CW: vomiting, some body horror [shapechanging-ish]
Jordan looked at the letter in disbelief, closed his eyes, opened them, and read them again, his large, darkly tanned hands, turning the expensive cream paper into little more than a handkerchief.
“What the fuck?”
Jordan ran his free hand over his bald, bullet-headed skull and read the letter yet again.
You may call me Dr. J.
I require your services, and I believe I can pay you a far higher sum than anyone else. I am aware that you are partially retired due to an injury taken on the job, but I know you do still work and I need your expertise and experience, as well as your discretion.
In short, I need you to do what you do best: protect people.
However in this instance it is not me you will protect from others, but others you will protect from me.
I’m sure you understand I cannot divulge further information in writing, but I beg you to at least come and hear what I have to say before you decide. I will pay you £100,000 just to do so.
Please come to the address on this letter at noon tomorrow, and everything will be made clear.
I will, of course, provide food, accommodation, and sundries, so you need only bring clothes and other necessities for your own comfort.
Although I do expect you to inform someone of your absence, and a dead letter to be left, in case you do not return, please tell nobody where you are going.
I hope to see you tomorrow, and I thank you for at least entertaining my offer.
Jordan shook his head slightly -, completely bewildered. He’d done a lot of jobs, some of them weird and shady, but this had them all beat and he hadn’t even stepped foot out of his house yet.
Jordan set his phone to find a route, so he’d have a timeline, and went ro check through his go bag, weapons, and dead letter settings. Then he ate, had a nightcap, and put himself to bed—his first rule: never meet a new employer without full preparation. That covered everything from sleep, to eating well, to the items he brought.
The following day, at precisely noon, Jordan pushed the buzzer to request entry to the gated, walled, 8000 square feet of grounds.
His eyes roved as he strolled the Lexus RC F up the long driveway. Trees either side took him to a gentle curve, before breaking away to show a long marble pond with a cherub at the far end, forever pouring water from the amphorae held under one arm. But although it gleamed from afar, on approach the marble glaze was cracked, and the water was algae-ridden, with an unpleasant oily-looking surface. The cherub, too, was cracked. Part of the face was missing, and it was clearly weathered.
Likewise, the lawn that led up to the house, making the driveway into a turning circle with parking spots to the left, had been left to grow out. Weeds had taken the place over, and were now attempting a break through the ground towards the treeline.
Jordan parked in the carport to the left, stepping back from the house to examine its exterior.
The windows were filthy. The walls were weather beaten and stone was cracked in numerous places. The roof showed a half dozen holes, and the delicate awnings were either dirty or broken.
Ringing the old-fashioned pull doorbell, its leather cord frayed almost to breaking, Jordan wondered how long it had been since anyone had properly looked after the place. It must have been beautiful once.
He was distracted by his phone ringing, and took it out to see Dr. J’s name.
“Hello, I’m right outs-“
“Yes, yes, I know, the door isn’t locked. Come inside, up the main staircase, and go left to the last door on your left. I’m in there. Please lock the door with the deadbolt as you come in.”
The line went dead and Jordan shrugged, placing it back into his inside jacket pocket. He opened the door and stepped inside, flicking the deadbolt shut as he did so.
It was dull, almost dark. The windows wore too much dirt to let in any light. But the place felt dead. Unused. Something in the air prickled at the back of Jordan’s neck and he allowed himself a small shudder before continuing in, following the directions given to him.
He tapped at the door, and heard the same commanding voice on the other side.
“Enter. Close the door behind you.”
Jordan did as he was bid, and stood a few paces inside the room.
Like the rest of the house, it was gloomy, but this time it wasn’t solely due to the windows themselves. Jordan presumed they were as filthy as the rest, but they were covered over by thick, black curtains. In the faint light from a dull lamp Jordan could see the outside edges if the curtains were nailed into the wall, and at the centre where they met, they were stapled together.
His face a blank, giving nothing away, Jordan swept his eyes around the rest of the room, skipping the man for now, vaguely registering something odd about him, but needing to check his area before he focused on his client. That was Rule 2.
A door to the left, partially open, revealed an en suite bathroom.
The carpet was dark and had probably once been soft, but the years had taken their toll, leaving it threadbare.
Dust tickled his nose, the musty smell of the rest of the house present here too.
The walls were plain, painted something pale and glossy. White or cream, Jordan guessed.
The only other objects in the room were a small cabinet, two drawered, with a dim lamp on top. This sat next to a metal bed against the far wall.
On the bed, as Jordan’s impassive face finally came to rest, lay a man, though the term needed to be loosely applied.
The figure in the gloom was manacled by all four limbs to the bedposts, the chains allowing but a few inches of movement. He was also wrapped around the waist and chest with two more chains, these with very little give in them.
