Hybrids, outcasts in the eyes of society due to a faulty mix of genes. Monsters, abominations, mutts, the nicknames are numerous and defined by the misfortune of not being born completely human.
Nobody speaks up for them, they do not have a voice, every opinion they utter disregarded. After all, they are animals and what can a beast possibly know?
No wonder history contains no traces of them. Every triumph accomplished by one erased or the conqueror replaced with another (it was not Napoleon that won the battle at Austerlitz, it was his cunning eagle hybrid commander, but the French bastard claimed the right of victory), each book written by one or containing a hybrid in a way that would make them equal to humans was burned immediately and especially at the book burnings during World War II (Hitler terrified to the core by the idea of something not completely human alongside Jews and others not befitting his sick doctrine roaming his Third Reich, whilst none of them has ever proven harmful to society).
For centuries there was not a word dedicated to them, until recently when an anonymous author began to write short stories for the paper coping with all the issues humans try to sweep under the rug and pretend are not there. I do not know how they manage to get them published, the papers being very strict in their censorship concerning anything that would put hybrids into a positive light, but they appear to be popular and the talk of the town. Whoever ‘’Vilkas’’ is, they must have an insider.
Or a like-minded editor.
A thick drop of water mingles with the ink of the text of the latest story, making the words of the tale which was freshly published this autumn morning in ‘The True Telegraph’ almost see-through. It is an account about a lawsuit against the owner of a female cat hybrid, who raped and abused her till the point of almost killing the poor lass. His neighbour established a strong healthy friendship with the girl over time as she found shelter with him and dragged the other man to court when he found her bleeding profusely outside his door one night.
I had hoped the downpour would stay at bay at least a little longer, until I would have reached the coffee shop that forms my office on a day off from the actual office. It is a deal I made with the big boss: I do not always have to show up as long as there is proof some work has at least been done. People need their stories, after all. Just like they need the boring columns portraying the same bland hypocrite opinion over and over again, except worded differently. The only thing that makes the work of an editor in the creative writing department interesting are Vilkas’s stories.
Moreover, beside the immense sense of freedom not being restricted to a bureau gives, I do not have to tiptoe around those snobs of colleagues who are all so happily chatting away about how their hybrid satisfied them last night in a way their partner never can or how they needed to beat some sense into their disobedient pet. It is nauseating being around them, which explains why I do not have many friends among my coworkers. Another reason for that are the dirty looks and whispers of ‘hybrid lover’ and ‘she must be into bestiality’.
Combine that with the “accident” of grabbing a colleague by the collar and delivering him a punch in the gut when he abused his hybrid, a snow tiger with mesmerizing icy blue eyes by the name of Yoongi, the name learned from an outrageous shout at the poor soul, for reasons unknown to me in plain view and you pretty much have the entire explanation for not being present a lot of the time.
A second drop, shoes hitting the pavement at a quickened pace, the clouds overhead darkening and becoming denser.
A third, people begin to feel what’s coming and start to look for shelter or put up umbrellas, creating a plethora of patterns and colours to brighten the gloomy cast over the city.
Then the downpour begins in earnest, Mother Nature’s tears streaming from the heavens onto the fallen decaying burgundy, mustard yellow, and earthy brown leaves that have been littering the concrete since the end of summer. And, of bloody course, I took no umbrella with me, thus punishing myself with a wet outfit.
Hastily, I scan the streets for a possible place to hold up at until the rain softens. In other words: I am looking for a bookstore. The tranquility that dominates the atmosphere scented by the pages of various volumes lining the walls, containing portals to alternate universes that can transport you merely through words that carry emotions and fantasy, is ideal to work in and soothes every nerve agitated by the daily negativity I keep surrounding myself with in order to be able to pay the bills. Furthermore, during breaks I can relax by browsing and reading, ending up in probably bringing home more than completed day tasks. The bookshelves built into the wall on either side of the hearth at home are already filled to the brim and I do not think those in the bedroom have much space left either. But, one does not simply leave a bookstore without buying a new novel to add to the collection, no matter how grand it already is.
