”
Mrs. Cassidy put a hand to her heart. It hadn’t beat for twenty years, so I don’t know why she bothered. “It certainly seems that way. Children. You chant runes over them, raise them, teach them to lurch, and suddenly they’re little adults with jobs and a hearse license and demanding their own morticians.”
My cell phone chittered and I glanced at the readout. It was just Ann Viani, the assistant chair of the HOA texting me: RU at Cassidy? I flicked back a hasty Y in response and simultaneously realized my teeth were getting sharp. It was later than I thought. A little pang went through me, followed by a tinge of red anger. Not good--I was trying to be delicate with Mrs. Cassidy.
“Be that as it may,” I said to her, snapping my phone shut, “you can’t have wolfsbane on your front lawn. As the alpha--I mean, Chair--of the Homeowner’s Association, I’m required to inform you that you have five days to remove it. If you don’t, the HOA will hire pixie gardeners to remove it at your expense.”
Then I leaned forward. “And just between us, you should have a word with your daughter about her . . . predilections. We can’t mix phyla here, you know that. Next thing you know, we’ll have members trying to bring in mortals.”
Mrs. Cassidy’s nostrils flared. “Xavier Killfoil brings in mortals all the time!”
“He imports them from Canada for snacking,” I pointed out. “Well within regulations. I’m sorry, but the wolfsbane has to go, and Zoe will have to give up the . . . other business. If you can’t bring her into line, your family will have to leave. You have the right to protest before the Association, of course, but a hearing isn’t likely to go in your favor.”
At this, Mrs. Cassidy dropped all pretense of friendliness. “Bring on the pixie gardeners then! Zoe can put an anti-fairy circle around the house. She’s getting very good at repelling.”
“I’m sure she is,” I said tartly, “especially if she’s between morticians, but an anti-fairy spell would constitute another HOA violation. You did sign the agreement before you moved in, you know.” I added, not unkindly, “I’m afraid we’ve no choice. The regulation protects the were-children. Those berries are doubly poisonous to shapeshifters, you know.”
“Only to ones foolish enough to eat them,” she snapped, “or those who don’t parent their children properly.”
The angry tinge blew into scarlet rage. My nails lengthened into black claws and red-brown fur sprouted from the backs of my hands and arms. Without pausing to think, I grabbed Mrs. Cassidy by the throat and lifted her off the porch. Her flip-flops dropped off her long, bony feet. She clutched at my hand but was unable to break my grip. Fortunately for her, the recently revived don’t breathe.
“You will remove the wolfsbane from your front lawn,” I snarled, “or I will remove the head from your shoulders. See if your mortician can repair that.”
With those words, I dropped her on the front porch, stalked to my little red Chrysler Fortwo, and zipped away. Thanks to my little half-transformation, my head now brushed the roof, my knees bumped the steering wheel, and do you have any idea how hard it is to drive a stick with three-inch nails? I should have stayed where I was and taken a moment to get myself back under control, but I could hardly sit in Mrs. Cassidy’s driveway after I’d attacked her. I was also having the strongest urge to pee all over her sidewalk--and I’m not even male, for god’s sake.
I drove through the streets of Hidden Oaks Veneficus Community, breathing deeply and regaining my composure. My claws retreated and I shrank a little, but I couldn’t get rid of the body hair. The sun was setting in a clear blue sky above the lush oak trees that lined the sidewalks, and I could feel the moon rising. In an hour, I would be fully lupine. Really! I should have put Mrs. Cassidy off until tomorrow.
I pulled into my own driveway. The house was a Luna Model, with plenty of skylights for observing the moon and space in the basement for puppy cages near the washing machine. Adult werewolves are a bit ill-tempered during that time of the month, but we can control our little urges with some effort. Puppies, however, will be puppies, and you can’t blame them for trying to disembowel their playmates for those three nights when the moon is full.
I went inside, dropped my clipboard on the foyer table--
--and came to a dead stop. My sixteen-year-old son Colin was sitting on the living room sofa. I rushed over to him.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” I said, pulling him into my arms.
