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Lie Down With Dogs

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  Elmer used to love the moon.  It was one of the few things he didn't have to share with his siblings.  He always got the hand-me-down clothes and the things his brothers and sisters were done with after they were broken and ruined.  But the moon? He could just look up and there it was, just as bright and shiny as it ever was. It was just so awe inspiring to him.  This pure, white object! Just up in the air! Never to be touched by anyone but gods themselves! Elmer knew all about the phases and could tell you all about it if you asked, and you’d know at least one new thing by the time he was done.

  Elmer felt that the moon was his, and he felt that it was going to stay like that.

 


  The chatter of the lodging house that night was the normal stories of local shenanigans, poker, and all around good friendly fun.  It was a hot night in August, and everyone in Manhattan was winding down before going off to sleep.

  "Hey, where's ya going, El?"  Albert, one of Elmer's closer friends, asked, shoving some bread into his mouth.

  "Oh, just to the bathroom, that's all!" He said, his signature cheery smile slipping onto his face.  Albert, having stuffed too much bread in his mouth, just shouted a muffled shout to Elmer as he slipped out of the dining hall.

  Elmer walked down the hall slowly, jamming his hands in his pockets as he heard a burst of laughter come from where he just left.  Was the dining hall always that loud? He rubbed his temple; it didn't matter now if it always was, what mattered now was this killer migraine that had fallen upon his poor head.  He pushed the door that led to the alleyway open, and breathed the night's air like it was a fine perfume for only the richest of men.

  He leaned against the wall, whistling loudly a tune that felt good in his mouth as he got lost in his thoughts.  He slid down the wall and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt, which suddenly felt tight. Oh, jeez, did he eat something he was allergic to?  He had some peanut butter earlier today, he couldn't be reacting to that, right?

No, he thought.  If I was allergic, I'd be dead!

  Elmer didn't know how long he'd been outside.  Five minutes? Ten minutes? Someone would come looking for him if he didn't show back up soon...

  He got up, brushing his pants with his hands, and pulled the doorknob.  He was surprised to see the freckled face of Albert, who was standing with his hand on the other side of the knob.  "There you is, El! Been lookin' all over for ya!"

  "Oh, have you now?"

  "Yeh.  Got kinda, y'know, bored of Brooklyn's antics, decided to come and look for ya."

  Elmer gasped.  "You better not let Spot hear that kind of talk, he'll kick your ass!"

  "Oh, shadup, his ego ain't that big."  Albert stole Elmer's cap and roughed up his hair.  "So, what's up with you? Why are you hangin' around outside?"

  "Oh, well, I got a headache from all the noise inside.  Wanted some fresh air."

  "Fresh air?  Honey, you're not going to get any fresh air in this dusty ol' ally!  C'mon-" Albert beckoned Elmer, grabbing his hand- "let's go to the street."

  They walked together, and as Elmer stepped out of the ally, holding Albert's hand, he started to tremble even though it was warm.  "Elmer?" He looked at Albert's eyes, seeing the Emerald green in the light of the moon, which shone all around them. "Are you okay?"

  He looked away from Albert to look at the sky.  "I am. I am, dear..." Why, it was lovely tonight.  The moon hung like like a spotlight over a perfectly made play, with the stars as their audience, waiting Albert and Elmer to make a story in front of them.  Elmer squeezed Albert's hand and smiled, his shaking slowing slightly. "Isn't is just amazing?" Elmer asked sincerely, looking once again at Albert. "Why, I'd say the sky is... Almost as beautiful as you!"

  Albert chuckled.  "Oh, El, ya know how to make a guy blush!" 

  Elmer felt a warm feeling rise in his chest.  He'd been planning on giving Albert something soon, and even though he didn't plan it, now would be the perfect time!  He felt around in his pocket for something small and round. "Albert?"

  "Yes, El?"

  "There's something I want to ask you."

  "What is it?"

