Dead. Killed in cold blood. The only person in the world I loved was taken from me, her heart ripped from her chest, leaving a gaping hole behind. The red splatter staining the wall of the bedroom indicated it had subsequently been thrown as if it were nothing more than a rotten fruit. Even through the acrid smell of blood, I could still smell him. He was the one who did it.
He came almost every week, sometimes several times a week, going back years. In fact, I could not recall a time when he did not exist in my consciousness. He had always been obsessed with my mother. Now his smell invaded her bedroom; he couldn’t have left long ago as his rancid stench lingered, burning my nostrils and poisoning my stomach.
I crawled over to my mom, tears pouring from my eyes, blurring my vision. I clutched her cold, soft hand in mine, unable to let go. Maybe if I held it long enough, she would just wake from this nightmare, her vibrant brown eyes showing themselves again. Even as I thought this, I knew it was hopeless as the very faint scent of death and decay entered my nostrils. In a matter of minutes, she was already dead.
I gasped for air in agony. My tears turned to sobs as footsteps sounded in the hallway, becoming louder as they approached until a piercing scream penetrated the air.
I couldn’t bring myself to move from my position as a group formed around me. All I could hear were muddled voices, their words blending into something incomprehensible as I squeezed my mom’s fingers. Sturdy hands abruptly grabbed me around the waist and pulled me toward a warm body, breaking my grip. I thrashed back, trying to get back to my mom.
“Get her out of here,” Madam Coco’s deep, raspy voice commanded as the man carried me out of the room, holding my arms down while I kicked my legs, screaming,
I cried out in desperation, “Mom!” Another man grabbed my legs and carried me downstairs into my bedroom, a tiny room the size of a closet in the basement.
The two men dropped me on my bed and stood above me, staring, with their arms crossed. “Talia, I’m sorry to do this. You have to be quiet, or we’ll have no choice but to force you. Please don’t make us.” Hugo touched my shoulder gently.
“It’s my mom.” I looked at the man, who had become one of my closest friends over the last couple of years, through my tears. “What are they going to do to her?”
He avoided eye contact with me, shuffling his feet and fidgeting with his hands. “Please, Talia,” he pleaded with me.
“Please, Hugo. What are they going to do with my mom?” I implored louder.
He shook his head. His fellow bouncer, Tyrone, stayed silent, exhibiting a pitying frown.
“Hugo, please tell me.” Tears tumbled down my cheeks.
“I’m sorry, Talia. They have no choice. They’re going to dispose of the body. We can’t go to the police about this. You know that. Please cooperate, Talia. If you don’t—”
He didn’t have to say it. I knew what would happen. Because the entire operation was completely illegal, things were always swept under the rug. s*x wasn’t the only thing sold here, and I didn’t know the complete product listing, I just knew that if you needed something illegal, this is where you came, be it drugs, weapons, or something else entirely. It wasn’t far from Calabogie, Ontario, a ski resort village, and an unsuspecting location for such an operation. Just far enough from Ottawa that it was isolated from the city but close enough to make the trip to fulfill one’s desire.
But I knew that he, the sick, murderous asshole, was not from Ottawa. No, he was like my mom and me and knew our secret. He lived deep in the forest where humans did not go. But close enough to come here regularly, to get his fix—his fix being my mom. Yes, all the women here wanted regular clients, but he was not like other regulars. He had evil eyes, irises so dark that they were indistinguishable from the pupil. He was sadistic. He regularly left injuries on my mom. And while the brothel banned bad clients, for reasons that eluded me, my mom would never report him and allowed him to keep coming back. Yes, she healed quickly, but she still felt the pain. She'd tell me he paid well—better than all the others.
I looked up at Hugo through my tears. He was also like us, but he lived in a werewolf community that he called a pack, unlike my mom and me. I let the tears roll down my face quietly, getting the message that I needed to keep it down. Hugo nodded at Tyrone, who left. Once the door shut, Hugo sat down next to me. He was a big, muscular man with darkly tanned skin. We’d dated in the past, which eventually ended in heartache for me. Hugo was not the boyfriend type. I tried to be friends with benefits until I realized that sleeping with him caused too much pain—he’d made it clear he’d never be able to give me what I really wanted. But he was one of my only friends, and I couldn’t stand the idea of not having his company anymore. He was able to explain things to me about being a werewolf, things my mom never wanted to explain. She had abandoned that part of her life years ago, denying that it was within her, a part of her, and she tried to convince me to do the same.
“Talia,” he said softly. I reached for his hand but he moved it, giving me a friendly pat on my back. “I’m sorry.”
“What will happen now?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even.
“They’re going to call the cleaners in. Afterward, you can collect whatever you want from the room. But, and I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, you will have to leave. Madam Coco won’t keep you around unless you—”
“Unless I start working here,” I finished his sentence.