He struggled out of my motherly embrace with little more than a look of unease, which only made me more upset. His night-black hair, a gift from his father, was tousled and fluffed, and his nails were already lengthening into claws. His ears came to faint points, and his blue eyes were tinged with red. He always looks so handsome during this phase.
“What makes you think something’s wrong?” he demanded.
I ticked off points on my fingers. “No iPod, no cell phone, no video games, the TV is off, and you didn’t snarl at me when I hugged you just now. Darling, what’s the matter?” I smoothed his hair and flinched inwardly when he failed to bat my hand away. “Oh dear--it’s a bitch, isn’t it? Who is she? Are you afraid to tell me her pedigree? You know that’s not important to me. I mean, it would be nice if you found someone who could trace her line back to Walachia like we can, but a second-generation bitch has a certain appeal. As long as she makes you happy.”
He looked at me for a long, silent moment. I could feel the moon’s pull strengthen with every passing second, and the urge to change grew worse. Colin is long past cage age, but still, I often feel nostalgia for all those times I had to wrestle him in and slam the door before he could escape. He fought and bit, of course, and when he was nine he left me a long scar down the inside of my forearm. I have to admit I was insufferable and showed it off for weeks at soccer games until Bitsy Baneshee said she would positively scream if I rolled up my sleeve one more time. A serious threat coming from her, so I stopped.
“It’s not a bitch,” Colin said at last. The words came out a little slurred around his lengthening teeth. “It’s something else.”
I glanced at my watch, which had a lunameter set into the dial. Sixteen minutes before full moonrise. My legs were itching under my pantyhose. “Honey, I want to hear it, I do, but will we have time to discuss it now?”
He took a deep breath beside me on the couch. “Mom, I have something important to tell you.”
There are certain phrases that never fail to strike terror into a mother’s heart. Uh oh is one of them. I told my teacher you could is another. But nothing beats I have something important to tell you to bring out the icy sweat of fear.
“What is it, Colin?” I asked, keeping my voice level with great effort.
“Maybe I should just show you.” And he began to change. Black fur grew from his body as it always did, but then . . . then . . .
His face didn’t grow that long, boyish muzzle I knew so well. Instead, his nose shrank into a horrifying little button. Small ears poked out of the top of his head. Then his entire body dwindled away and vanished. A lump struggled around inside the pile of his clothes for a moment, and out of them emerged . . . it was . . .
. . . a large black cat.
I’m afraid I reacted very badly. I snarled at it and lunged. Suddenly the cat was half again its normal size. Startled, the lupine part of my brain hesitated, and the cat took advantage of the moment to leap off the sofa and flee down the hall into Colin’s bedroom. After a second, the human part of my brain regained control, and I realized I’d been tricked. It’s just not fair that cats can puff up like that, and it’s equally not fair that we lupines and our canine cousins seem hard-wired to fall for it.
I sat on the sofa, stunned at what I had just seen. Colin had become a cat. Outrageous! Oh, I knew intellectually that weres can become other creatures, and I know it happens in a certain percentage of the population. Some weres secretly enjoy dressing in the underfur of other animals. My own uncle Hubert was once caught with the entire skin of an anaconda. Everyone pretends they don’t know a thing about it, even though you can still smell the scales on hot summer days. But seeing it in my own home . . .
I pulled myself together and checked my watch. Ten minutes before moonrise. I had no idea what I was going to say or do, but I couldn’t let this ride. I hurried down the hall to Colin’s room. The door was open, and I found him sitting on his bed in human form, thank god, with a blanket wrapped around him. His fur hadn’t completely gone away, though, and his eyes had become an ugly shade of green with a nasty slit up the middle. Cat’s eyes. I wanted to bite something in half and feel the blood run down my chin. My own arms were growing hairier by the moment.
“Honey,” I said, “let’s talk about this.”
“I don’t know what there is to talk about,” he said defiantly. “This is who I am. I’ve felt feline my whole life.”