  Elmer let go of Albert's hand and hid the gift behind his back.  The feeling in his chest started spreading to the rest of his body, making him feel a bit lightheaded.  "Will you- Will you-"

  Elmer sputtered a bit, turning red as he looked at Albert's face go from joy to shock.  Elmer bit his tongue and glanced up at the sky for a moment. C'mon, Elmer, you can do this...

  "Albert, will you make the luckiest guy in the world and-"  

  Elmer yelped as he felt a sharp pain stab at his fingers and overtake the warmness in his body, making him drop the silver band he bought for Albert onto the street.  He doubled over, putting his hands over his ears as a million invisible sounds started attacking him. Albert grabbed him, making sure he wouldn't fall onto the ground, and asked, "Elmer, are you okay?!"

  He just groaned as Albert went and leaned him against the wall.  He unclasped his ears and nodded pitifully.

  Albert looked worried as he pressed his hand against Elmer's forehead.  "I'm getting-"

  Elmer felt a terrible noise, a growl, rip through him.  He watched Albert jump back. "Elmer?"

  A pain unlike any other grabbed Elmer and shook him violently.

  He felt electricity in his spine, which cracked and strained as it grew in a way that felt like it poked the inside of his brain and the rear of his pants.  Elmer looked at his hands with swimming vision, as the bones inside of them started to look thick and taut like iron cables. Each one of his fingernails fell off, claws bursting through the tender skin where they once were.  He cried as his teeth were bloodily replaced with daggers and he felt warm fur press against his clothes, which all now felt far too small for his changing body. Elmer pushed himself against the wall, gasping for air, then howling in pain as he fell onto all fours.  

  As the ringing in his ears and the pain subsided, he looked up at Albert, who was pale as a sheet.

  "W-Who are you-" Albert pulled out a switchblade and pointed it at Elmer shakily- "And what have you done to him?"  Elmer reached toward Albert pitifully, but he swung the blade towards him. "Answer me, God dammit!"

  A different pain had fallen upon Elmer as be backed away and began to run as far as he could from Albert and the lodging house.  An ache he hadn't felt in a very, very long time. One that twisted around in and burned his chest like a hot metal poker that threatened to come out the other side.

  Heartbreak.

Chapter Text

  Running.  Running and running and running and running.  That was all Elmer could do right now. He felt fast and strong as his hands and feet pounded against the ground, propelling him through the dark streets at a speed that he never even imagined would be possible for him.  He darted around in the shadows, wind on his face, following his intuition closely. He didn't know where he was going, but he had to get away from Albert and the others.

  Down 5th Avenue, across main street, past the delli... That should be far enough for now.

  Elmer slowed to a halt in front of a shop, looking around for anyone that might see him.  He tried to straighten up a bit, standing on two legs like he was used to, before catching a glance of something and shrieking a little.  What the hell was that? He raised his hands near his face, ready to either fight or run, then going in for a punch. He made contact with the glass of the store front, swearing under his breath as pain shot up his arm.  Elmer pulled his hand towards himself, nursing it for a second before realising it looked an awful lot like what he was trying to defend himself from.

  Oh God, it really was him!  This wasn't some nightmare he'd wake up from; This wasn't some wild story he'd tell his friends.  This was a monster, and the monster was him.  

  Horrible, disgusting, ugly- nothing that mattered had changed, really, and he doubted it ever would.  Even with a different outside, Elmer knew he couldn't change from the terrible person he was inside. This was a more fitting form for what creature he was.

  Elmer always knew he didn't deserve Albert.  He was kind hearted, and smart, and unique. Elmer would never be any of those things, even if he tried.  He slumped over, jamming his thumbs in the waist of his pants. If he was going to stay out here, he needed a place to sleep.  He looked around, finding an ally not to different from where all of this trouble started in, and sat down. Elmer listened to all of the sounds that were around him that he never noticed before.  The sounds of the occasional bug flying by, the sound of his own blood rushing in his ears. It was oddly calming, and oddly normal, even.  The noise of no one, although rare for him, was calming.  Elmer's sitting went to laying in just a few odd minutes, as he started to grow tired.  He looked up at the small sliver of sky that he could see from where he was, slowly feeling himself slip into a dark, dark sleep.