The man himself, Jordan struggled to make sense of. It was as if two beings—one man, one bear—had been smashed together to create one monstrous creature.
Both hands and one foot were, in fact, large paws with long, sharp claws. Those three limbs were covered in coarse, dark hair which thinned out around the collarbones and pelvis, until they were little more than a few scribbles of fur on the torso.
The left side of the torso was barrel-deep, sinking into a skinny, sunken chest of flesh.
And the face. The face was a nightmare. The nose and part of the jaw protruded like a snout, with shorter fur and a partial blackening of the nose, though the mouth remained able to close.
Both eyes were feral yellow, surrounded by fur that covered the head.
Jordan fought to retain his impassive face, only years of building this mask saving him from crumbling completely. His stomach lurched and he held in a sour burp, fighting the temptation to run, screaming, from the property. He blinked, his eyes and mouth suddenly dry, while the rest of him broke out in a prickly sweat.
He showed none of this to the man on the bed. He could allow none of this to affect him until his client was far out of earshot. Rule 3: never show anyone your discomfort.
Dr. J allowed Jordan a few long moments before speaking, “Ah, there we are. You see my predicament? Or at least begin to grasp it?”
Jordan, desperately compartmentalising, nodded, “You’re being overtaken by a bear. Somehow. And you fear that once it comes out, it will hurt people.”
Dr. J nodded, “Yes. I probably have four to six months left, before the bear takes me over completely. I’ll answer the obvious question first. I haven’t killed myself for one reason only: doing so brings out the bear immediately, and without any human left inside there is nothing to temper its excesses. It is stronger, faster, its hide tougher than anyone might expect, and it could cause a great deal of damage before someone figured out how to bring it down. And that’s with me inside trying to fight back.”
Jordan walked to the wall beside the bathroom and seated himself on the carpet, one knee folded, the other raised with his hand resting on it, “But you’re bringing me in at the end here, Doc. Why not take it back to the start for me?”
“You don’t need to know that.”
“Maybe not, but it sounds like I’ll be here a while and, darnit, I forgot to bring a thousand books with me.”
Dr. J let out a noise half growl, half chuckle. “Well if I’m to be your entertainment, then why not. But you confirm that you will stay with me?”
“Yeah. I’m staying.”
“Good. Later I’ll have you fetch my laptop computer and arrange a transfer of funds to you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Dr. J was quiet for a few moments, thinking, “It’s been family legend for a long time now, that we are descended from shapeshifters. They were mostly warriors, who could truly and fully change their shape, keeping their human intelligence but expanding themselves with the skills of a powerful, and very difficult to kill, bear.
“The legend tells that, over time, as more of our ancestors either died or lost their bloodlust, they began to settle. And the bastard children they’d sired found out the hard way about the terrible power, or curse, depending on how they took it, within them. Many chose to die without offspring. Many others died while turned, unable to control themselves. And of course not all offspring had the bear.
“So by all these means and more the bloodlines died out. My family long placed their expectations on me. None had been born with the bear since a great aunt, who drowned herself rather than let it take her. They wanted—demanded—I should say, children of the bear. I refused.
“I am now 87 years old, and the second legend appears to be true. By resisting the change for decades, I merely made it inevitable that the bear will take over completely.”
“Huh,” Jordan leaned his head back against the wall. “This is not even a little bit what I was expecting when I woke up this morning.”
Dr. J gave that growl-laugh again, “I daresay not! I need to rest now. Just for a few hours. I have nightmares, violent ones. Please ensure I’m secure and unable to break free—do this every time you leave me, even for a moment. And then you can find yourself a place to sleep—within shouting distance—and get acquainted with the house. Poor girl, she’s old and neglected but she’s been a good, strong home.”
Jordan nodded and got to his feet, using his powerful frame to pull on the chains and manacles of the ancient, heavy, brass bedframe.
“You’re tight, Doc. I hope you sleep well. Any places here I shouldn’t go into?”
Dr. J shook his head, forming a half-smile that showed sharp teeth, “No, my boy. You’ll be the last person who might be interested in this old place. Look at whatever you please. If you see something you’d like, please take it. I have no further use for it, after all.”
“One last question…” Jordan turned back, hand on the doorknob, “When that bear takes you completely. How will I know, and how do I kill it?”
“I’ll teach you everything you need to know about that over the next few days.”
“Alright. I’ll see you in a little while—just jingle my phone when you want me.”
Jordan left the room and blundered desperately down the corridor, blindly shoving open doors until he found a bathroom.
Locking the door behind him, he allowed it all out. He heaved, retched, and then vomited up his breakfast, and possibly everything else he’d eaten in the last week.
When nothing but bile remained, he used the toothbrush holder to drink two cups of water, and then sat down on the floor of the bathroom, head resting on the cool of the toilet, trembling as his sweat dried cold against him.
Buy me a coffee!