Oh, god. “This is because I drove your father away, isn’t it? After I caught him with that bitch in heat. You didn’t have a proper alpha male around to--”
“No, Mom. I was like this even before the thing with Dad.”
Something occurred to me. “This explains why that trial subscription to Cat Fancier showed up last year. It wasn’t a mistake, was it? Was it?” A growl was invading my voice.
“And those catnip leaves I found in your closet?”
He flushed. “Don’t ask, Mom.”
The situation was rapidly slipping away from me, and I desperately tried to get a handle on it. “Listen, sweetie, everyone thinks about other shapes sometimes, especially during adolescence. When I was your age, I wondered what it might be like to be a coatimundi. Your aunt Bernice once had a fixation with horses. And the less said about Uncle Hubert, the better.”
“Scales,” Colin said. “Yeah.”
“So this is just a phase. You see? It’ll pass.”
He shook his head. “It’s not a phase, Mom. I’ve been a feline--”
“Don’t you dare say that word!”
“--as long as I can remember. I run down alleys and yowl at the moon. I climb trees and sharpen my claws. Mom, I hunt mice.”
“My puppy!” Tears filled my eyes. “And all this time I thought you were out with your pack friends on full moon nights.” My whole world was crashing in on me. My son, my only child, was a felinanthrope. A purry.
And I changed. Destroyed a perfectly good dress, not to mention a new set of pantyhose, though that didn’t really register until much later. The next several hours were a bit of a blur, I’m afraid. I haven’t lost myself to fury like that in over twen--well, in several years. When I came to myself, I was curled up on the front porch, completely naked. The sun was just coming up, and I was smeared with blood.
Horror struck me cold. Hidden Oaks Veneficus Community was set up as a suburb where folk with a supernatural bent could live freely, but there are rules. These rules exist partly so we can all co-exist, but mostly so we can live without invoking the wrath of various law enforcement agencies. High up on the list of don’ts is “Thou shalt not munch thy neighbors wife.” Violators meet quick and merciless consequences. Vampires are dragged kicking and screaming into the sunlight. Witches are burned at their own broomsticks. Zombies are magically paralyzed and donated to the university medical school for dissection. And werewolves . . . werewolves are trapped in lupine form, spayed or neutered, and sent to the pound.
Frantic, I sniffed myself all over. The fresh, coppery smell made my mouth run with saliva, but even my currently weak nose could tell the blood wasn’t human. It was all feline. I had another sick moment before I realized that none of it smelled even remotely like Colin. I felt a little sorry for all those cats whose paths had crossed mine last night, but what kind of fool lets the cat out on a full moon night in a suburb with werewolves living in it?
A misty form glided down the sidewalk. Mr. Gorbinski was out for his usual bit of morning exercise after a night of haunting, and here I was, naked and bloody, on my own front porch. I fumbled for the door, my hands still clumsy after spending the night as paws. Mr. Gorbinski glided closer, his ghostly Walkman plugged into his ears. Poor man, stuck jogging to Wham! for eternity, though right then I was more worried he might see me. I finally got the door open and stumbled into the house.
Colin was sitting on the couch, calm as a ticking time bomb. He was fully dressed, his hair perfectly combed. I wondered if he’d licked it into place before changing, and the idea made me want to gnash my teeth. I snatched up a fleecy throw to wrap around myself.
“I can smell the blood,” he said. “You better not have killed anyone I know.”
“Anyone you know?” I squeaked. “How many of you are there?”
“You’d be surprised, Mom. There are Internet chat sites for just about everything.”
“I’m going to shower,” I said, sweeping past him with all the dignity I could muster. This wasn’t easy in a fluffy throw with a pink unicorn on it. “Then we’ll talk some more.”
I felt more human with the cat blood rinsed off and a fresh set of clothes on. The warm morning sun promised a fine summer day. I found Colin in the breakfast nook eating a bowl of cereal.
Oh. Oh no.