He looked at me sadly. “You should find a pack. I know your mom was against it, but a pack will take you in and protect you. They’ll help you get on your feet. Come to my pack, the Pine Forest Pack. I’ll ask the alpha to accept you in.”
“That’s where he’s from, isn’t it?” I glared at Hugo, sickened by the idea of living in close proximity to my mother’s murderer.
“Yes.” He sat next to me in silence, staring at the wall of my room. After a beat, he continued, “I don’t have any other ideas. But your mom must have had a pack before she came here. Did she ever tell you which one?” He looked at me meaningfully.
“I don’t know. All I know is we’re not in Canada legally.”
“Maybe it was in the US. There are some packs just over the border.”
I considered this idea. Could I have been born over the border? A knock sounded, interrupting my thoughts. Hugo got up to answer it, revealing Tyrone with his arms crossed. He gave a quick nod. Hugo returned the nod and let himself out, closing the door behind him.
I tossed and turned for several hours while my stomach churned and my throat burned with anguish. I’d drift in and out of sleep, thinking it had all been a nightmare only to realize that I was, in fact, in a living nightmare.
The next day, a knock jolted me awake. When I didn’t answer, the knock got louder. I forced myself up to unlock and open the door slightly before falling back into my bed, still exhausted from the restless sleep. Hugo walked in and put his hands out to help me up. When I didn’t take them, he said, “Come on. There’s not much time before they get rid of everything.” And then I remembered the most crucial thing.
He walked with me upstairs to the main floor. We walked past the lounge area where clients would come to meet the courtesans into the hallway with all their bedrooms—to my mom’s bedroom. Her body was gone; all the evidence had been removed. It was as if she had never existed. An emptiness pierced my soul. The wall which had been stained red the prior day was now white, her shattered heart taken away. My mom was completely gone. Gone without a trace, not even giving me the option to say goodbye.
I held my tears at bay as I ran to the same wall that had been stained the day prior and tilted the framed picture to uncover a hidden hole. I quickly reached in until my hands found the familiar shoebox. But as I pulled it out, I realized something wasn’t right—it was uncharacteristically light.
My heart sank as I threw off the lid. I fell to my knees. It was all gone. Someone had found it and stolen our life savings. They had taken every dollar and didn’t leave even a single loonie or toonie behind. Fresh tears rolled down my cheeks. A situation I didn’t think could get any worse had turned into a living hell.
And I knew—it had to have been Madam Coco. There was no way she’d have let the cleaners have free rein of the room without her watchful eye following them intently as they worked. f*****g greedy cunt! It wasn’t enough for her to exploit my mom throughout her life—she had to do it after her death too.
Hugo came over and knelt next to me. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s all gone. All the money’s gone. All the money we had saved so we could finally leave is gone.” I sobbed, wrapping my arms around him, needing something to hold on to.
“s**t. Do you have anything?” Hugo gently pulled away, shortening a hug I wished would have lasted longer, and lifted my chin so he could look into my eyes.
I shook my head. Maybe I had a twenty in my wallet, maybe some loonies and toonies, but certainly not more than that. Anything extra we made we put into this shoebox. I put my face in my hands and sobbed, feeling more alone and lost than I ever had in my life.
After some time, Hugo patted my back and said, “We don’t have much time. Is there anything else you want to take from here?”
I looked around and felt my heartbeat in my throat. My mom didn’t have any real valuables. Either way, I just wanted her back. Everything else was just stuff.
I walked out of the room, Hugo following. His footsteps sounded behind me as we made our way to my bedroom. Once inside, I sat down on my bed and looked up at him. “Hugo, if I ask you a question, can you please promise to answer it and answer it honestly?”
“Yes, anything.” He sat down next to me.
“Can you please tell me how to kill a werewolf?” I reached for his hand.
He pulled his hands away, immediately clenching them into fists and squeezing his eyes shut. Then he turned to me and said, “Listen, Talia, I know why you’re asking, but I wouldn’t be a friend if I didn’t tell you not to even f*****g try. You won’t be able to kill him. He’s very well trained—better trained than me. Even I would never pick a fight with him.”
“Just answer the question, Hugo,” I demanded, becoming irritated.
For a few moments we sat in silence, in a staring competition. I glared at him and he finally gave in and sighed. “There are a few ways. The most common way is to remove an essential organ, such as by beheading or tearing out someone’s heart or lungs. Simply injuring the organ doesn’t work, as werewolves can just heal. But removing it completely is a guarantee for death. Another common way is poisoning by wolfsbane. Our pack sometimes shoots darts filled with wolfsbane at enemies to get it into their bodies quickly. But you can also die from eating it or if it’s pushed into an open wound.”
“How can I get my hands on wolfsbane?”
He shook his head and said, “I can’t help you with that. I’m sorry. I refuse to help you get yourself killed.” He got up and walked out.
Maybe Hugo wouldn’t help me, but I did live in a place where illicit items were obtained. There was someone who could help me. After all, this had been my home for all twenty years of my life—at least as long as I could remember.