 


 

  Albert gripped his switchblade with a shaking tightness as the Not-Elmer creature ran away from him.  What the hell was that thing? Where did it put Elmer?  Oh God, did it kill him? Albert stood there in shock for what seemed like an eternity.

  "ELMER!" Albert cried, "WHERE ARE YOU?"  He listened to his voice reverberate in the night, falling short on everyone's ears but his.  "ELMER!" He waited for a response again, but none came. "I... I never got the chance to say just how much I love you..." He said to himself.

  Albert had to do something, anything, he couldn't just stand here wasting time when he needed to try and find Elmer.  He ran back into the lodging house, looking for someone to help him.

  Back in the dining hall, there were a few quiet stragglers still in there, mostly just Brooklyn Boys and Manhattan Kids that were catching up.  Albert looked around for someone. He was smart, maybe he'd know something. "Alright, so uh, Davey?"

  "Hm?"

  "Yeah, erm, I got a problem."  Albert rushed, "So basically, Elmer and I was hangin' out outside holding hands, and this big enormous thing grabbed him, and I tried to get it away from him, but it didn't work and-"

  "Al, slow down!"  Davey put a hand on Albert's shoulder.  "Tell me what happened with as little words as you can."

  "... Elmer is missing and a big monster might have taken him."

  Now, Davey wasn't too keen on this story Albert was telling.  To be honest, he thought he was making it up, but some people just see things differently, he thought.  Albert was young, and it was dark outside. "Now, why do you think it took Elmer?"

  "I-I don't know..  But-" He pulled the ring Elmer wanted to give him out of his pocket-"He dropped this before he was taken!"

  Davey gently took it from Albert's hand and looked at it.  It looked pretty expensive; There was no way a kid like Elmer would drop it on the account of a joke.  A knot started to tie itself up in Davey's stomach. "Do you know where he could be?"

  "I dunno, but he looked like he was heading up town."  Davey stroked his chin as he dove into his thoughts. Why would anyone want to take Elmer?  He didn't seem like the kind of kid to get involved with anyone that would kidnap someone…  

  “I know you’re going to hate me for this, Al, but I think we should get some rest and go look for him in the morning.”

  “WHAT?  Davey, we have to go and find him now!”

  “I know you want to, but look-” Davey pointed at the clock-”If we go now, they won’t let us back in, and we both know it’d be harder to find Elmer if we didn’t get good sleep.”

  Albert choked, “Okay.  Alright.” He started walking away.  “Then I’ll look for him myself.”

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  Albert slammed the door as he walked back into the alley.  Maybe just to spite Davey, maybe just because he wanted to hit something so, so bad, until his knuckles dripped and stung.

  The wall was right there.

  He didn't scream.  Albert didn't even whine when he punched the wall as hard as he could.  He just felt his fingers tingle, the skin on its last peel right above the blood.  He punched the wall again, this time leaving dots of blood. Albert wasn’t mad in the first place.  Why would he punch it? He didn’t know. He needed to get to Elmer, not waste time.

  He walked away from there and onto the street, his foot meeting a soft texture that made him cringe.  Albert lifted his foot only to find Elmer's gray, woolen cap under it. He picked it up, running his fingers across the loose stitching, and smelling the inside, which he regretted, as Elmer wasn't the kind to wash that often.  Well, Albert wasn't either, but it's not something to call home about. He gripped the cap and shoved it into his pocket as he walked down the street.

  He listened to the faint thud of his feet on the ground.  Looking up at the moon, all he could think about was finding Elmer, giving him a kiss right on the lips… No, they weren’t boyfriends.  Albert was looking for him because he was in trouble, not because he missed him terribly and didn’t want to spend another second without him.