It wasn’t cereal. He was drinking a bowl of cream with delicate little tongue sips, just like--
“Stop that!” I said, pulling the bowl away from him. “Don’t flaunt yourself.”
“I’m not in public,” he said. “And even if I were, so what? This is who I am, Mom. WTF says--”
“WTF?” I sat down at the table, already feeling like I was losing control of the conversation again.
“Wear the Fur,” he said. “They said we should be proud of our shapes, whatever they are. Lots of weres want to be something besides wolves, Mom. Maybe you should join PFLAG.”
“PFLAG,” I said weakly.
“Purries, Furries, Lycanthropes, And their Guardians. They have some really good support resources. Don’t you ever surf the Internet?”
“Apparently not the same parts you do.”
He touched my hand. “It’s okay, Mom. Look, I’m sorry I upset you, but I’m glad you’re taking this so well.”
“Am I?” I said. “I don’t feel like I am.”
“You didn’t try to kill me--not seriously, anyway--or throw me out of the house. Kenny Biddlemeyer’s parents caught him changing into a platypus, and they sent him away to taxidermy school.”
I was shocked. “Taxidermy school? I thought he was going to a hunting camp.”
“That’s what they told everyone. Taxidermy school freaked Kenny out so much, he can’t even change completely into a wolf anymore, let alone his TS. When the full moon comes, he just gets a bad case of hypertrichosis and has to hide in the basement until sunrise.”
“That’s dreadful! Wait--his TS?”
“True Shape, Mom. Get with it!”
“I’m trying, honey, but you aren’t making it easy.” I felt my voice rising. I thought I could handle this, but I couldn’t. The more I thought about my son turning into a . . . a cat, the more my stomach felt like I’d eaten something from a bad Dumpster. Every time I looked at him, I only saw slitted eyes and a disgusting rough tongue. I couldn’t have it here in my house. I couldn’t! He would have to change his ways or . . . or . . . well, I wasn’t sure what, but it would be something harsh. “Colin,” I said, my voice rising, “I’m afraid . . . ” I trailed off.
He looked at me with those horrible cat eyes. “What, Mom?”
I began again, with more strength. “Colin, I’m afraid I--”
The doorbell rang. Feeling both annoyed and relieved, I jumped up to answer it. Ann Viani stood on my front porch. She was a small woman, fine-boned and blonde. She was also a werewolf and the Assistant Chair of the HOA committee. All the HOA committee members are werewolves, actually. We’re the only ones in the community who are willing to work in groups, once the issue of alpha is settled, and I had done that with the accepted paw-to-paw combat years ago. Colin says I pwned Ann, whatever that means, and she was happy being beta to my alpha now.
I caught a whiff of Ann’s lilac soap as I peered outside. Most of us wolves take a long shower after a night of prowling that also often involved rolling in things that would, in polite company, be described as fertilizer. It’s one of those lupine things that we all know but rarely discuss. My own preference is for tangerine body wash. Normally I would have invited her in, but I didn’t feel up to butt-sniffing right then. I put on a little smile instead. “Ann! What can I do for you?”
“Greta,” she said stiffly. “I’m afraid I have this for you.” She handed me a folded sheet of paper. “You are in violation of your homeowner’s agreement. You have five days to right the matter or leave Hidden Oaks.”
My mouth fell open. “In violation?” My voice squeaked in outrage and I crumpled the paper in my hand. “I wrote the violations list, Ann. I’m not in violation of anything.”
“Oh? Then do you deny mixing phyla by harboring a . . . ” here she paused, as if the forthcoming words were dead skunks on a highway “a . . . multiply-shaped were in your home?”
My stomach went cold. With everything that had happened, I hadn’t even considered this. My son was mixing phyla. Ann was right--I was in clear violation of the HOA.
“I have an eyewitnesses report that a cat leaped over your fence last night and changed into a human in your backyard before going inside,” Ann continued. “The human’s description exactly matches your son Colin.” She sniffed delicately and lowered her voice exactly the way I’d done for Mrs. Cassidy yesterday. “And I’m afraid I myself can smell cat fur.”