My eyes drift off to an edifice across from where I am standing with my light brown trench coat pulled halfway over my head in a futile attempt to stay somewhat dry. It is a simple broken white building, the parts of the walls beneath the windows coloured turquoise, in the classic urban style with broad windows of which the frames are painted onyx and through which a part of what the shop has to offer is visible. Normally, there would be trays with the books that are on discount outside in front of them, but whoever runs it must have read the weather forecast. Water damage is a crying shame to book lovers and not good for sales.
Just the mere sight of the cosiness it appears to offer is enough to draw me in, feet moving as if following the Pied Piper yet running through the rapidly forming muddy puddles in the gutters and gaps in the asphalt to breach the distance.
The characteristic dusty aroma hits as soon as one step is set inside the very homely shop. It used to be a worker’s house, the small hallway to the left with a dark simple wooden staircase leading upstairs to the apartment above and antique portraits giving away that it served as a family home before it acquired a commercial purpose. All around, rosewood bookshelves cover the creamy white walls, labeled by plastic signs upon which the genres are written sticking out. Smaller ones made from the same dark wood form an island in the middle of the space to house even more books, piles of them placed on the surface the collected shelves create.
It looks a bit haphazard, the vast quantity of books and their genres spread out without any logic, but that is part of its charm. Homes are never organized too and the randomness makes it all the more fun to explore.
Gently I close the door behind me and lower the trench coat to wear it in the manner it is supposed to be worn. For a moment, it appears I am the only one here, the rain ticking incredibly loud against the window the sole noise that disturbs the hush. Nevertheless, the distinct sound of a page being turned erases the suspicion of being alone. A searching glance around to discover the source of where it came from ends in finding the culprit.
On the stairs, on the first ebony step, sits a tall round-faced man with a small nose, plump rosy lips, and short messy ashy brown hair matching very well with the navy silk blouse he is wearing underneath a black vest, gaze concentrated on the book of which the cover is not clearly visible from afar in his hands.
Nothing special as far as persons go.
Were it not for the two fluffy ears coloured in the same shade as his hair that perk up when they hear the door closing.
He is a hybrid, either a hound or a wolf. Judging by the shape of the ears and the pattern of the fur, it can be said for certain he is the latter.
Does he have an owner? Nobody other than him appears to be here, but surely the boss of this place has got to be somewhere close.
Despite being sympathetic and empathetic towards his kind, a hybrid running a business is thus far unheard of. If, in fact, he is not and really escaped whoever it is who he belongs to, he is placing us both in danger since the government agents in charge of catching refugees, doing God only knows what afterwards before returning them, will likely assume I helped him flee once they find no evidence that indicates he belongs to me and discover where my alliance lays.
Nevertheless, he seems the intelligent sort and is far too calm to be in a situation that involves the worst case scenario.
A pair of eyes as dark as the night sky stare curiously into mine when the lock falls back into place with a soft click , the spark in them a bit dimming once one ear turns towards the downpour. Yet, they stay focused on me.
Rather, my drenched form. Black jeans have become a shade darker, clinging to my legs. The red converse shoes are not faring any better, considering the deep ruby of the fabric and feeling of wet socks, making every step feel as if roaming a swamp. The only things that have survived the few, nonetheless devastating, minutes in the rain are my hair, bound in a ponytail to prevent unruly strands from getting in the way during editing, the two layers of white shirts to prevent showing the cherry-coloured bra through the thin material and the intricately patterned crimson scarf I received as a birthday present from grandmother.
‘Hey,’ I greet the man, waving half-heartedly. To avoid the awkwardness of being the sole customer and make it clear I have no ill intent in spite of his animal side, I endeavour to start somewhat of a conversation. ‘Quite the weather, eh?’
‘You could say that,’ he answers, voice soothingly deep, making what happened that tad bit less annoying. The book is placed aside, limbs gone stiff from sitting in one position for maybe hours are being stretched, a few bones cracking. ‘And I don’t think it’s going to let up anytime soon.’ It takes only a few long strides for him to stand at my side, towering over me with his lips curled into a gentle smile, dimples showing ever so slightly.