  Every step he took seemed harder and harder than the last, his legs started getting stiff and he just wanted to stop.  He was tired before, but it was too late, and even if shock gave you energy, it sure didn’t stay for long. Surely if he just sat down for a second, it'd be fine, he probably wouldn’t get jumped.

  Albert thought again about what exactly happened earlier.  He didn’t see the thing come up and grab Elmer, he was there one second and he was gone the next.  Maybe it was just his attention span, or maybe it was too dark to see it come up. Man, now he wished Davey was here, he could probably talk him through this.  Maybe he should have waited till the morning, he sure was missing being able to sleep in a bed. Resting his eyes for a bit couldn’t be the worst, right?

 


 

  A sharp pain shot up Elmer’s back as he squirmed around, harsh sunlight dripping from the sky right onto his poor eyes.  He pulled his hand over his face and sat up, wincing as he tried to remember why he was here. Dinner, the moon, Albert, the ring, the moon, running… this?  He scratched his chin, trying to remember, before noticing his hand. His hand! It was small and calloused, not clawed. He felt himself, up and down. No tail, no big ears, his shirt fit normally, save for a button that popped off, but that didn’t matter.

  He got up and fixed his clothes, dusting them off and making sure they hung right on his person.  Elmer touched his head, looking for his hat, realising that Albert had it. He needed to get to Albert as quick as he could, there was no doubt in his mind that he was still freaked about his friend disappearing like that.  He walked out of the alley, shielding his eyes from the sun. So he wasn’t lying to himself, he did know where he was!  The lodging house was only a short walk away from here, he could get his bag and if he was lucky he could sell at least a few papes, probably the evening edition.  He tied his shoes and walked the least suspicious he could, trying to make it look like he didn’t just sleep outside, even though he did.

  Eventually, Elmer made it back to the lodging house to try and find his stuff.  He checked in, then ran up the stairs to the bedroom.

  “Where in the hell have you been?”

  Davey looked down at Elmer.

  “I’ve been... places?”

  Davey was unamused.  “You scared Albert half to death!  What happened last night?”

  Play dumb, Elmer thought.  “Who’s Albert?” He bolted out of the room.  Not that dumb!

  “Elmer!”  Davey started chasing after him down the hall.  “Elmer I’m not trying to incriminate you, just c’mere!”  He grabbed Elmer by the scruff of his neck and he squirmed around.

  “Let me go!”  Davey did not let him go and shushed him.  Elmer gave up and groaned, “Fine, what do you want?”

  “You already know; I want to know what happened last night.”

  “You ain’t gonna believe me.”

  “Oh come on, I’m sure I will.” Davey let of of Elmer.

  “You ain’t gonna!  Look, David, what happened last night, I don’t wanna talk about it.  Where’s Albert?”

  “Albert got back an hour ago, he was out all night and passed out in his bunk.”  Elmer peeked into the bedroom. “And you’re going to tell me what happened last night?”

  “Fine, fine, just get off my case for a minute and I’ll tell you.” He wandered over to the bed with the sleepy boy in it and sat on the one right next to it, watching Albert quietly.  The comforter was pulled all the way up to his head, which was jammed onto a beat up pillow, and his breathing was deep and slow through his slightly open mouth. He watched his eyes twitch under their lids, his leg kick unconsciously, he looked so alive and full of energy it almost seemed like any second he’d wake up and run around the lodging house just for fun.

  “Well?” He directed his attention to Davey.  “Are you gonna wake him up?”

  “Nah… I should let the guy rest.  He looks like he needs it.”

  “Okay.  You gonna go and sell the evening edition?”

  Elmer shook his head.  “I’m staying here with him.”

  Davey left the two in the room, alone.  Elmer leaned back in the other bed and sighed deeply.  Staring at the bottom of the bed above him, he thought, should I tell Albert what really happened? 

  He looked over at him and crossed his legs, sighing again just to feel the air in front of his face get pushed away.