I still couldn’t do anything but stare at her, the paper still a crumpled ball in my hand.
“The sheet I gave you is a notice of formal complaint,” she said. “You have the right to appear before the Association, of course, but really--you have to know that we can’t allow mixing of phyla here. Next thing you know, we’ll have members trying to bring in mortals.”
I continued to stare at her.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” Ann demanded. “I’ll have to take over as alpha of the HOA if you leave.”
At last I came to myself and glanced into the dining room, where Colin still sat at the table, the empty bowl in front of him. He could hear every word. “Of course,” I said hoarsely, and automatically lifted my chin, baring my throat. “I’ll take care of the problem. I’m . . . sorry.”
“These things happen,” Ann said in a tone exactly like the one I had used with Mrs. Cassidy. “See you at the HOA meeting tonight.” And she left.
Colin didn’t say a word when I sat down at the table again. He didn’t even look at me. Instead, he set his bowl in the kitchen sink, went into his room, and shut the door. A moment later, I smelled catnip.
I couldn’t stay in the house. Outside, my feet took me on a meandering path around the subdivision, along the shady sidewalks, past the security gates where the golems Greg and Gertrude stood guard, and through the little park in the middle--no signs about cleaning up after your dog here, thank you. The diurnal inhabitants were out and about. Children played tag in the yard and in the treetops. Adults waved to me. Which one of them had reported Colin? I tried not to slink as I passed by.
Eventually I found myself in front of Felicity Cassidy’s house. The wolfsbane still lined her front porch, and the stinging scent crinkled my nose. I knew why my feet had brought me here, but I still didn’t want to go through with it. Finally, I straightened my shoulders, forced my traitorous feet up to her door, and rang the bell. She opened the door a moment later in a cloud of formaldehyde and ethanol, her thin face set harder than rigor mortis.
“What do you want?” she demanded.
“I came to apologize,” I said, getting the words out quickly, to get it over with. “It was close to moonrise yesterday, which always puts me in a temper, and I should have waited until . . . well, in any case, I’m sorry.”
“Fine,” she said shortly. “Accepted.”
She started to close the door, but I said quickly, “How do you handle it?”
Mrs. Cassidy blinked at me. “Handle what?”
“Zoe’s situation,” I said miserably. “How do you handle it? You seem so calm about the whole thing, and I . . . I’m not.”
Light dawned on her face. “So it’s you who has a purry in the house.”
“Don’t call him that!” I flared.
“If the shoe fits,” she said with a shrug. “There have been rumors, you know.”
The surprise drove the anger away like a lion startling off a cat. “Rumors?”
“You’d better come in.”
A bit later, Mrs. Cassidy was serving me tea in her bright, cheery kitchen, though after a look at my face, she reached into a cabinet and added a dash of something from a brown bottle to my cup. I’d already been up all night, but the contents of a housewife’s hidden brown bottle are guaranteed good for the nerves, even in a kitchen for the recently revived.
“There have been rumors around for quite a while,” Mrs. Cassidy said, sitting down next to me. “But no one knew for sure.”
I drank, and the tea burned from more than just heat. “I’m not handling it well, Mrs. Cassidy. I thought I could take it, but I feel like I’m falling apart.”
She shook her head. “If you’re going to fall apart in my kitchen--and that’s not something a zombie says lightly--I think you’d better call me Felicity, even if we do come from different phyla.”
“I thought you preferred the term--”
“Never mind that. The point is, this sort of thing is never quite the secret everyone thinks.”
“Except from me, apparently,” I said, with an unexpected bark of laughter.
“Look, I’d be lying if I said Zoe didn’t shock me. I’ll never forget the day I found a book of transmography under her headstone. But in the end, I realized she’s still my daughter, and we’ll have to work things out somehow.”
“I don’t want to lose my house,” I howled. “And what will the rest of my family pack say?”
