Sharla hurried through the narrow pedestrian precinct of the town she'd moved into that morning. At nine o'clock, the shops were opening, sellers in the market sorting out their wares.
The stallholders greeting their neighbours and empty crates slamming against the ground made for various sounds that echoed off the tall buildings around the market-town square.
A cold wind whipped through the scene, sending discarded drink cans, scraps of paper, and empty boxes dancing along the pavement.
Sharla pulled her long woollen scarf higher up around her neck as she shivered in the crisp morning air.
Other than the stallholders, there were few people about. Those that were there turned their heads; their eyes followed her as she walked with purposeful strides in her thick, black boots.
A chill gust of wind caught the hem of her dark blue cape, lifting it to reveal the green satin lining and the thick auburn curls that cascaded down below her waist.
She strode on fully aware of those piercing looks entering her world, wondering where she had come from and was she friend or foe. Anyone would think she'd horns sticking out the top of her head, she felt, by how their icy stares followed her. Maybe they'd never seen such a fresh, freckled complexion, wide emerald eyes, and bright auburn hair carried by a tall, female stranger in town before.
Sharla passed the funeral parlour with its displays of coffins and headstones, the gift shop with rows and rows of personalised mugs-Barry, Brenda, Gregory, Georgina-no mug with the name Sharla on it.
She reached the butcher's shop with its display of sheepskins and myriads of sausages. She stepped inside, searching for real meat, but all she could see were pies and pasties.
"Yes?" A stout man with a ruddy complexion asked.
"A large joint of your best beef, please, about one kilo in weight."
The man's plump body shuffled off out the back of the store, returning with a stainless-steel tray on which sat two large joints of beef, glistening trickles of blood oozing out onto the tray. He tucked some greaseproof paper around one joint and placed it on the scales.
"Under or over?"
"Under or over? This one is over the kilo, the other one will be under, which is it to be?"
"Over, thank you."
"You're not from these parts, are you? I can tell by your accent."
"No, I'm from down south."
"Thought as much. You're a strange lot from the other side of the river."
"Yes, you come here all the time thinking you can buy cheap housing and take our jobs, but you don't fit in with our ways, and so you leave again."
"Oh, well, maybe things will be different for me. I moved in this morning, and I plan to stay."
"Please yourself. Here's your receipt for the meat."
Sharla placed a note on the glass counter. The man crumpled it in the palm of his podgy hand; then his fat, purple fingers fiddled with the edges.
"Can never be sure." He said as he brought the note up to the light and examined it. "There's been a lot of forgeries circulating lately."
"Oh, well, this is one I made earlier," Sharla giggled. Her words made the shop assistant look up from under his bushy eyebrows, and with a grunt, he placed her change on the counter. Sharla gathered the coins in her slender hands, picked up the neatly wrapped joint, and left the shop. Weird people around here, she thought.
Sharla strolled about the precinct, trying to get her bearings and making a mental map.
To her right were several chemists, hairdressers, and fast food outlets. To her left a supermarket and before her a row of banks and estate agents. She strode on past the banks and came to a large lawned area with a circle of seats where she sat down.
In the far corner, by some bushes, a homeless man sat on a wooden bench, curled up at his feet, his muscular white dog lay on the moss-covered stone slabs. A group of young children laughed as they chased each other around a small play area while parents pushed their offspring on the swings.
Sharla looked at her watch. It was eleven-thirty. She was about to open up the parcel of meat when the dog strained on the end of a long piece of rope and dragged the homeless man over to her seat. The dog stood with braced legs, red tongue lolling, saliva dripping from its enormous jaws. The weathered man sat down with a sigh. Sharla slid nearer her end of the metal seat as the stench from the man made her retch.
"Have you got any money you can give me; I need a meal for me and my dog Nelson."
Sharla looked at the dog and thought if the thin piece of rope it was pulling on were to break, the dog would be at her piece of beef and have a full stomach. Feeling sorry for the tramp, she reached into her pocket.
"I'm not sure," Said Sharla as her slender, white hand pulled out the change the butcher had given her. She picked out two coins with her long purple fingernails and leaned toward the man, dropping the coins in his open hand, the other hand steadying the meat package on her lap.
The beggar curled his filthy fingers around the coins and took them to his lips and pretended to kiss them. Without warning, his dog lunged forward to the end of the rope.
"Get that dog away from me., Sharla screamed, her arms flailing. "I'm allergic to them."
"Get back here, Nelson, stop being a bad dog." Shouted the homeless man as he yanked on the rope and drew the dog slowly to his side.
On hearing the commotion, a crowd gathered. Someone asked Sharla if she was all right.
"Yes, I'm just allergic to dogs, that's all, and this dog tried to attack me."
"No, he didn't. He doesn't like strangers, that's all." Retorted the old man as he stood up and gathered his ragged coat around him. "My Nelson is harmless; it's you, it's because you're a foreigner in these parts."
By now, Sharla's eyes had become bloodshot and watery, the bright emerald green hardly visible. She began coughing and sneezing.
"Are you sure you're okay?' Asked a lone woman.
"Yes, I've got this allergy. That's all. It'll pass."
The weathered old man took his dog back to the wooden bench where they both sat, the man tutting for quite some time.
The children in the play area went back to the swings. Sharla looked at her watch again. It was noon.
She dabbed her eyes with a red handkerchief and reached into her pocket and pulled out a purple cloth that matched her fingernails. She spread the material on her lap and smoothed it out with the palms of her pale hands. Then placed the package of meat on top and began to unwrap it.
As she did so, the homeless man's dog Nelson began to bark furiously and lunge on the lead again. It was as much as the man could do to hold him back.
Sharla raised the slab of meat toward her face as she bent slightly forward. She looked across at the dog, and the crowd that had gathered, opened her mouth wide and sunk her ivory coloured fangs into the joint.
Her bloodshot eyes looked up under her auburn fringe, revealing a large expanse of the whites of her eyes that now gleamed with inbuilt devilry.
A sudden blast of freezing air whistled through the precinct, swirled through her auburn curls, revealing two white horns coming from the crown of her head.
As the people around her stood stunned, a little boy alighted from the swings and ran over.
"You've got horns sticking out the top of your head."
"I know," Said Sharla, that's because I'm a Shewolf."
"My dad is a Werewolf; would you like to meet him?"
"Yes, I’d like that," Said Sharla as she took the package of meat in one hand and gently grasped the little boy's out-stretched hand with the other. Together, in a puff of blue haze, they disappeared into the bushes behind the homeless man and his dog. The dog gave out an eerie whine, turned around three times, and curled up in a ball fast asleep within seconds.