‘At least I’m in a good spot. I can always spend ages in a bookshop, so expect me to wander here for quite a while.’ In the past it has even occurred more than once a member of the staff came up to me to ask whether I was looking for something in particular they could help with, clearly wondering how on earth I am able to pass hours by simply browsing, reading summaries, and eventually going home with the first book that caught my attention. ‘Although, there is some work that needs doing as well.’ I pat the grey waterproof messenger bag containing my notebook and Chromebook. Without the both of them, I am rendered useless and if there is one thing the big boss detests, it is ineffective employees. Sack of meat likely does not even notice the entire department works harder than he on his own.
‘Well, you can’t work in wet clothes. Shall I take your coat? To dry, I mean,’ the wolf adds rapidly, stumbling over his words and sheepishly scratching the back of his neck, fingers gradually moving upwards to ruffle the hair at the back of his head.
‘That’s very sweet of you, thank you.’ Gratefully, though baffled by the kindness, I hand him the now brownie-coloured trench coat. For a split second, I contemplate remarking on his ears, doubting whether it would be appropriate, ending up doing so in case the wrong person comes by and reports the giant. ‘By the way, cute ears.’
At the mention of what betrays his true nature, he lays them abruptly flat against his head in an effort to hide them between the ashy locks, to no avail. The wise wolf is not so wise after all. Curiosity makes way for a cold calculating demeanour, the irritation of his own fault filtering through despite the anxiety and challenging fierceness still dominating his gaze. ‘Dammit, I forgot the beanie again. Look, lady, I can explain-’ The ring to the friendly voice gone carefully contains a hint of hopelessness, but before he has a chance to explain himself, I cut him off.
Holding up my hand to make him stop the anxious rambling he was about to set in motion, I speak up. ‘First of all, there’s nothing to elucidate nor to fear. I’m not like all the others out there who see you as a mere pet. I know you’re human, albeit it with some animalistic qualities which set you apart, but I like that.’ A shrug alongside a kind reassuring smile. ‘I like different, so there is no reason to be afraid. Secondly, this “lady”,’ sarcasm can no longer be withheld from slipping into my attitude, ‘has a name. I’m Y/N.’
A burden is clearly lifted from the guy’s shoulders at hearing those words and the sight of the extended hand, which the hybrid meets with his own big one, never having met someone who offered that common gesture of politeness and mutual respect. ‘Namjoon.’
Out of the blue, I turn my head away in a reflex to sneeze, the chill influencing me even inside, already getting to me via the wet attire. Namjoon chuckles at the high pitch of it as I rub my nose, feeling a bit disoriented by the suddenness. ‘Sorry, must be the weather.’
‘Don’t be, it actually sounded quite cute.’ My jaw clenches at his remark, bodily heat rising by a few degrees as an unseen rosy flush washes over my cheeks. Rapidly, composure is tried to be regained, but the attempt is only half successful. He is not doing any better, eyes wide as the realization of what he said and in what kind of context I can place it has dawned. Shyly, he looks away, unconsciously fumbling with the buttons of the jacket in his hands. ‘M- Maybe tea will do you good, warm you up a bit. Can’t have you catch a cold.’
As the odd wolf swiftly walks away to place the soaked trench coat on the central heating besides the staircase and heads upstairs to prepare the hot beverages, I take place on the window bench in the reading corner on the far end of the establishment, tucked away between the bookshelves yet still forming a part of them by being storing books underneath and above the seating. Settling comfortably onto the worn coffee brown leather seating and leaning against the plush burnt orange cushions as the last of the rush of adrenaline finally fades and emotions are fully under control again, I watch the gloomy world go on. It is unfazed by the rainfall, still keeping on turning, going about its day, the people trodding the streets despite the awful weather.
However, inside here seems to be a world of its own, made of paper, ink, and countless words. Warm, dry, comforting.
A wise wolf’s lair.