“You’ll think of something. You’re a strong, alpha bitch. That’s not the real issue, and you know it.” Felicity touched my hand with hers. It was cold and waxy, which was nice--I didn’t have to control the urge to nibble. “Listen, dear, you need to think of it this way: your son hasn’t changed a bit. You just know more about him.”
Her words stayed with me all the way home. I was so deep in thought that I was practically at my doorstep before I saw it. Someone had scrawled purry in sloppy red letters on my garage door. Below it, the vandal had superglued a poster of a cartoon cat moaning about how he hated Mondays. And when I got to the front porch, I found taped to the door a notice that our “recent unauthorized redecoration” had combined with my son’s “special predilections” to create a “severe, negative impact on surrounding property values.” In light of this new situation, my previous five-day warning was rescinded, and Colin and I were to vacate our house within twenty-four hours or face “surgical consequences, as laid out in the enforcement clause of the HOA Contract.” A post-script informed me that I had been impeached as HOA Chair. The notice smelled of lilacs.
And then I knew what was going on.
I tore down the notice and ran inside the house, calling for Colin. He was nowhere to be found. Frantic, I dialed his cell phone. He answered on the third ring.
“Where are you?” I demanded, loving the relief that swept over me. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Mom. What’s going on?”
“Someone just--never mind. What is that noise in the background? It sounds like--”
“I’m playing horseshoes over at Aunt Bernice’s house. Are you okay? You sound upset.”
“Oh god--Colin, have you told her about . . . you?”
“Long time ago, Mom. She doesn’t care.”
I put a hand to my forehead. “Did everyone know except me?”
Thoughtful pause. I heard another clank in the background and a cheer from my sister Bernice. She must have scored a ringer. “Not everyone. But Uncle Hubert thinks it’s hilarious.”
I blew out a long, heavy sigh. How could I have missed this in my own son? Sometimes I could be so blind. It’s not as if it didn’t run in the family. “Honey, I need you to answer me straight. How do you feel when you change into a cat? Be honest, and don’t mince words just because I’m your mother.”
“Honestly?” He paused, and for a moment I thought the cell phone had dropped the call. “Mom, the first time I changed into a cat, I felt like I’d been dead all my life and only just then started to live.”
I stared down at the eviction notice and my earlier relief turned to anger. This was a violation. This was my house, my territory, my son. Colin had found happiness, and if he was happy, I was happy. No one was going to force me to move out on account of happiness.
“Colin,” I said firmly, “put Bernice on the phone. But tell her to grab her address book first. We have some calls to make.”
Ann Viani, new chair of the Homeowners Association, banged the gavel. “This meeting of the Homeowners Association will come to order.”
The meeting room in the commons was crowded and damp. The HOA always meets in the generously-sized basement to accommodate those with allergies to sunlight. Witches, vampires, ghouls, zombies, and weres all in a single place, trying to hammer out common living arrangements. Who would have ever thought? Colin sat next to me with absolute calm. He had always had a sort of regal charm about him, even as a child. Now I knew why. I actually envied him right then. On my other side sat Felicity Cassidy with her daughter Zoe.
“The first item on the agenda is--” Ann continued.
“Mine,” I said, standing up.
Ann gave me a frosty look. “I’m afraid you’re low on the list, Mrs. LaMond.”
A low mutter went through the room. A member of my own phylum addressing me by my last name was a grave insult. I ignored this.
“No one cares about the sprinkler systems, Ann,” I said. “Or the golem maintenance fees. We all know why everyone’s here, so let’s stop wasting time and get this out in the open.” Every eye in the room was on me, and I plowed on before Ann could object. There was enough alpha bitch left in me to stop her from interrupting. “We started this community so we could all have a safe place to raise our offspring. We fled fear and prejudice. But it turns out we brought both with us. My son Colin feels the need for a different shape than other weres. So what? It doesn’t hurt anyone. Felicity Cassidy’s daughter Zoe has a talent for witchcraft. So what? She’s good at repellent magicks. We’ve suffered prejudice at the hands of humans for centuries. How can we allow it to continue among ourselves?”
