STRANGE BREW • by Paige McKinney

Emily wanted to study for midterms, not watch drunks play beer pong, but her roommate had talked her into going to the frat party.

“Some view, huh? The full moon through the trees.” The guy she’d nicknamed Mr. Movie Quotes followed her onto the porch when she slipped away from the noise. He held out a red Solo cup. “Wanna brewski?”

“Is it vegan?”

“It’s Budweiser. I think.”

“Thanks.” Emily carried the beer over to look at the wine-bottle Tiki torches perched on the railing.

Floorboards creaked. “Ever dance with a devil in the pale moonlight?” Mr. Movie Quotes stood uncomfortably close.

Emily wished she’d said no when he asked if she liked movies. “Batman, right? Joker said, ‘danced with the devil’.”

“My way’s better. There are a lot of devils.”

She eased away from the railing.

“Hey, where you goin’?”


He chuckled. “The clean one’s in the basement.”

The basement seemed empty, just a partitioned off room with an oak door set into a concrete block wall. A neon-green key holder coiled around the doorknob. Two keys: one for the door, a smaller one stamped with the name of a padlock company.

Normal bathrooms didn’t lock from the outside. Emily imagined Mr. Movie Quotes snickering with his friends. Dumb blonde tried to piss in the storage closet. She grabbed the keys. If they stored sports equipment, she’d use a tennis racquet to demonstrate her backhand on a few Solo cups.

The interior was musty and dark. She patted the walls for a switch and nudged something with her toe that clanked and then rattled like a chain pulled tight. She curled her hands into fists. “If someone’s in here, the joke’s on you. I’m not afraid of ghosts.”

A low growl echoed. She backed up slowly.

Red eyes gleamed.

She turned to run.


Emily awoke with a brutal headache pounding her skull. She sat up, fully dressed, including shoes. They’d dumped her on a bed and continued to party. Assholes. She staggered downstairs.

Half a dozen frat boys sat around the kitchen table. No one asked how she felt or offered a pain reliever.

“Your dog knocked me down and scratched my arm.” She remembered crushing weight against her back, the sting of claws.

“I don’t see anything,” one of the boys said.

She ran her fingers across unbroken skin. “They were here.”

“You drank more than I thought.” Mr. Movie Quotes smirked. “We don’t own a dog.”

“You’re lying.” Emily saw a lanky guy holding a mop and bucket enter the kitchen through the basement door. “No dog, huh,” she told the guy. “You clean for fun?”

He stared at her with sad dark eyes.

She returned to her dorm and shook her roommate’s shoulder until she woke up.

“Okay, they lied to cover their asses, or you imagined everything,” her roommate said after Emily finished her rant. “I’m more worried about the headache. Your brain could be bleeding.”

“I’m fine. The headache’s gone.” Emily’s stomach rumbled. She pulled her stash of nutrition bars from under the bed and ate three in quick succession. “Want one?”

“There’s some left? Kidding. I’m not hungry.”

Emily was ravenous. In the dining hall she ate so much food friends asked if vegans could get tapeworms. She snacked voraciously. Nothing satisfied. Portabella burgers weren’t meaty enough. Vegan cuisine, no matter how spicy, tasted bland and smelled unappetizing.

Horribly, any kind of meat smelled amazing. Steak in particular, pink and juicy.

She stopped eating in the dining hall, stopped eating anything except nutrition bars. Her grades fell. She zoned out during lectures and barely passed her midterm exams. Instead of studying, she walked around campus or hiked the trails through the woods. She dreamed of glowing red eyes.

Emily returned to the frat house.

She’d almost convinced herself that the dog didn’t exist. Twenty-nine days had passed; twenty nine opportunities to prevent animal cruelty wasted. She approached the back of the house and squeezed through a basement window. Moonlight revealed the key holder dangling from the knob. She opened the door.

The lanky guy with sad dark eyes stood chained to the wall. Her jaw dropped. “Is this some kind of fraternity ritual?”

“You can see me.”

“Um, yeah. You put in a light.” She knelt to unlock the padlock.


Emily threw the lock and keys into the outer basement. “Hazing is illegal. Tell me where you put the dog.”

“There isn’t one.”


“I attacked you. That’s why I have to be locked up,” he said. “They shouldn’t have let you come down here.” He pushed past her to shut the door. “Now you can’t leave.”

Oh God, he was crazy. Emily dug her cell phone out of a jeans pocket. “I’ll call 911.”

“It’s too late. The moon’s almost full.”

She glanced around. There was no other exit, and no light fixtures. She could see in the dark. “I didn’t imagine the scratches.”

“Wounds heal when you turn.”

Emily breathed in his musky scent along with a trace of pine disinfectant. “This can’t happen. I’m a vegan.”

“I’m sorry.” His voice sounded deeper now. His eyes gleamed red.

She screamed as her body contorted, bones snapping and reshaping. The world transformed. Howls tore from her throat until the rustle of prey above quieted, and then swelled. She joined the male wolf waiting by the door.

Paige McKinney writes in Florida, USA.

This story is sponsored by
Jenny Schwartz — Australian contemporary romance author in love with steampunk.

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