I saw some nods of agreement among the other homeowners, and an equal number of head shakes. Still, I was encouraged.
“That doesn’t matter,” Ann said from the podium at the front of the room. “You signed the HOA agreement, and you’re in violation. You and Felicity Cassidy both. The graffiti on your garage has confirmed it--and already lowered property values in the neighborhood.”
I let a little of the lupine out. “That was you,” I snarled. “You claimed to be that ‘eyewitness,’ but it was just a guess based on the faint smell of cat fur in my house. You painted the graffiti on my garage and put up the notice to force my paw.”
“And how do you know that?”
“You should rinse better, Mrs. Viani. I smelled the lilac soap. Now you’re Chair, just like you’ve always wanted. Alpha of the Association.” I advanced on her. “A HOA ’ho.”
“How dare you!” Ann shrieked. Her fangs grew and her nails lengthened into claws.
“I wouldn’t,” I said. “I have friends.”
With that, my sister Bernice burst into the shape of a Clydesdale mare. Uncle Hubert hissed and became the biggest anaconda the world had ever seen. And my son Colin shifted shape into an enormous, sleek black panther twice the size of any wolf. I stood proudly beside him, one hand on his shoulder.
The other homeowners scrambled out of the seating area to get their backs to a wall. Most of the vampires changed shape as well, but really--bats? Who cares? Felicity and Zoe rose to stand beside me. Ann stayed at the podium.
“I think it’s high time we amended the HOA agreement,” I said. “Does anyone care to second the motion?”
A snarl, a whinny, and a hiss thundered through the room.
“Objections?” I asked archly.
“Just one.” Ann reached into her pocket and pulled out an ugly-looking pistol. “A silver-plated one. The HOA hasn’t been amended yet, LaMond, and I’m still within rights to destroy you. Only filthy people mix their phyla!”
We all recoiled by reflex. Silver was worse than wolfsbane. Uncle Hubert flickered his tongue and Bernice stamped a hoof the size of a dinner plate. I started to step in front of Colin, not sure what I was going to do, but certain I wasn’t going to let Ann shoot him. The room had gone deadly silent. Several other residents could have interfered, but this had become a pack matter, and I could tell they weren’t certain if they should get involved, so they simply waited to see how this would play out.
Colin abruptly swirled back into his human form. “Wait a minute,” he said. “Ann Viani. I just realized--you hang out on the WTF boards as ‘Aviani,’ don’t you?”
Ann went pale and the pistol wavered slightly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Sure you do. You post in the Feathered Friend Forum all the time.”
“Certainly not! I would never--”’
“You’re wearing feathered underwear right now,” Colin said. “I can tell. Cats are especially sensitive to that scent.”
“Ann!” I said. “Lashing out against your own kind. What is it the psychologists say? The ones who object the loudest are the likeliest to--”
Ann pulled the trigger. Before the gun went off, however, Zoe Cassidy made a sharp gesture, and Ann flew backward. The pistol fired, the silver bullet flew wild, and the report nearly deafened me. Ann slammed against the basement wall and hung there for a moment, held by Zoe’s repelling spell. Then she went limp and slumped to the ground.
Uncle Hubert resumed human shape, strolled over, and peered down her blouse. “Ah! Feathered bra. From Ursula’s Undercover Undergarments, if I’m not mistaken. Good brand.”
Ann tried to groan, but it sounded suspiciously like a squawk.
The meeting eventually came back to order. The HOA agreement was not amended--it was abolished outright. Ann has disappeared, and her house is up for sale, but WTF rumor has it that she’s been sighted stroking a cockatoo in Waco, Texas. With the HOA disbanded, I have to find another organization to lead. PFLAG should do nicely. I’ve gotten used to the smell of catnip, and the idea of one day entertaining a grandkitten or two does have its charm.
But I’ve told Colin I draw the line at emptying a litter box.